Before we get into this back exercises for building muscle routine, it’s important to remember the best back exercises are done with weights. There are plenty of other ways to strengthen your back, from using resistance bands and machines to weight training, but there’s no substitute for barbells or dumbbells when it comes to building mass and strength in your back. A straight arm pulldown is an isolation exercise that allows you to focus on your lats while minimizing the involvement of other muscles. Here’s how you do it.
To begin building a back with some muscle
Start with back exercises that focus on pure strength. Straight arm pushdowns and straight bar pulldowns are both perfect because they work large muscle groups in your back without adding much momentum or fancy gymnastics moves. Working with straight arms is a great way to build strength quickly and get you out of functional training beginner’s territory. It’s important not to compromise form, though—especially when it comes to your shoulder joints. You can always spot someone who isn’t very strong in their back by looking at their elbows; they’ll be pulled forward as they try to lift more weight than they’re capable of moving with good form.
The Straight Arm Pulldown
There are several back exercises that work a variety of muscles, but one of my favorites is the straight arm pulldown. To perform a straight arm pulldown, grab a bar with your palms facing forward (supinated) and your arms completely straight. Next, lean backwards until you feel tension in your hamstrings and lower back. Pause here momentarily and then slowly reverse direction until you’re upright again. Pause briefly at full extension before starting another rep.
While it’s not very effective to lift your shoulders directly, a combination of shoulder shrugs and straight arm pushdowns (using an EZ bar) is one of my favorite exercises. Straight arm pushdowns are great because they help improve overall back development by giving you a ton of range-of-motion with less stress on your shoulders. Straight bar pulldowns work in conjunction with straight arm pushdowns, as they really give you that squeeze at the top and help recruit those inner lats, something most people aren’t recruiting properly during their back workouts. Both straight arm pushdowns and straight bar pulldowns help build that sort of V shape in your back.
Bent Over Barbell Rows
Bent-over barbell rows are one of those great exercise that trains your back with compound lifts while allowing you to use heavier weights. This is a great all-around back building exercise that works a variety of muscles and engages multiple joints at once. You’ll hit your back, biceps, forearms, grip strength and core; which makes it a must in any weightlifting routine. It’s often best to have a partner help you maintain form on these as it’s easy to lean too far forward or let your torso sag below parallel on each rep.
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Two words make all of the difference in making a pull-up easier or harder on your back muscles: pronated grip. That means that instead of gripping a bar between your palms facing out (supinated), you’re gripping it between your palms facing in (pronated). This subtle adjustment puts less pressure on your biceps, allowing you to work more effectively with your back muscles. Here’s how to do it right.
As you pull up, your elbow should be about 45 degrees in relation to your torso. Your arm should hang straight down as you finish each rep; don’t jerk or swing it up. Doing so not only puts unnecessary stress on your rotator cuff and other muscles but can also risk injury. Instead, bring your weight all the way up to your chest (don’t go any higher) and hold there before lowering again.
Upright Barbell Rows
As is often said, pull exercises work well with push exercises to balance out your workouts. To start you can do upright barbell rows, which are similar to bent over barbell rows except that you keep a vertical back. This will put more of an emphasis on your lats instead of using too much help from your biceps. For example, upright barbell rows would be great after chin ups or lat pulldowns. Depending on how heavy you go and how many sets you do try not to burn yourself out in one set of a pull exercise; it is better to do more sets with less weight than fewer sets with heavier weight as it is easier on your body and will lead to better results in longer periods of time without injuries.