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TOP TEN EXERCISES FOR THE BACK

DEADLIFT

As mentioned in Unit 3, the deadlift is probably the oldest strength training movement in existence. Most strength training movements took some creative thinking to conceive. The deadlift is as basic as picking up a heavy object off the floor is. If we could only choose one movement to train with, it would come down to deadlift or squat.

For a long time, there was a great deal of anti-deadlift literature floating around that had absolutely no scientific basis. Thankfully, there has been a deadlift enlightenment lately, and this movement is getting the respect it deserves. Many bodybuilders today lack lower back development, but those who deadlift do not.

How to correctly perform a deadlift:

1. Face the bar with your feet approximately hip to shoulder width apart.

2. Bend your knees.

3. Grab the bar with an alternating grip, hands right outside your thighs.

4. In a half-squat position, with your back flat, keep the bar close to your body.

5. Lift the weight from the floor to a fully upright position.

6. Lower the weight to the floor.

7. Remember, the closer the bar is to your body, the lighter the weight is, and the safer the movement is.

8. Some reminders for proper deadlift technique:

9. Push through your heels.

10. The middle of the foot should be directly under the bar.

11. Shins should touch the bar.

12. The back is in extension; don’t round it.

13. The shoulder blades should be directly over the bar, and shoulders will be slightly in front.

14. The elbows must remain in full extension throughout the entire movement.

15. Lower the bar in the opposite way the bar was lifted, in terms of hip and knee angles.

Important note: Biceps tears can occur with deadlifts on the underhand grip, so bodybuilders may want to consider doing deadlifts double-overhand grip with straps. This will prevent potential asymmetrical development and reduce the likelihood of injury.

BENT-OVER ROW

The bent-over row is one of the greatest ways to build upper back thickness.

How to correctly perform a bent-over row:

1. Stand behind the barbell with your deadlift stance.

2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip.

3. Lift the barbell off the floor to your stomach.

4. Your torso should be slightly above parallel throughout the entire movement.

Important note: You should keep your back flat and have a slight bend in your knees. For a variation, you can perform this movement with your torso at 45 degrees. This way, you could pick it up off a rack instead of the floor and will be able to use more weight.

PULL-UP/CHIN-UP VARIATIONS

Nothing builds a wide back like pull-up and chin-up variations do. These include narrow grips, wide grips, overhand, underhand, and neutral grip. I suggest making these variations a staple in your back-training routine.

Almost all bodybuilders with great back development have included some sort of “chinning” in their routine. If you are unable to do a pull-up/chin-up, instead of using a machine that assists you, opt for resistance bands. You just wrap the band around the bar at the top and put your knees through the other end.

Other exercises to help you get used to handling

your weight are negatives, for which you start in a chin-up position and purposefully lower yourself slowly. Another way to gain strength is to perform a flexed arm hang for as long as possible.

How to correctly perform a pull-up/chin-up:

1. Grab the bar with the grip of your choice.

2. Hang at arms extension.

3. Keep your chest up.

4. Lead the movement with your chest up and shoulders back.

5. Cross your feet behind you.

6. Look up as you pull yourself up.

7. Pull your chin over the bar.

8. Some heavily muscled bodybuilders will not be able to get their chins over the bar; in this case, just go as high as possible.

9. Lower yourself under control to the starting position.

Important note: You need to include pull-up/chin-up variations in your training. You should mix up what type you use. Not only will this exercise aid in building a broad, powerful-looking back, but also it will help you get stronger and improve shoulder health.

CHEST SUPPORTED T-BAR ROW ECCENTRIC OVERLOAD

This exercise has long been a favorite of many top bodybuilders to work their back. As this is an eccentric movement, muscle soreness following the training session in which this exercise is incorporated is not uncommon. Some individuals have reported feeling muscle soreness lasting up to a week after performing this movement.

How to correctly perform a chest supported T-bar row eccentric overload:

1. Load up the T-bar row machine with approximately 25% more than you usually use for 6–8 reps. (If you can use more weight, great.)

2. Your upper chest needs to be on top of the pad.

3. Lie face down on the pad and grab the handles.

4. Various grips may be used.

5. Have a partner help you lift the bar off the rack.

6. Extend your arms in front of you. (This will be where you start.)

7. Normally, this is the point where you pull the weight up by yourself, but now you will pull the weight up with the assistance of a partner.

