Pull It Up, Over, and Down
The back is a very complex group of muscles, so it can be hit from many various angles and with many different stimuli. The fundamentals of adding width to a back is based off of a lot of pulling. Here is an example of some of the most common and best exercises for developing back width:
Wide Grip Pulley Rows
Does anyone see a commonality in the names? If you really want to get some great back development you going to have to learn to pull things from a variety of directions and angles.
No Rowing Going On?
You’re probably sitting there saying
“How can someone talk about back training when there is hardly any mention of rowing exercises?”
Well to be fair we did mention rowing earlier but remember this article is specifically about developing back width and not thickness. The main emphasis of rowing movements with back training is to help develop overall thickness and strength. Make no mistake, rowing exercises are a very integral part of a solid back routine. Don’t worry we will cover the importance of rowing is a future article.
Pulling vs Jerking
If our goal is to fully develop some nice wide lats, the first thing we have to learn is how to properly pull the weight and not jerk it.
How many times have you seen someone do something that was supposed to be a lat pulldown but looked either more like a full body lean or a” use your entire body pulldown”. While these jerking motions can help a person move more weight they do a lousy job at actually stimulating the lat muscles. Another time you will see this jerking movement is with the Cross-fit “Kipping” Pull Up. Please understand a kip up is not a pull up. A kip up is a momentum move to get from point A to point B. A kipping pull up involves much more of the entire body and minimalizes use of the upper body. A strict pull up stimulates the muscles of the back, rear delts, biceps, and forearms. All other body parts are not involved in the movement.
Since wide lat muscles really is what gives the appearance of a wide back, stimulating them is of upmost importance. As a matter of fact, next time you see someone doing one of these back exercises be sure to check out their overall back development. If their lat pulldowns are full body pulldowns or their pullups are more of a full body kip, I can almost guarantee their back development will be lacking. To truly stimulate the lats be sure to do your pulling in a slow controlled fashion. As the weight becomes heavier there will be more of a lean but you want to minimalize this lean as much as possible. Because the back should be stimulated from so many angles it is important to make sure you are always using controlled form when pulling for the back.
Pull It Over, Up, and Down
Three key pulls angles to use during back training are pulling down, pulling up and pulling over. All of these pulls hit the lats directly from different angles. The back has a lot of muscles so to stimulate them requires hitting them from various different angles. Every back workout should include some form of pull over, pulldown, and pull up exercises. By hitting the back from at least these three angles it will help insure that you are taking a well-rounded approach to training the back. This will also result in developing a wider v taper.
The Pullover is probably the most loved and hated pulling exercise for the back. Some people swear it has done wonders for its back development, while others swear they have gotten nothing but good chest development out of the exercise. The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. The Pullover can stimulate either the chest or the lats but where it hits is more in the mechanics. If you have the option, a pullover machine is probably going to be your best bet for pullover movements. Unfortunately, pullover machines are becoming harder to find in gyms now-a-days. I don’t even have one in my gym and we tend to have a lot of equipment that you would not find in a typical gym. If you do not have access to a pullover machine then using a barbell should be your next option. If you’re really looking to target the lats, focus on using a bar over dumbbells. With a bar you can perform more of a arking movement that will directly stimulate the lats more than with a dumbbell. The way a dumbbell is held it causes more chest stimulation than actual lat stimulation.
What’s the best bodyweight exercise anyone can do for their back? Without a doubt, pullups are! Well you’re probably going to say “If pull ups are so good, how come you don’t see everyone doing them on a regular basis.” Well there is a very simple reason for that…Pull ups are hard. Because they are really hard and a lot of people can’t or do not want to put the effort into doing them. After all, trying to do a pull up and just hanging there can be pretty embarrassing! I know quite a few people who can squat or deadlift hundreds of pounds but can’t pull their own bodyweight up for a single pull up. Pull ups are so good they should be a regular part of any back routine. If you can’t do pull ups by yourself, start off by doing assisted pull ups with a band or assisted pullup machine. The band will help pull you up making the pull up movement a little easier. These still will not make pull ups a piece of cake but for someone who can’t do pull ups this may help them get a few sets or reps in. If using the band is still too hard, you could try using a assisted pull up machine. The assisted pull up machine can have the resistance set so that almost anyone can do pull ups depending on their strength levels. The goal should be to eventually work your way to doing multiple sets of unassisted pull ups. One thing is for sure though, the stronger you become at doing pull ups, the better your back development will become and the stronger you will become overall.
Strict Lat Pull Downs-
The Pulldown is another exercise that tends to get misused a lot. The problem with the Pulldown is the manner it is performed in. This is probably the number one back exercise you will see performed incorrectly. This goes back to what we were talking about earlier with jerking, tugging, and full body pulling movements. If you really want to stretch and feel your lats, try and perform a pull down with the strictest form possible. Try and keep your torso as upright and still as possible. When pulling down continue to keep the torso stationary and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as tightly as possible. You want to pull the bar down from the lats and not the arms. When returning to the starting position make sure to let your arms stretch as far as possible while continuing to keep your torso as still as possible. A strict lat pull down has a much different feel than a “regular” pull down you see a lot in gyms. Because of the lack of momentum used to pull the weight down, a strict pulldown is much much harder than what you typically see people performing in the gym. Strict lat pull downs will not only improve your lat development quickly but will also increase your pulling strength rapidly also.
Straight Arm Pull Downs-
Here is another excellent exercise for targeting the lats. Because of the position your body is placed in when performing this exercise all the stress is placed on the lats. Your toso remains still while in a standing position and your arms remain completely straight when pushing down forcing your lats to do all of the work. Much like the strict lat pulldown because the form is kept so tight, your lats can’t help but do the majority of the work. The straight arm pulldown also creates a stimulus that sort of mimics the pullover for lat stimulation.
To really take your back-width development to the next level, be sure to include a variety of pulling exercise. While rowing is important for back thickness and strength, place more focus on pulling movements if you want a wider look. Your pulling exercises should target the back from a variety of different angles. Your back routine should have pulling exercises from many different angles. Because the back has so many muscles in it, the more angles you can target in a back routine by pulling, the more it will help your overall development