Written by Tim Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT
If you truly want to be hot and fit, training your back should not be an afterthought. Many people like to focus on other muscle groups which attract a more magnetic, immediate allure, such as the aforementioned chest, biceps and glutes muscle groups. Yet, by neglecting their back, these people not only induce an imbalance from front to back, but they also miss out on an incredible opportunity to show others that they really take the term “sexy” seriously. From the rear, a well-developed back shows that you’ve not only put in the time and effort in the gym, but also followed a healthy diet, taken your supplements, and lived a healthy lifestyle. This can make you simply ooze sexiness to people who understand aesthetics. Think of the last time you saw a competitive swimmer; these sexy athletes have very well-developed backs with tone and the conveyance of strength and endurance – pretty much what being hot and fit is all about.
So from this point on, it’s important to disregard all the usual stereotypes and realize that training your back is a heck of a lot more than just doing lat pulldowns and chin-ups. It’s also a lot more than just width, since if you happen to have really outstretched lats, but there’s no density or thickness to them, you’re going to look paper thin and bizarre. In this particular issue of Inside Fitness we’re taking a hot and fit approach to this workout, so rest assured developing serious mass is the name of the game here. We’d never steer you wrong or sell you short when it comes to maximizing your physical sexiness.
To that end, we’re going to break down your back into three key areas, in order that you appreciate the role and importance of each – and show you how to develop each of them through strategic resistance training.
Your back is comprised of your upper (and outer) lats, your lower lats, and your middle back. Certain back exercises help you emphasize each area specifically, which is very useful when you’re striving for aesthetic balance that oozes hot and fit. If you follow our lead and recognize the importance of each of these three areas, you are much less likely to develop an imbalance or neglect any one of them. For you technical keeners, note that each of the exercises within this workout do not categorically isolate any one of the three key areas, since they all involve the recruitment of back muscle stimulation; they do, however, play a pivotal role in emphasizing each region.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and turn your back into a hot and fit thing of beauty, not just signifying strength and sexiness, but also balance and symmetry from all three dimensions. Having a hot and fit back will send your overall sexy score through the roof!
To prime your back muscles for the exercises in this comprehensive back workout, be sure to perform two warm-up sets (with gradually increasing resistance) for the first exercise of each back-muscle section. That is, perform two warm-up sets of eight reps for each of the lat pulldown (upper lats), straight-arm pulldown (lower lats) and seated cable row (middle back).
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
LAT PULLDOWN (WIDE GRIP) 4 12, 10, 8, 6* 2:00 mins.
BENT-OVER BARBELL ROW 3 10, 8, 8 1:30 mins.
STRAIGHT-ARM PULLDOWN 4 12, 10, 8, 6* 2:00 mins.
REVERSE-GRIP PULLDOWN 3 10, 8, 8 1:30 mins.
SEATED CABLE ROW 4 12, 10, 8, 6* 2:00 mins.
ONE-ARM DUMBBELL ROW 3 10, 8, 8 1:30 mins.
*On the final rep of these exercises indicated, pause in the peak position for three to five seconds in order to squeeze an extra contraction to your muscles before returning to the start.
LAT PULLDOWN (WIDE-GRIP)
Start: Set the weight stack to your desired resistance. Reach upward to grasp the bar with both hands using a wide, overhand grip (all the way out to the ends of the bar). Sit upright on the padded seat and keep your thighs snug underneath the upper pads. Secure your feet squarely on the floor, spread out to shoulder width. Make sure there’s a 90-degree angle between your torso and thighs. If the cable is slightly slack, pull it gently until it’s taut.
Execution: Keeping your body anchored in position, pull the bar in a downward vertical plane in front of you. Make especially sure that you don’t lean backward in an attempt to supply additional momentum. Continue the descent until the bar is at your chin level and your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor. Pause here for a half-second, then using control allow gravity to return the bar upward along the same path to the start.
Tip: Using a closed grip, where you wrap your thumb around the opposite side of the bar as your fingers, engages your biceps more. To emphasize the upper back better, keep your thumb on the same side as your fingers, over top of the bar.
