WSBB Blog: Back Building 101
The benefits of having a strong, well-developed back cannot be overstated. The muscle groups that make up the musculature of the back are not only responsible for the support of the spine; these muscles also contribute significantly to athletic performance and ability. Whether you play football, run track, or lift weights, having a properly trained back will allow you to take your game to the next level while reducing the chance of injury.
Fortunately, correctly training the back for sports is a relatively simple endeavor. By using some of the most basic, yet tried and true exercises, we can build size and strength in the back leading to a more optimally supported spine and, ultimately, better sports performance. It’s simple; your ability to maintain a trunk brace and spinal rigidity will ultimately dictate the level of strength and stability you can display athletically. Below, we will go over a few of the exercises we use to build strong backs to withstand some of the highest sporting demands you could imagine.
The cornerstone of any good back building program, barbell rows should be a back accessory you become regularly acquainted with. From an effectiveness standpoint, no other back-specific exercise can compare to barbell rows' training effect and benefits. At Westside, we use barbell rows constantly. Whether it is ME lower, DE upper, or any other workout, there is a great chance the athlete will include a barbell row of some kind in the accessory work.
The two main styles of barbell rows we employ are traditional barbell rows and Pendlay-style barbell rows. The conventional barbell row is performed by standing up with the weight, bending at the waist to allow the barbell to sit on the top of the quads, then rowing the barbell down and up to complete repetitions. Pendlay-style is slightly different, forcing the lifter to create enough power to move the barbell from a dead position. Typically, an upper-body training day will include regular barbell rows, while Pendlay rows are commonly used on lower-body training days. We recommend using different variations of rep schemes, using heavier weights for sets of five to eight or lighter weights for sets of ten to twelve.
If barbell rows are the cornerstone of a back building program, Goodmornings are the cornerstone of any good lower body back focused training program. No matter the bar used or the variation, few exercises can claim to be as effective for developing back strength for the lower body lifts as goodmornings. At Westside, we use goodmornings as both a main exercise and a main accessory exercise. We perform them in a few different ways, most often using the SSB or the Giant Cambered Bar to get the work done.
Having success with goodmornings comes down to one thing; proper execution. Goodmornings have received a bad rap for being dangerous; however, when properly executed, goodmornings will be one of the greatest contributors to building a bulletproof back. It is essential to understand the different approaches to a powerlifting goodmorning.
Typically bodybuilding style goodmornings maintain stiff legs, placing a significant amount of strain onto the lumbar region of the spine. To properly execute a powerlifting style goodmorning, you want to have a slight bend in the knees, allowing for the glutes and hamstrings to engage and support the barbell load. From there, you will use your legs and back in concert to move the weight. When executed correctly, no lower body accessory is as effective as the powerlifting goodmorning.
The oldest back training exercise in the book, pull-ups help build great upper back size and strength. Another great thing about pull-ups is their ability to be used frequently in training. Pull-ups can be done rather frequently, unlike barbell rows or goodmornings, which require proper adherence to recovery times to be effective. At Westside, we use pull-ups on both upper and lower body training days, typically as a way to begin or end our back-focused accessory work.
The set and rep schemes are simple; we perform pull-ups for three to five sets of ten to fifteen reps, or AMRAP if the athlete struggles with completing a full set of pull-ups. We will perform pull-ups using a traditional grip, close grip, wide grip, or underhand grip to change the training effect and focus on the different small muscles of the upper torso. Building your upper back with pull-ups will not only lead to stronger bench pressing, but you will also have stronger and healthier rear deltoids.
When it comes to building effective accessory exercise plans, back-specific training must be the main focus. The time spent on making your back stronger will pay off, unlike any other specific muscle group. When properly trained muscles support the spine, sports performance will inevitably improve. Time spent preparing the back specifically is never time wasted, do the work, and you will be on the road to better sports performance and improved spine health.