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Big Broad Back: 4 Golden Rules

Guaranteed Big Back

You'd have no trouble contracting your biceps if I asked you to. This is due to the fact that you can see your elbows flexing and your biceps contracting. You've also been flexing your biceps in front of the mirror for as long as you can remember. (Don't tell a lie.)

But what if I told you to tighten the muscles between your shoulder blades? Some of you may have a strong bond with your back musculature. Others may try to pull their shoulders back and pinch their scapulae together while experiencing little muscle sensation.

How can you effectively load a muscle if you can't "find" it? How can you possibly build it if you can't load it?

Here are four pointers to help you find and strengthen your back.

1 Locate the Muscles and Feel Them Work

Certain exercises can help you become more aware of the muscles that work in a specific area. Isometrics in the peak contracted (maximally shortened) position work best for your traps and rhomboids in your middle and upper back.

Plate row iso-holds are one possibility. Begin your back workout by performing a few sets of 20-30 second holds.

2 Pre-Fatigue the Muscles of the Mid-Back

The iso-dynamic method is a high-intensity technique for pre-fatigueing a muscle group and increasing time under tension.

Because you will always fatigue first in the shortened range of motion, start each set holding for 10-20 seconds, and you will feel your dynamic reps a lot more when you start doing them. Try iso-dynamic chest-supported rows to strengthen your upper back while minimizing fatigue in your low back and hips.

Bonus Tip: In the video, take note of the bar that is placed at my feet. This keeps you locked in place and focused on the area you're attempting to target.

3 Make use of a variety of grips and angles

Why are you still doing an exercise if you can't feel it working the intended area or if it causes you pain? Internal cues that help you focus on sensation will be important when building muscle, especially in an area where you lack awareness.


Put your elbows behind you.

Pinch your shoulder blades together and concentrate on this.

A coach, in an ideal world, would place a hand between your shoulder blades to feel your mid-back.

If your focus and intention are in the right place but you're still not feeling it, your exercise selection could be the issue. Different exercises are better suited to different people, and some will make your back work harder than others.

If you don't feel it, experiment with your grip. Try a different approach. Slow it down and concentrate on the squeeze.

Inverted rows are frequently performed with an overhand grip, a lack of controlled tempo, and no consideration for creating whole-body tension. Change your grip to an underhand grip. (Watch the video.) Use a bar pad and try to tap it every time you want to increase your range of motion. You could even include a brief pause at the beginning to ensure you're getting the most out of each rep.

4 Maintain Transparency in Your Reps

If you have a compelling reason to use a limited range of motion, go for it. However, most of the time, you'll want to use your full range of motion – your maximum available and active range of motion.

If you're doing T-bar rows and the 45-pound plates hit your chest first, your upper back won't benefit as much. To target the upper back, try bent-over row variations where the load is kept close to your hips. Modified T-bar rows (as seen in the video) are not the jerky versions you're used to seeing or using.

Replace your large 45-pound plates with smaller-diameter plates. When rowing, go a little lighter and try to keep your forearms as close to your inner thighs as possible. You'll have more range of motion, a stronger contraction in your upper back, and your lower back will remain intact as a result.

If you're feeling fatigue in your lower back and hips, try chest-supported row variations.

10 Small Changes That Will Make a Big Difference

  • Set a goal of performing at least 18 reps of the standard inverted row (12 reps for women). If you can't, your relative strength needs to be improved.

  • Pull more forcefully than you push.

  • If you train your chest like a powerlifter, you should also train your back like a bodybuilder.

  • Aim for a dead-hang chin-up using 75% of your bench press weight (that weight should include your body weight).

  • Train more horizontal pulling patterns than vertical ones for healthy shoulders. In the videos above, you have four options.

  • To break through a back plateau, try switching angles and arm paths to those you tend to ignore the most.

  • The upper body squat is weighted pull-ups. A neutral grip or rings will provide the best return for the least amount of money.

  • Upper traps are cool, but don't overlook your lower traps.

  • If you are having difficulty feeling your lats working, try straight-arm pulldowns or pullovers BEFORE your "big" back lifts. Here's Christian Thibaudeau on the sidelines:

  • There are better options for improving the "real" thing than band-assisted pull-ups. If you're weak at pull-ups, eccentric variations (focusing on the negative or lowering portion of the rep) and isometric holds in varying positions work best. q



My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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Consistency leaves clues

Hundreds of clients of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities have put their health in our hands over the years and achieved truly remarkable results. 

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