by Tony Gjokaj February 24, 2020 8 min read
Today we are going to talk about the back and how to simplify training in this very detailed and intricate muscle group!
Remember that our backs are one of the most complex muscle groups in the human body. This means that this is going to be a PACKED blog post!
Let's get into it!
The back comprises of many muscles that assist in providing many functions of the body. Our back contains the Lattisimus Dorsi, Trapezius, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae and so many smaller and intricate muscles.
The Lattisimus Dorsi (or Lats), is probably one of the most popularly known muscles on the back. They give you that wing shape on the lat spread; they are what produce the “width” of the back.
Our lats assist with the following:
When it comes to the lats, a lot of people assume that only exercises like the “Lat Pulldown” only assist the Latissimus Dorsi. That is incorrect. Rowing movements like the Barbell Row also help in developing our lats.
The Rhomboids are the muscles that are in between the trapezius and lattisimus dorsi. These muscles function by “pulling back” (retracting) the scapula, and elevating/lowering the scapula as well.
These muscles are one of the major underlying issues when it comes to frequent sitting. If the rhomboids are weak, it will affect the upper back muscles and even the shoulders (rotator cuffs). It is imperative that we mobilize this area by pulling things close to our body (similarly to the functions of the Lattisimus Dorsi).
The Trapezius (Traps) are a large muscle group that starts on your shoulders and moves all the way down to the upper back.
It functions in many ways:
In addition to that, the Trapezius helps us bring our shoulder blades up, and even keeping the shoulders “locked” when carrying heavy objects.
When it comes to the trapezius, many people overemphasize the shrugging motion and forget the movement of carrying things. This is a prominent issue in our society because our shoulders tend to shrug up when we are sitting for long periods of time. Adding more direct trap work may impinge/weaken the area.
Another prominent problem in today’s society is that our grip strength as a population has decreased while we have overactive or tight trapezius muscles. A lot of us work in corporate jobs that require us to sit for long periods of time, thereby giving us a variety of tight muscles – in this case, tight trapezius muscles.
The Spinal Erectors are the muscles that reside in your back and “erect” the spine, keeping it intact. In addition, these muscles allow us to extend our spine in the cervical (neck area), thoracic (upper-mid back), and lumbar (lower back) portions of our spine.
Our erectors tend to be overactive due to prolonged sitting and slouching. A combination of mobility and strengthening will improve our posture – granted we don’t overwork these muscles.
Now, the following section will help you strategize in building some wings and barnyard doors.
To strategize back training, one should think of optimizing their development with a Horizontal Pull and a Vertical Pull. Horizontal Pulls consist of exercises like the barbell rows or pullovers. Vertical Pulls consist of exercises like the lat pulldown or a pull-up.
When it comes to the pull-up and/or lat pulldown, they both provide very similar muscular development to the body. The only main difference is for the lat pulldown is your body is locked in place, while the pull up allows your whole entire body to move.
In order to optimize muscular development for the vertical pull movement, I would recommend the following strategies:
When it comes to horizontal pulling exercises, your intent is to pull the bar or weight closer to your body. The following strategies are important when it comes to overall back development.
When talking about the Lattisimus Dorsi (and the rhomboids), you can target them in the following way:
When talking about the Trapezius, it is important to strategize in the following way:
While there are hundreds of variations of back exercises, we have provided the following exercises to maximize your muscular development. Now while we are all similar anatomically, some movements will feel better than others.
Your goal is to find the best exercises in this section and utilize them consistently to master the movement. While you continue to get stronger with these exercises, your muscles will continue to develop.
There is really no need to change things up if you can stay motivated with your exercises.
To conclude our chapter on the Back, we emphasize 14-22 total sets for the back itself. This will include the lats, the trapezius, and the spinal erectors. You can utilize this by training rows and pulldowns in a 1:1 ratio. If spreading the volume throughout the week, you can ideally train back 2-4x weekly.
When it comes to training the Lattisimus Dorsi, you can train this muscle in the 6-15 rep range. Recall that this muscle is trained through horizontal pulls and vertical pulls. If utilizing both movements, you can train this muscle in various angles, maximizing development.
In training the Trapezius, we recommend 12-18 sets weekly in the 10-20 rep range. Usually trapezius development occurs from heavy deadlifts and farmer’s walks for the beginning and intermediate lifter. For the more advanced lifter, we recommend choosing the best exercises that keep you motivated to training this muscle group.
When it comes to isolating the spinal erectors, you might not need to do so. If you deadlift and/or squat 2x weekly, you should be good! Instead, we recommend utilizing spinal mobility work and strengthening the core.
Our abdominal training chapter will help you improve mobility for the spinal erector and the spine itself.
It's a long blog post, but we really hope it helped you strategize your back workouts more effectively.
Until next time legion, go crush it!
Tony is the Owner of Reforged. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help millions exercise their way out of depression and anxiety.
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