8. From the top of the movement, lower the weight for 5–8 seconds to the starting point.

9. Make sure that, at the bottom of the movement, your arms are fully extended and you feel a deep stretch in your lats.

Important note: This is a very intense movement. Usually, when people do it for the first time, they will feel like their lats are automatically flared out for a few days and feel a severe, deep soreness in their lats. As long as they are performing the movement with maximum intensity and getting a full stretch at the bottom, they will experience extreme soreness.

T-BAR PRISON ROWS

This movement has been used by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Cutler, Branch Warren, Johnnie Jackson, and Ronnie Coleman, to name a few. Many machines have tried to duplicate the prison row, but nothing seems to beat the bare-bones original.

How to correctly perform a T-bar prison row:

1. Load one side of the barbell with weight.

2. Place the opposing side in a corner space in the gym.

3. Place your feet shoulder width apart and stand over the bar right behind the plates.

4. Put a close grip handle under the bar and grab it with both hands.

RACK PULLS

Rack pulls are a partial deadlift. They can be used as an overload because you can handle more weight than you can on a full range of motion deadlift. They work extremely well for developing a thick back.

How to correctly perform rack pulls:

1. Place a barbell in a squat rack.

2. Stand in the squat rack using a normal deadlift stance.

3. The bar can be anywhere from 2 inches above the knee to 2 inches below the knee.

4. Bend your knees slightly.

5. With your arms fully extended, grab the bar with your deadlift grip.

6. Extend your hips and lock the weight out.

7. Lower the bar back to the starting point.

Important note: Rack pulls not only develop your back but also target your hamstrings and glutes very effectively. Some bodybuilders with lower back problems who have trouble doing regular deadlifts might still be able to perform heavy rack pulls.

ONE-ARMED DUMBBELL ROWS

How to correctly perform a one-armed dumbbell row:

1. These can be done standing with your hand placed on a rack at approximately waist height.

2. If you’re doing your right side, your left hand would be on the rack.

3. Place your left foot forward and your right foot back with a staggered stance.

4. Keep your back close to parallel to the floor.

5. Grab the dumbbell with your right hand and drive your elbow up toward the ceiling, keeping the dumbbell at your side with a neutral grip.

6. Concentrate on pulling the dumbbell up using your back rather than your biceps. (In the long run, you’ll do more weight this way and get the desired result.)

7. Pull the weight up forcefully, but keep control of the dumbbell during the negative portion of the lift.

8. At the bottom of the movement, not only return to full arm extension but also go beyond this and actually feel the stretch in your lat.

Important note: You can do this movement heavy. You’re not doing it for your grip, so don’t be afraid to throw on straps. If you have a bad lower back, an alternative is to put one arm and the corresponding knee on a bench. This will release pressure from your lower back.

Johnnie Jackson, who had the best back in the 2012 Mr. Olympia contest, did a 250-pound dumbbell for reps consecutively for 30 seconds on both his right and left side. I recommend starting this movement with your weaker side.

LAT PULL-DOWNS ON YOUR KNEES

A great lat isolation exercise is the lat pull-down. One variation that sticks out is performed on the knees with a cable in each hand. The advantage is that both limbs operate independently of one another.

How to correctly perform lat pull-downs on your knees:

1. Get on your knees in the center of a cable station.

2. Grab each handle, making sure your arms are at full extension and you feel a good stretch in your lats.

3. Pull the weights down to your side.

4. Squeeze your lats together at the bottom.

5. Hold this position for a half second (0.5 second).

6. Return to the starting position.

Important note: This exercise needs to be performed very strictly.

SEATED CABLE ROWS

For decades, bodybuilders and strength athletes have used seated cable rows for overall back development.

How to correctly perform a seated cable row:

1. Using a low-row neutral grip attachment (looks a V or U), grasp the handle with both hands.

2. Keeping your elbows in, pull the weight to your stomach.

3. As the weight touches your stomach, keep your chest up and squeeze your upper back together.

4. Your legs can be slightly bent.

5. After a brief hold, return to the starting position with your arms in full extension, feeling a mild stretch in your lats.

Important note: A fun variation to this exercise is the eccentric overload version. You begin this exercise the same way, pulling it to your stomach and squeezing your back, but as you release the weight, you will let go with one hand and lower the weight with one arm. You can obviously handle much more weight on the eccentric. Eccentric overloads are vital for bodybuilders to induce satellite cell proliferation, which will help maximize muscle growth.

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About

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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