Back Muscle Anatomy
There are three primary muscles groups in the back - the trapezius muscles in the upper back, the latissimus dorsi muscles in the mid-back, and the erector spinae muscles in the lower back.
There are several other smaller muscles in the back, all of which will be developed by performing exercises that work the three main back muscles.
The latissimus dorsi (also known as the "lats"), lie across the middle section of the back on each side. This muscle group when well developed gives the upper body that V shape. The lats originates from attachments along the spine and inserts with a large tendon to the humerus (upper arm bone) on each side of the body.
The erector spinae muscles of the lower back are like two thick columns of muscle on either side of your spinal column. The spinal erectors run from the base of your pelvis to almost the full length of your spine. However, they are most easily visible from the middle to the lower back.
It is essential that when you do any exercise that you perform the movements correctly, if you don't you will receive less then optimum benefit from the exercise. It is very difficult to unlearn bad exercise habits, so it is best to learn the right exercise technique from the very start.
Tip - You can fully contract the lats only when you arch your back. When training your lats, arch your back in the fully contracted position of each lat exercise to maximize the peach contraction and get full lat development.
For each back workout pick 3-4 of these exercises and do 4 sets for each exercise. You can vary the exercises you do for each back workout.
This is one of the best power building exercises that you can do. Deadlifts work the spinal erectors, quadriceps, buttocks, hips, forearms, trapezius, lats, and abdominals.
Stand in front of a barbell with your shins very close to the bar. Feet shoulder width apart. Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider then shoulder width. Keeping your arms straight, bend your legs and flatten your back. Position yourself so it is like you are doing a squat with the barbell at arms length in front of you.
Pull the barbell off the floor by straightening your legs and torso until your body is completely erect. Pull your shoulders back. Then lower the bar back to the floor. Repeat.
This exercise is great for working the spinal erectors, buttock, and hamstrings.
Stand in the middle of the hyperextension station. Facing toward the large flat pad, lean forward until your upper thighs are placed on the pad. With your legs straight place your feet under the smaller pad.
When in position, lower your upper body at the waist until it is perpendicular to the floor. Then lift your upper body back to the starting position. At the top of the movement hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Repeat.
Tips - If you want to add resistance to the exercise you can hold a weight plate to your chest.
Bent Barbell Rows
This is a basic back exercise that works the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, biceps, and the forearms.
Bend over at the waist and grab a barbell with your hands placed shoulder width apart. Keep a slight bend in the knees. Lift the bar with your arms straight. Keep your upper body at a 45-degree angle to the floor and arch your back.
Moving just your arms row the barbell into your stomach. Hold this position and squeeze your back muscles for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Lower the bar until your arms are straight, but do not let the barbell touch the floor in between each rep. Keep the tension on the muscles. Repeat.
Tips - For variety you can use an underhand grip (i.e. palms of the hands facing forward) this will work the lower lats more. You can also do this exercise with dumbbells or a low cable pulley.
1 Arm Dumbbell Row
This exercise works the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, biceps, and the forearms.
Kneel on a flat exercise bench with one knee, you other foot placed on the floor beside the bench. Support your upper body by placing your hand on the end of the bench. With your other hand grab a dumbbell. Keep your back flat and let the dumbbell hang down at arms length.
Keeping your elbow close to your side, pull the dumbbell directly upwards until it touches the side of your torso. Squeeze your back muscles for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Do the same for your other arm.
This exercise works the lats, spinal erectors, traps, rear deltoids, biceps, and forearms.
Stand with your legs on each side of the T-bar. Grab the handle with both hands. Slightly bend your knees to take the stress off the lower back. Keep your upper body at a 45-degree angle with the floor. Let your arms hang down in front.
Use your lats and arm strength to pull the T-bar up and row it into your abdomen. Arch your back and squeeze your lats together to maximize the peak contraction in the back muscles. Lower the T-bar back to the starting position. Repeat.
Tip - for variety you can do this exercise with a reverse grip to hit the back muscles from a different angle.
Seated Pulley Rows
This exercise is good for working the latissimus dorsi, spinal erectors, trapezius, biceps, and forearms.
Attach a narrow handle to a low cable pulley. Sit in front of the machine and grab the handle with both hands. Brace your feet and keep your knees slightly bent.
Lean forward and straighten your arms to stretch your lats completely. Hold this stretched position for a second. Then pull the handle into your stomach and sit up straight. Arch your back and squeeze your back muscles, hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Repeat.
Tip - you can use different handles and grips to work the back muscles from different angles. (i.e. overhand grip, underhand grip, etc.)
The lat pulldown works the lats, rear deltoids, biceps, and forearms.
