Build a Better Back

This post is dedicated to the (second) most underworked muscle groups of the vast majority of gym goers: The back.

Seriously, the only things more lonely than a properly used squat rack are row machines and pull up bars, and that is unfortunate. While those aren’t the only ways to build a better back, their lack of use is telling. The problem is that to a lot of dudes, building a better back just isn’t flashy enough. Pecs are flashy. Biceps are flashy. Shit, this isn’t even limited to newbs- I see big dudes with slouched over posture because they don’t work their back. You can’t see your back in the mirror, so what’s the point?

The point is that having a solidly built back is one of the best things you can do for yourself. In fact, I rate having a strong back as the most important part in having a well rounded, proportional, and able body. Your back (latissimus dorsi, thoracolumbar fascia, trapezius, and other smaller groups) is responsible for just about everything from stability to posture, and a weak back can have many negative consequences.

For starters, improving the strength in your back is going to reduce your risk of injury, which should be enough motivation to start working on it tomorrow if you’re not already. You absolutely do not want any kind of back injury (just ask anyone who has had one) yet you risk it every time you lift something while having a weak back, be it a barbell or a table. I don’t believe I’m incorrect in stating that my lack of injuries these past few years during physical activity can be largely credited to having a strong back that I have never neglected (that and good form).

However, it doesn’t stop there. Due to its importance in just about every movement you make (once again, ask a back injury sufferer if you doubt this), having a strong back will positively affect almost every lift in your routine, guaranteed. It will definitely help out your squats and deadlifts. Your bench will improve (incidentally, one way to improve your bench is to address any weaknesses in your back, particularly your lats). Even minor lifts like dumbbell curls get small boosts from having strong lats for stabilization. Not to mention that working on your back is worth it enough just to be good and strong at pulling movements.

Aesthetically, developing a V-shaped back is an easy way to look good, and the thicker it gets the more respect you’ll find yourself getting. Having a thick ass torso being showcased by a well fitting shirt because your back is huge is an awesome feeling. Those of you with shitty posture will see that evaporate almost overnight. Girls love it when you have a solid back, be it at the beach or when they’re running their fingers over it in the bedroom.

There is literally no downside to building an awesome back. So let’s talk about how to create one-

  • Squats and deadlifts. These staples use the back extensively and are great for building up a foundation of back strength. Doing these will get you a pretty decent back on their own, but why stop there?
  • Pull ups/Chin ups. Aside from the fact that I believe every man should be able to do a decent amount of pull ups, they really get your lats working and will build width to your “V”. Over 20 muscle groups are involved in one way or another with these, so they’re pretty damn beneficial. You can do a hammer/neutral grip, wide grip, wrist facing you or away, and they’ll all work wonders. Experiment a little and see which ones you like the most- just remember, no kipping you puss. For bonus challenge go all the way down until your arms are straight before pulling up again.
  • Rows. I fucking love rows. Whereas Chin ups/Pull ups really get your width going, rows are how you get a thick back and like I said I love that shit. I prefer to do sitting cable rows because I see the biggest payoff from these, but there are also lawn mowers, single arm cables, and bent over barbell rows. Regardless of which one you choose, make sure you are not swinging your body with the movement. Wide neutral grip is the way to go in my book- you’ll hit the middle of your back more as well as not allow the biceps to take over like they can in narrower grip rows.
  • Back Extensions. Lower back strength and durability is of utmost importance, and this lift is a great way to build it up. I like to do mine on those 45 degree things (I have no idea what they’re called) with a plate held to my chest. Of key importance with back extensions is making sure you are only bringing your upper body back in a straight line with your legs- do not go any farther back, you can injure yourself.

While there are some other little things you could work in, like rear delt extensions, if you work these into your routines I promise you that you will see results. I would, however, recommend breaking them off into different days (depending on your routine set-up). For example, I do squats and rows on one day and deadlifts and chin ups another day- back extensions both. They have built me a solid back that helps me withstand injury and lift heavier for all lifts while being a visually appealing feature I am proud of.

These may not be the sexiest lifts, but they are all very important, so get to building a better back. You’ll thank yourself down the road.

Swole Life.

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About The Author

They call me Fly, Fresh, and Young. Gym rat by day, lecherous drunkass by night. Follow me on Twitter @nate_moneyh.


  1. delicioustacos January 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Amen! Back day is the most important day of the week. It’s the one that makes you stand up straight.

    I believe the 45 degree angle thing is called a “Roman chair,” also available in a version that puts you parallel to the ground.

  2. Johnny Caustic January 10, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Additional motivation:

    – Posture gets the ladies looking. Back muscles, more than anything else, get you the posture. Have too many hours in front of the laptop given you the forward-chicken-head look rocked by geeks everywhere? Upper back exercises, people.

    – Got lower back pain? The highest-percentage cure is regular workouts on a lumbar extension machine. Don’t got lower back pain? More than 50% of old people do. The surest way to avoid joining that club is the lumbar extension machine.

  3. dumasworld January 11, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Before I started doing MMA, I didnt realise why my back was so important, I started looking at boxers figures and in particular with those who have great punching power, a common attribute is the size of their lats, huge. I actually do at least 20 pullups as a warm up every day, previously I’d find my back would hurt when I’d do any kind of chest exercise as it was not strong enough. Now it’s gained strength I’m finding these exercises are much easier. Lower back is something I’m working hard on as it’s quite easy to damage it. My posture has improved greatly over the last 18 months, fuck being hunched. Like you I believe back is best.

    I do Lumbar extention exercise everyday.

  4. Roger Bedford January 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    After neglecting back work for years, I have officially added “back” to my weekly regiment. I don’t want to be THAT guy with the flat back and skinny legs to match!

  5. rob January 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I just started the fire academy for my town and this weekend was our first pt test. I did 20 wide grip pullups with perfect form and beat the entire.class. Ive been doing pullups and working out my back for six months, and its one of my favorite body parts to workout. Everyone of my classmates gave me immediate respect. building a powerful back shoudl be a top priority want to get swole.up. Its hard and painful but very worth it. And chicks dig it

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