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Natural Bodybuilding w/Monica Ewing


Target The Back

We at Body Builders Network welcome your nutrition questions. Go ahead, ask us for advice by emailing us at You will find our advice replies to you requests here, in our Back Column.

Q: What is the most effective way to build an impressive back?

I determine the exercises that I will perform for back based on three criteria: (1) width, (2) thickness and density, and (3) power and strength. The object of our back routine is to pick exercises that will satisfy these three criteria. The trick is to accomplish this without overtraining.


Remember, the object of our back training routine is to concentrate on three criteria: (1) width, (2) thickness, and (3) power and strength. You may be asking yourself, OK that sounds good, but which exercises do I do to satisfy these criteria. Please remember, you will not be doing all of the exercises I suggest every workout. You will only be doing one exercise for each criteria and an additional exercise for the area you think you may be weakest. It is very important to accomplish your back training goals without overtraining.


In order to really add some width to your back I suggest a couple of different exercises. I like to start off my back training with wide grip chin-ups to the front. Chins are usually a good warm-up exercise because you are only working with your bodyweight. If you are more advanced and really want to blast it, add some weight to a belt. I like to start off with three sets going to failure on each set. I often see people performing this exercise incorrectly. Maybe that's because the exercise is named wrong! They are not chins, they are "chests". When you pull your body up toward the bar, your upper chest should literally touch the bar (not your chin). When doing "chests" concentrate on your back and control your tempo. Really try to take the biceps out of the movement. You may want to use straps so that you can really isolate your back. Start off with three sets going to complete failure on each set.
Another good exercise for adding some width to your back is wide-grip pulldowns to the front. I do not recommend wide-grip pulldowns to the rear because it puts your shoulder girdle in an uncompromising position. If you do have shoulder problems (like 85% of all bodybuilders) you may want to try close-grip pulldowns instead. I have found that the close-grips do not put quite as much pressure on the rotator cuff. Whichever one of these exercises you decide to do, I suggest three sets to failure going up in weight each successive set.


I have found that back thickness is acquired through a variety of rowing exercises. Rowing exercises are my personal favorite because I seem to be able to really feel my back working while rowing. Some effective exercises are seated close-grip rows, bent rows, T-bar rows and cable rows.
Once again, when doing rowing exercises form is extremely important. Three basic things to keep in mind: (1) slightly lean back and pull up your chest, (2) arch your back, and (3) squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Since my weakness seems to be thickness, I usually do two exercises for this area. A great exercise to try is close-grip, seated pulldowns to the front. You will need a double handled, close-grip v-bar and a pull-down machine. Also, I strongly suggest using a spotter for this exercise. I add a little twist to this exercise to ensure that I am fully contracting my back muscles. I want you to lighten up the weight you usually use by about forty pounds. Get firmly positioned with your legs under the support pad and your arms directly above your head. Now, have your partner or spotter stick their finger directly between your shoulder blades. Each rep I want you to pinch and squeeze your spotter's finger in between your shoulder blades. This guarantees that you are getting a full contraction and really squeezing your back on each rep. As you will find, it doesn't take much weight to get an intense burn. Try doing three sets in this fashion and get ready for some pain the next day!
For my second exercise I usually pick a different rowing movement each time. I also like to throw in cross bench, dumbbell pullovers every once in a while. Remember, variety is a great way to get your back sore each and every time you train it. I am convinced that muscle has memory. Therefore, if you can throw something new in, it will keep your muscles guessing.


Up until this point, you were probably thinking that you wanted to give this type of back training a try. Guess what, it just wouldn't be fun unless we threw in a grueling exercise. Yep, you guessed it, deadlifts! The reason people hate deadlifts is because they suck! They are tough, intense, and require a lot of mental concentration. Usually the more grueling an exercise is, the more effective it is. Take squats for example, they are tough, but they work. Don't worry there will be no squatting today.
The reason deadlifts are so difficult is because they involve many different body parts and involve quite a bit of technique. If you are not a regular deadlifter, start slow and concentrate on your form. I prefer deadlifting off the floor with a forty-five pound plate beneath my feet. A couple of quick points to remember. When deadlifting: (1) keep your body tight, (2) your head slightly tilted toward the ceiling, and (3) start and finish the movement with the bar touching your shins. I usually perform deadlifts as my second exercise. I do this because I like to be properly warmed up, since so many different muscles are involved.
You have probably read many different schools of thought pertaining to reps and sets when it comes to the deadlift. Remember, we are not power lifters, we are bodybuilders. Huge amounts of weight aren't necessary to build a quality back. I like to mix it up a little.
Usually, I will do four working sets of deadlifts and one warm-up set. Some days I will concentrate on high reps (12-15 range) and on other days I will increase the poundages and do low reps (3-5 range). While on other days, I will do a warm-up then three low rep sets and finish with one high rep set. Don't be afraid to mix it up to make deadlifting more fun (fun may not be the correct word).
Also, you can vary your foot and hand positions to change your deadlifting technique (i.e. sumo squats).
One final word on deadlifting. It is very important that you concentrate on involving your whole back while doing the movement. Try not to pull with your hamstrings, traps, biceps and lower back. Once you get the technique down, you will see vast improvements in your back development in no time.

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