1) Always use straps. If someone tells you you’ll weaken your grip by using straps, tell him he’s wrong. Flat out. For one, you’re training back, not grip — and that can come on another day. Never sacrifice back size for pride, grip strength or forearms (none of which are negatively affected by the use of straps.) Also, even if your goal rep range for a particular set is 10, research has shown that using straps at that weight allows for 1–2 more reps. More work, more mass.
2) Focus your training on multijoint (compound) moves. You want to attack your back with as much weight as possible, but if you have a choice, you want to do that you’re your muscles are freshest. They’re aren’t a lot of choices for single-joint back moves, but they don’t have much of a place in a mass-building workout anyway.
3) Maintain a strong position. With perhaps one exception (the stiff-legged deadlift) every back exercise calls for a chest up, back arched and butt out form. Putting your body in this position will make you stronger from your first rep to the last. If you collapse your torso, you not only invite injury but your muscles lose their mechanical advantage.
4) There are basically two types of back moves: rows and pull-ups/pulldowns. With rows, no matter the grip, you’re pulling the weight perpendicular into your torso; with pulldowns, you’re pulling from overhead.
5) Know your angles. There are lots of rumors out there with regards to back training, but remember this first and foremost: How and where your lats get hit depends on the position of your elbows relative to your torso. Wide-grip rowing moves requires that your elbows stay out wide from your body and therefore hit the upper lats, middle traps and rhomboids (wide-grip pulldowns work only the upper lats); reverse-grip and close-grip exercises in which your elbows are tight to your sides better target the lower lats. Choose your exercises accordingly.
Complete Back Workout
Bent-Over Barbell Row 3–4 Sets x 6–8 Reps Close-Grip Seated Row 3 Sets x 8–10 Reps Reverse-Grip Seated Row 3 Sets x 10–12 Reps Pull-Up 3 Sets to failure
Bent-Over Barbell Row
Target: Upper lats, rhomboids, middle traps
Seated Row (Close & Reverse Grip)
The close-grip seated row done with a neutral grip is excellent at targeting the lower lats. With your hands close together, it automatically pulls your elbows in tight to your body, allowing the lower lats to be highly engaged throughout the range of motion. By moving to an underhand, shoulder-width grip, you further isolate those lower lat fibers as well as bring into play the biceps. For that reason, you’ll be stronger on the reverse-grip version and able to do more reps with the same weight, which is why we’ve listed it after the close-grip version.
Target: Lower lats (biceps secondarily on reverse grip)
Probably one of the most difficult and underused moves in the gym, the important goal in the pull-up is to try and bring your chest to the bar. You can try various grips: The wider your grip, the more the focus shifts to your upper lats. If you go narrow or use a reverse grip (sometimes called a chin-up), you’ll shift emphasis to the lower lats and biceps. Since you’re using only your own bodyweight, take each set to failure.