Anyone that’s ever struggled to find a bench on a Monday at the gym will tell you that everyone loves chest day. Chest, abs and biceps seem to form the entirety of many people’s work with weights, but the value of a big, strong back is hard to underestimate. Here we’ll look at several of the best back exercises for mass and explain how you can optimise your back training.
Nothing says ‘strong’ quite like a well-developed back and a V-shaped torso always looks awesome, but there are more benefits to a strong back than simply looking big. It can improve your posture, keep your core compact and it’s hugely important for muscular balance.
By overtraining your ‘front’ (pecs, abs, front delts) you can cause issues with posture, causing you to hunch forward and leave you with a rounded back. Balancing out this training with proper back training can help correct this, and help align your body in the optimal position.
The other benefit of developing a strong back is that most of it is functional strength that you’ll be able to take advantage of regularly. You’ll probably find yourself using your back to lift things far more often than you’d be pushing things away, so a strong back is more useful than strong pecs.
Another benefit of building muscle mass on your back is the sheer amount of muscle you can actually put on your frame there. More muscle means more calories burned at rest, making things like weight maintenance fair easier.
Optimising Your Back Workouts for Mass
The first thing to note before your start is that if you want to get big, you have to eat big. You won’t put on muscle if you’re not eating enough calories and you’re not getting enough protein. You should be eating more calories than you burn, and should be looking to get roughly a gram of protein per lb of lean body mass – I’ll generally play it safe and aim for a gram per lb of overall weight.
The next thing to be aware of is your sleep. Countless positive things happen to your body when you’re asleep, but for the sake of brevity lets just say that it’s hugely important for muscle recovery and growth that you’re getting plenty of good quality sleep. (Shawn Stevenson’s ‘Sleep Smarter’ is about as good a guide to getting a perfect sleep as you’ll find – go get it).
Finally, your rep ranges and sets. Pick a handful of exercises from the list and aim for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Try to mix things up, but aim to keep the big compound movements like the deadlift and barbell row involved as they’ll give you the most bang for your buck.
- Your feet should start off under the bar, roughly shoulder-width apart
- Bend at the waist while keeping your back straight, allowing for some bend in the knees
- Grab the bar with a double overhand grip, with your hands approx 16 inches apart
- Holding the bar at arm’s length, straighten your back until you’re fully upright
- Lower the bar until it’s just above the floor, then repeat the movement
Bent-Over Barbell Rows
- Set up with your feet roughly shoulder-width
- Bend over until your back is parallel to the floor
- With an overhand grip, grab the bar just outside of shoulder-width
- The starting position is when you’re holding the bar at arm’s length
- Raise the bar slowly until it touches the lower part of your chest
- Pause at the top of the movement briefly, then lower the bar to the starting position
Bent-Over One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
- Rest your left knee and left hand on a flat bench, and put your right foot on the floor
- Your bodyweight should mostly be supported by your left side as you lean forward
- Reach down for the dumbbell with your right hand while keeping your back flat
- Bend your elbow to bring your right arm up towards chest height
- Pause at the top of the motion before lowering the dumbbell in a controlled manner
- Repeat for the opposite side
- Grab the pull up bar with both hands using an overhand grip
- While hanging from the bar with your arms fully extended, adjust your torso to around a 30-degree angle while sticking your chest out. This is the starting position
- Pull yourself up until you touch the bar with your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and upper arms down and back
- After a brief pause at the top of the movement, slowly lower yourself back to the starting position
- Hold the barbell slightly outside of shoulder-width at arm’s length
- You back should be straight and your core should be tight
- Drop your shoulders as much as you can before you begin the motion
- Raise your shoulders up as high as you can
- Pause at the top of the motion, then lower the bar in a controlled manner
- Set up the cable pulldown machine with the wide bar
- With palms facing forward grab the bar with a wide grip
- With a tight core and a straight back pull the bar down to your upper chest
- Pause at the bottom of the movement before returning the bar to the starting position
Seated Cable Rows
- Set up at the low pulley machine with your knees slightly bent and your feet on the footrests
- With a tight core and a straight back lean forward slightly to grasp the pulleys with an overhand grip
- While sitting upright slowly pull the pulleys back towards your abs. Keep your elbows in close to your chest
- Pause, then return to the starting position in a controlled manner
- Set up with your feet at either side of the T-Bar machine
- Knees should be slightly bent and the core should be tight
- The handles should be held with a narrow grip
- Bend at the waist until your chest is parallel to the floor
- Pull the bar up to your chest in a controlled fashion
- Pause at the top, then lower the bar to the starting position in a controlled manner
Dumbbell Upright Rows
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip in front of your thighs
- Your back should be straight, your core tight and your feet should be shoulder-width apart
- From the starting position slowly raise the dumbbells towards your shoulders by bending your elbows
- Pause at the top of the movement and rotate your shoulder blades together
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position
Inverted Bodyweight Rows
- The starting position is under a bar at mid-chest level with your feet on the floor
- Your back should be flat and your core tight
- Use your arms to lift your body towards the bar
- Pause at the top of the movement before carefully lowering yourself to the starting position
Cuban Dumbbell Press
- Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing backwards and your shoulders rotated forward
- Stand with a straight back and a tight core with your knees slightly bent
- Slowly raise your arms until your elbows are parallel to the floor and squeeze your shoulders together
- Rotate your arms to bring the dumbbells forward and bring them in line with your elbows
- Return to the starting position in a controlled manner
By eating properly and using the prescribed rep ranges for these exercises you’ll find your back growing bigger and stronger in a fairly short time frame. Back workouts should be a staple part of your weight training, and by using these mass building back exercises you’ll be well on your way to a huge back!
You may also be interested in our mass building chest exercises article.
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