BENT-OVER BARBELL ROW
Start: Load a bar that’s resting on the floor to your desired resistance (or use a fixed-weight bar). Stand tall in front of it and spread your feet to shoulder width. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward from your hips to grasp the bar with arms extended using an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Keeping your head in line with your spine, raise the bar a short distance off the floor.
Execution: Making sure to keep the bar as close to your body as possible, lean forward until your torso is parallel to the floor. Row the bar vertically in toward your upper abdominal region. Continue the ascent as far as you can, and in the peak position your upper arms should have crossed higher than the plane of your torso. Pause here for a half-second, then using control reverse direction and allow the bar to descend to the start.
Tip: Preserving the same knee bend from start to finish will ensure you don’t incorporate your legs on the ascent and maintain the emphasis on your back.
Start: We’re betting here that despite the countless lat pulldowns you’ve done over the years, you’ve probably never developed the straight-arm pulldown movement. Set the weight stack to your desired resistance and approach the bar from a standing position. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip and stand tall, save for a slight bend in your knees. Keep your arms in the plane of your shoulders without your elbows flaring outward.
Execution: When ready to begin, focus on keeping your entire body fixed in place with the exception of your arms. Pull the bar lower in front of you in a downward arc, eventually coming to rest around the location of your upper thighs. Make sure you don’t drop your head during the movement to look down and watch the bar; have faith that your lats and arms are doing their jobs. Pause at the bottom for a half-second, then using control allow the cable to return the bar back to the start.
Start: Set the pin to your desired resistance and set up much in the same way as the lat pulldown. Sit upright on the pad with your thighs under the top rollers and feet squarely on the floor at shoulder width. Instead of a wide, overhand grip, you’ll here employ an underhand grip at shoulder width. Before starting the move, think of this action as mimicking the chin-up exercise.
Execution: With your body anchored in position, squeeze your shoulder blades and draw the bar downward in a vertical plane in front of you. The descent should continue until the bar is at the level of your mid pecs and your biceps and forearms have closed in together, with your upper arms in tight to your torso. Pause in the bottom for a half-second, then using control allow the cable to return the bar back up to the top.
Tip: Unlike the lat pulldown, where it’s necessary to flare elbows outward, in this case you want to keep them tight in close to your body.
SEATED CABLE ROW
Start: Set the weight stack of the seated cable row apparatus to your desired resistance. Position yourself on top of the machine with your feet at shoulder width squarely against the plates. Make sure there’s a good bend in your knees (avoid keeping them elongated) and reach forward to grasp the bar which is attached to the cable. Hold onto it using an underhand grip and shoulder width. Keep your torso erect and head up.
Execution: Concentrate on keeping your body securely fixed. Without pushing into the plates with your legs, row the bar horizontally into your mid to lower abdominal region. Be sure to draw your arms straight back and you’ll find you can bring them well behind your chest comfortably. Pause in this peak position for a full second, taking advantage of the principle of “time under tension”, then with control carefully allow the handle to return forward to the start.
Tip: Keep a slight arch in your lower back throughout this move to take advantage of the biomechanics which stimulate muscle thickness here.
ONE-ARM DUMBBELL ROW
Start: Pick up a dumbbell with your right hand using a neutral grip. Stand to the right of the long side of a bench, then place your left hand, left knee and left foot on top of it. Keep your right leg mainly erect, save for a slight bend at the knee. Lean forward substantially such that your torso is facing the floor, keeping your head in line with your spine. Let the dumbbell hang freely in your extended arm.
Execution: Your only moving body part here will be your right arm. With your body fixed in place, row the dumbbell vertically, keeping it in close to your body. Make sure your back does not lift upward from the bench. Continue the ascent until your right elbow has crossed the plane of your torso. Pause in the top position for a half-second, then using control allow the weight to return to the start position. Once you complete a set with the right arm, switch it up and work the left arm.
Tip: Focus on a spot on the floor to make sure that most of your body doesn’t move. Don’t watch the weight by ducking your head inward; have faith that it’s in motion effectively.