Attach a straight bar to a high pulley. Grab the bar a bit wider then shoulder width. Sit down at the machine and place your knees under the knee pad.
Straighten your arms and let your lats stretch. Hold this position for a second. Arch your back and pull the bar down in front, try to touch the bar to your chest. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Straighten your arms to the starting position. Repeat.
Tips - you can vary your grip to work your back from different angles. (i.e. wide grip, narrow grip, overhand, underhand, etc.)
Chin Ups / Pull Ups
The chin up works that same muscles as the lat pulldown (i.e. the lats, rear deltoids, biceps, and forearms). Chin ups are an advanced exercise because you have to be able to lift your entire bodyweight.
Grab a chin up bar with your hands a bit wider then shoulder width apart. Bend your legs so that your body is hanging from the chin up bar.
Straighten your arms and let your lats stretch. Hold this position for a second. Arch your back slightly and pull yourself up to the bar until your chin is over the bar. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Repeat.
Tips - you can vary your grip to work your back from different angles. (i.e. wide grip, narrow grip, overhand, underhand, etc.).
This exercise works the spinal erectors, buttocks, and hamstrings.
Use a rack such as a squat or power rack to hold the barbell. Place your feet shoulder width apart under the bar. Grasp the bar just wider then shoulder width, duck your head under the bar and position it on your trapezius muscles behind your neck. Lift the bar from the rack and take a few steps back. Position your feet shoulder width apart with your toes pointed just slightly out to the sides. Look forward and keep your head up.
Keep a slight bend in the knees and slowly lower your upper body until it is a little lower then a 45-degree angle with the floor. Then slowly lift your upper body back up to the starting position. Repeat.
Tip - use very light weights when starting out with this exercise and build up gradually, because it places a lot of
stress on the lower back.
Well developed deltoids and trapezius muscles give a bodybuilder the broad-shouldered look. Shoulders are largely responsible for the much sought after "V-tapered look."
The trapezius (traps) muscle is made-up of three separate regions. The upper portion of the trapezius is mainly responsible for shrugging your shoulders. The middle and lower regions are used during rowing type movements. Well developed traps help to counterbalance the chest and front (anterior) deltoids. This helps to improve posture and reduce the risk of injury.
Here are are some exercises designed to target your traps. You should incorporate these in your shoulder and back workouts. Do 1-2 warm up sets for each exercise and then do 2-3 heavy sets. Do 8-12 reps per set and really focus on feeling the muscles stretch and contract with each rep.
This exercise is excellent for working the traps. Secondary stress is placed on the forearms from gripping the weights.
Grip a barbell shoulder width apart. Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the barbell at arms length in front of you.
Keep your arms straight during the entire movement. Sag your shoulders downward as far as you can. You will feel your traps stretch, hold this position for a second. Shrug your shoulders upward and squeeze your traps at the top. Hold this position for a second. Repeat.
Cable Upright Rows
This is a good exercise for working the muscles of your shoulder girdle. Primary muscles are the traps and the deltoids. Secondary muscles are the biceps, brachialis, and the forearms.
From a low pulley cable hold a rope or handle attachement. Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your elbows above your hands at all times. Pull the cable directly up from the starting position until your elbows are shoulder height. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction, then lower to the starting position. Repeat.
This exercise can also be done with a barbell or dumbbells. However, I personally find using a rope attachment from a low pulley much more comfortable on the wrists, elbows, and shoulder joints.
Bent Lateral Raises (also known as "Reverse Dumbbell Flyes")
This exercise works the rear (posterior) deltoids and the middle traps. Secondary stress is applied to the forearms.
Grab 2 dumbbells. Bend over at the waist with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep a slight bend in the knees to prevent stain on the lower back. Hold the dumbbells at arms length in front of you with the palms of your hands facing each other. Keep a slight bend in your elbows.
Using your upper back strength, slowly raise the dumbbells to the back and upwards in a semicircular arc as far as you can. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction in the rear deltoids. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Repeat.
Tips - to really isolate your deltoids you can do this exercise lying face down on a high exercise bench. This will eliminate any body motion.
This exercise is excellent for building up the trapezius and upper back muscles.
On a cable pully machine use a rope attachment. Pull the rope towards your face with your elbows held high. You can use either an overhand or underhand grip. Contract your upper back and rear delt muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together while keeping your chest held high.
This exercise is excellent for building up the trapezius and upper back muscles.
Shoulder a barbell, just like you were going to do a set of squats. Keep your legs straight during the entire exercise. Simply shrug or hunch your shoulders up. You will feel your traps contract hard, hold this position for a second. Then relax your shoulders for a second, then repeat.