A strong back is fundamental to a healthy lifestyle. And to build a strong back, you must engage in specific back exercises.
For argument’s sake, I basically split people working out into 3 groups. The first group is the power lifters . These guys are pretty straightforward. Their focus is on the dead lift movement; pick up as much weight off the ground as possible. The second group is the bodybuilders . They seek to develop their bodies to the limits of their genetics.
The third group is the confused group . Some want to get big or strong and confuse the back with “lats.” And in the process, they generally fail to achieve either goal – to be strong and/or big.
While it would be simple to say that one can either train for strength or muscle; it is not really that clear cut. First, both objectives are tightly interrelated. Plus, for most folks – some 90% of us – getting big, that is really big, is not genetically doable.
But getting strong is doable. And it is far “easier” to achieve. In fact, for many of us, getting bigger is a byproduct of getting stronger. It is not the other way around. You don’t get stronger as a byproduct of getting bigger. That’s because for many of us; building huge slab of USDA Prime, lean muscle is not an option. Genetics is what it is.
The confused group thinks building muscle and sees the back as one back set of “lats.” They do lat pull downs with prone grip, reverse grip, neutral grip, close, wide; you name it. They do seated rows, machine rows, straight arm pull downs, and on and on. Their objective is to build those “lats.”
But I think the better option for this group is to concentrate on building strength . A strong back becomes the foundation of your upper body. Unless you get trapped underneath a car; that you can bench 300lb is nice but not as functional. A strong back will help your posture and supports all your other upper body movements.
When you pick up your gal and carry her up the stairs; it’s your back.
In building a strong back, I basically look at that huge expanse on your backside in three groups. First is the lower back, as it ties into your gluts and hips. The second is the muscles that surround and support your spinal cord. Lastly, it is the lats. Trapezius is the huge diamond shape sheath of muscle covering your upper back, but I tend to do shrugs grouped with the shoulder work out.
For the three areas, I do the following exercises:
1. Dead lift – This is the basic, bread and butter movement. If you did no other movement, then this would a good one to do. Although it is considered a lower back movement; in fact, it hits your whole body. Starting with your legs, it moves to your gluts and hips, before hitting your lower back. And during the entire movement; your grip, your arms, your shoulders, your traps are all working hard.
Movement itself is very basic. With your back flat (or slight arch), bend at the knees, and grab the barbell. The grip is not important. I normally just grab the bar with both palms facing to rear. With the back flat, lift with the legs up, and hold for a second at the top before lowering. Do the movement slow. Shoot for 5 sets of 15, 15, 12, 10, and 8. Increase the weights on every set until you pyramid to final set of max effort for 6 to 8 reps.
2. Chins/Pull-ups – This is not only a great lat movement, but it works your whole upper back. I generally use a grip a little wider than shoulder width. You can use wider if you like. Ideally, you want to get your chest as close the bar as possible.
I also do not recommend lat pull downs as a substitute. If chin ups are hard, fight through it. The first couple of times, all you may do is a rep or two before just hanging there. If need be, put a chair behind and rest your feet on it. Use the chair to assist you in getting up. But I would not substitute with lat pull down.
You should do 3 sets of max repetitions, with the goal of doing 20 chin-ups on the first set.
3. One Arm Dumbbell Row – This exercise is a great movement to strengthen the muscles along the center of your back, plus hit some of lower/outer lats. I do these on a bench with one knee and hand bracing myself. This is an easy movement to do; you simply pull the dumbbell up to your chest and lower.
You should do 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8.
Every workout, focus on beating the last workout. Either you lift more weights or do more reps.
Eat a good, balanced diet of fruits, veggies, milk, eggs, and lean meats. Throw in some nuts, yams, brown rice, fiber, stay away from high fructose corn syrup; and you should just about cover your nutritional needs.
You get strong by consistently challenging yourself. You get strong by feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to rebuild your muscles. Lastly, you get strong by resting and giving your body the chance to recover.