The upper back is one of those bodyparts which is often neglected. The reason is quite simple I believe. We train what we can see. It’s more fun to train the biceps, chest and shoulders because we can see these when we steer directly into those oversized mirrors. But the back is not one we can view easily. So it generally gets the low priority treatment. Back gets slotted in after chest or shoulders or lower back and consists of some pull downs and rows. Exercise selection is poor and we tend to train without the volume and intensity required.
The reality is that the upper back is one of the most important bodyparts. From a personal point of view my bench only really started to take off once I began to focus on my back. The purpose of this post is to reinforce the importance of training the upper back.
Regular followers will be familiar with my adage “a big arse bench physique”. This touches on my view that we need to train the back like a bodybuilder. There is nothing more impressive than a big, thick, wise back with sweeping lats and dense muscularity through the mid back. It’s not all about all show and no go. To me it is about building a big back to make better and stronger lifters.
Powerlifters do not have great backs. The reasons in my opinion are:
• They don’t train their backs hard enough.
• They train with poor technique and/or use too much weight.
• They do not use enough volume to properly stimulate the upper back muscles.
For intermediate and advanced lifters I suggest that you devote one session a week to training the upper back. For beginners I suggest that you train your back alongside another bodypart but that you still train with purpose and look to perform 8-12 sets spread across 2-3 exercises.
For advanced lifters I believe that you need to train the back like a bodybuilder. This means lots of sets and reps and variety. I will do 25-30 sets for my back and the session is over in about an hour.
A typical training for me will look something like this:
1. Front lat pulldowns- 2×10, 2×8, 2×6, 2×8, 2×10
2. Cable rows- 10, 8, 6, 8, 10
3. T- Bar rows- 10, 8, 6, 8, 10
4. Bent over barbell rows- 10, 8, 6, 8, 10
5. Behind neck pulldowns- 4×15
My rep range allows me to achieve a good balance between training heavy with big weights and going lighter with more reps. I believe that the key is to train with a full range of motion. My lats grow when I have a big stretch at the bottom of each rep.
My message is pretty simple. You need a big powerful upper back if you are going to be strong. If you want back to be your best bodypart, train it as hard and as smart as your best bodypart.
Bigger stronger smarter