#WeekendWorkout - CSN's six exercises to get a bigger upper back
A lot of people really struggle to develop a big, wide upper back for two main reasons. Firstly, they neglect the most effective exercises to develop the overall size of the back and secondly, they don’t create enough tension on the muscles to really ‘connect’ to the muscle working and get the most out of every exercise.
This lack of connections is understandable; it’s usually more difficult to focus on targeting the muscles we can’t see. This means that with back movements, even with heavy, high-intensity lifting, control of the movement is paramount to getting the most out of back exercises.
What should be the focus for a big upper back?
With all of the exercises here, a big focus should be placed on the eccentric portion of the lift with at least a three-second negative to begin with and a controlled but explosive concentric portion of the lift of one-two seconds. For people who really struggle to feel their back working, lower the weight, go even slower with the negative and even slow the concentric portion of each exercise to increase the amount of time the muscle is under load; it may seem like a step backwards but this is an awesome way to increase the effectiveness of these big back-building exercises.
1. Pull Ups
These should be the mainstay of any good back workout to really isolate the lats. If full pull-ups are too challenging, then try assisted pullups which can be done on a machine or with the aid of resistance bands. Still struggling? Then do pull ups from a lower height (using a smith machine for example), almost kneeling with your feet flat behind you, so the legs can contribute to the movement, assisting the pull-up. Gradually increase the difficulty by increasing the height from the floor and reducing the amount of ‘push off’ from the feet. If that’s not working, then there’s always an option to start with lat pull-downs to build some muscle and strength.
2. Seated Rows
It may come as a surprise but studies show that this actually gets more activation of the lats and other back muscles than pull ups and lat pull downs, so is a great lat builder as well as hitting the rhomboids (the middle portion of the upper back), rear deltoids and erectors muscles that run along the spine.
Remember to focus on pulling the handles as close to the body as possible, keeping the elbows tight and really squeezing the shoulder blades together at the end of the pull. Try and hold this squeeze for one-two seconds each rep to get the back working to its maximum potential and as we control the weight to the start position, make sure you feel a stretch through the lats, but keeping the upper back straight and not letting the shoulders roll forwards too much.
The deadlift, if performed correctly, hits the whole posterior chain, including the lats, erectors, rhomboids and trapezius. It’s no coincidence that some of the biggest, thickest backs in the world are built with heavy deadlifts and rows.
These may take people outside of their comfort zone (high volume deadlifts to near failure are never, ever fun!), but if you want a quick way to a big, thick back then deadlifts are a must.
4. Smith Machine Shrugs
Having big traps and rhomboids can really give a person an awesome silhouette and give the impression of a powerful physique. However, people perform shrugs incorrectly ‘rolling the shoulders’ or in straight up and down motion. In order to get the best possible benefit out of shrugs to hit the traps and rhomboids, we need to understand that these muscles don’t just elevate the shoulder blades (lifting the shoulder to shrug), but also retract the shoulder blades forcing them together.
Performing the perfect shrug is easier on a smith machine because it allows you to elevate the shoulder blades fully whilst also controlling the weight at the top of the shrug as we pull backwards, almost bracing against the machine, to fully retract the shoulder blades. In short, this is a movement where the traps should move upwards and backwards from the start position, not straight up and down.
5. Wide Grip T-bar Rows
As another rowing movement, these hit most of the major muscles of the back in a really effective way when performed correctly. Remember to control the negative portion of the movement and focus on an explosive lift, with a ‘squeeze’ at the top into the body to really get the most out of the movement. During the squeeze, focus on pulling the shoulder blades backwards and together hard and at the end of the movement utilise the stretch to activate the lats through the entire range of movement.
6. Overhand Grip Bent-Over Rows
Very similar to the deadlift in terms of muscle recruited, with a little more focus on the lats and traps, due to the row movement, and less focus on the erectors as there is not as much hip flexion. Start with the knees slightly bent and the back at an angle of about 45 degrees with the arms fully extended; pull the bar into around the belly button region, pulling the elbows as far as they can go.
CSN Bigger Back Weekend Workout
1A. Bent over Row: 3 Sets of 8 repetitions. Two minutes rest between sets.
2A. Seated Row: 2 sets of 10 reps super set with…
2B. Pull-up/Lat pull down 10 reps. Two minutes rest between sets.
3A. T-Bar Row: 3 sets of 15 repetitions. Two minutes rest between sets.
As always Team CSN are here to help, call or email us today and we can give you professional, unbiased advice on all your nutrition and supplement needs.