There’s not many sights more impressive in the gym than someone who has a well development and toned back, and there’s a reason for that.
Training your back is hard.
Not only is it extremely taxing on your central nervous system, possibly only coming second to a big leg workout, but you also can’t see your back when you are training it, making that all important mind-muscle connection much more challenging.
So, when you see someone walking around, who has a back that resembles a mountain range , you know that a lot of effort and time has gone into chiselling it.
Alongside being impressive, having a strong back is also important for good posture, prompting you to keep your shoulders back and promoting a tall upright position. Essential for those of us who sit at desks all day or for those who decide to train chest again rather than doing some heavy barbell rows as programmed (you know who you are).
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to train your back and the workout itself, let’s have a look at exactly what muscles make up your back. Knowing the muscles you are training, where they sit and what their function is, will help you make that mind muscle connection and in turn get much better results.
Latissimus Dorsi aka Lats
Let’s start with the biggest muscles in your back- the Lats.
Your lat is a large, flat triangular shaped muscle that runs from under your shoulder down to above the pelvic girdle and sweeps across from your mid back outwards, giving you the iconic V shape.
Its function is to extend, adduct and rotate the arm and is heavily utilised in exercises such as pull ups, rows and deadlifts.
Your rhomboids are two smaller muscles that sit at either side of your upper back just under your traps.
Their function is to pull the scapula back and inwards towards your spine, essentially they are the muscle used when “squeezing” your shoulder blades together.
Trapezius aka Traps
A kite shaped muscle that is located in the upper back. It starts from the neck, come down towards the shoulders and then go down the middle of your back either side of the spine, meeting at a point.
Your traps have a number of functions – lifting and lowering of the shoulders, rotation of the neck, internal rotation of the scapula and supporting the weight of your arms.
Erector spinae aka Lower back
The group of muscles at the bottom of your back that are often referred to as a “Christmas tree” due to their appearance when toned.
Their job is to keeping the spine straight and help it to rotate and plays an important role in supporting your core.
How to train your back
No matter what exercise you’re performing during a back workout, its vital you set up properly.
At the start of each rep pull your shoulder blades down and back. Imagine trying to tuck them into the back pockets of your trousers.
This will minimise bicep involvement and will put the load directly onto your back muscles.
When training you back, your grip is often the first thing to go. To avoid this happening too soon, try using a hook grip for your exercises, wrapping your fingers over your thumb.
Incorporating straps is also a great way to help you lift heavier and put more load through your back muscles without having ton worry about your grip strength.
Pull and Row
As you saw above, your back made up of a complex group of muscles, but training them is actually fairly straight forward. You just need to ensure you add in an even mix of rowing and pulling movements (e.g. seated row and lat pull down) to work it fully.
The rep range you use to train your back will depend on your goal. To build power and strength stick to a range of 2-8 reps, for hypertrophy aim for the 8-12 rep range and for endurance you’ll want to be hitting anything from 12 and higher.
For the workout below we will be focusing on the two upper rep ranges for hypertrophy and endurance, to help achieve that toned look.
Choose a weight that allows you to perform each rep range with only 1-2 reps in reserve.
A1- Warm up – Pull Ups 10/20/30 reps in as few sets as possible (beginner/intermediate/advanced)
B1 – Deadlift 5×8
C1- Pendley row 5 x 12
D1- One arm dumbbell row 3×15 (each side) Superset with
D2- Dumbbell pullover 3 x 12
E1- Back extensions 3x AMRAP superset with
E2- Dumbbell shrugs 3 x AMRAP
Getting the most from your workouts
Now that you know how to train your back properly and have the workout to go with it, we need to ensure were getting the most of our time in the gym and this is where having proper nutrition comes in.
Before each workout aim to have a meal that contains both carbs and protein to fuel your muscles for the session, keeping them in an anabolic state and giving you the energy to push through till the end.
Taking a pre workout can also be beneficial for the days when you need an energy boost and to dial in your focus.
For your post workout, you want to get in a similar combination of protein and carbs to replenish glycogen stores and kick start muscle repair and growth as soon as possible, so you are ready for your next big back day to roll around.
Alongside your post workout meal or shake, incorporating creatine into your post workout routine can help your body respond better to nutrients, helps prevent cramps, makes your muscles look “fuller” and arguably the biggest benefit, helps fuel your future workouts due to it being a form of easily accessible energy for your muscles. (1,2)
- Chang CT, Wu CH, Yang CW, Huang JY, Wu MS. Creatine monohydrate treatment alleviates muscle cramps associated with haemodialysis. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2002;17(11
- Farshidfar F, Pinder MA, Myrie SB. Creatine Supplementation and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism for Building Muscle Mass- Review of the Potential Mechanisms of Action. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2017;18(12)