Without a doubt the back musculature is the most complex of all the muscle groups we train as bodybuilders
. Not only is it important to build both general width and thickness, but it is also essential to utilize a myriad of different angles, grips, and movements to fully develop everything from top to bottom and side to side (especially if you compete). In fact, back training should be broken up into sections in order to properly stimulate the lats, rhomboids, teres, erectors and traps…the basic muscles that make up the entire span of the (visible) back.
In my many years as a competitor, coach and fan of bodybuilding
I have attended literally hundreds of competitions, and in that time I have come to the conclusion that the most impressive backs are the ones with extreme thickness across the mid-back. There certainly is no shortage of flaring lats and “Christmas tree” erectors out there, but when it comes to “3-D mid-backs,” they are few and far between. Look no further than the rear double biceps shots of Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman, Dexter Jackson, or Dorian Yates to see just how dramatic a difference serious development and definition in this key area can make. I would even go so far as to say that back poses often make or break a competitor in most shows.
Interestingly, I am not a stranger to this “problem” myself. In 2006 I made a competitive comeback after a 5-year semi-retirement, and although I placed rather well, I made sure to critically evaluate my overall physique in order to figure out what my training strategy would be for future shows. One of my most glaring weaknesses was the lack of “depth” across my mid-back. Thus, over the past two years I have set out to make some major improvements in this area by experimenting with several new exercises meant to specifically target the necessary muscles.
Here are the three movements that have been the greatest keys to my success:
Smith Machine WG Bent Row:
The key here is to position your torso so that the bar makes contact with your lower pec line. Also, make sure to keep the elbows flared wide and remain at a 90-degree angle throughout the set.
Smith Machine Upright Row/Shrug:
This is a true combination movement whereby you will be doing a half upright row, half shrug. To do the movement correctly, and with enough ROM, make sure not to try and go too heavy. You will not hit the mid-back if you simply shrug the bar!
Bent Over DB Shrug:
This differs from traditional shrugs, which generally target mostly upper traps. Here you want to sit at the end of a flat bench and lean forward at about an 80-degree angle. Hold the DB’s at arm’s length and shrug/squeeze your scapula together. Again, do not try and go to heavy if you want to do the exercise properly.
Master these movements for a major mid-back attack!
Justin Edwards: JE
Eric Broser: EB
- JE: In your recommended back exercises concentrating on the mid-back, 2 of those lifts involved a Smith-Machine. Would a free bar be just as effective or does this movement need to be done on the Smith for it to work properly?
- EB: You certainly could go with free weights, but I find that the control/precision motion of a smith machine advantageous for these particular movements.
- JE: It has been said by many bodybuilders that dead lifts are the key to thickness in the back, including the mid back. In more recent years many bodybuilders have opted for “rack deads” or partials, starting with the bar just below the knee. These rack-dead lifts definitely hit the mid back in the top portion of the movement, would you see these as beneficial or would you see other exercises as having more paramount importance in hitting the mid-back?
- EB: Rack deads should be in every bodybuilders back training arsenal, but the exercises I recommended in the article were meant for mid-back specialization, over and above what normal back exercises can give you.
- JE: You mentioned that back training should be broken into sections, when saying this are you a fan of splitting your back training into different sessions of training? There are many who will dedicate one day to thickness and one day to width; if developing a lagging mid-back is a priority for someone would they be better suited to follow a split back routine or is this a waste in your opinion?
- EB: I split my back into lats, mid-back, upper traps, and lower back, and generally will hit all of these areas in one training session. I do not necessarily believe in a “thickness” and “width” day, as every workout is simply meant for overall growth.
- JE: You mentioned several awesome backs, Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman, Dexter Jackson, or Dorian Yates, now the question remains, who’s is the best in your eyes? Hey, there has to be one.
- EB: Ronnie Coleman’s back at the 2003 Mr. Olympia was the sickest thing I ever saw onstage!
- JE: Like we talked about in regards to biceps, if there was only one exercise someone could do for their back, their entire back, what would you recommend over anything else?
- EB: All forms of pull-ups would be my recommendation, as these alone can build an impressive back!