“She just came up to you and told you your back sucks?” This was Dr. Jim Stoppani‘s reply when I told him that my wife critically analyzed my back development, finding it lacking. To be fair, I had specifically asked her about my physique development, and she was kind enough to provide an honest answer. (Note: cameras and video also work well for analysis, but as a married man, I knew I should ask my wife.) Once she said it, it hit me like a ton of bricks – a mighty load for my then-feeble back. Here‘s Phase I of the solution, because you don‘t want to make the same mistakes I have.
Mirror Muscles: The Problem
To thicken your back, it‘s important to take a quick look at what you‘re working. Without going into a detailed anatomy lesson, for a deep yoke you‘re specifically aiming to work your trapezius muscles, rear delts and rhomboids.
You probably do shrugs already, but this only works one of the three regions of the trapezius muscle – the one that pulls the shoulder blades up and rotates them outward. The middle fibers are responsible for pulling the shoulder blades together (scapular retraction), while the lower fibers are charged with pulling the shoulder blades down and rotating them inward.
These muscles are classically under trained in favor of their lateral and anterior counterparts. This imbalance can lead to injury, making posterior delt focus a necessity.
Much like the middle fibers of the traps, they pull the shoulder blades together. If you haven‘t been working them with other exercises, you‘ll quickly notice them with this program.
It‘s called the king of exercises for a reason, and if you‘re not already doing them you‘re missing a huge opportunity for growth. If you don‘t immediately see how they can affect your entire body (just as I didn‘t when I first started training), just try them for a couple of months and you‘ll understand what I mean. They‘ll provide a lot of work for your entire upper back, even though it‘s not a conventional upper-back exercise. After your full warm-up, start with a heavy set for six reps, then lighten the load for the following set, then a little lighter for the next two. If you‘re doing it right you‘ll need a few minutes rest between sets.
These can be done by either lying face-down (prone) on a high bench, or by standing with a bend at your waist, so your upper body is parallel to the ground. Rather than simply rowing the dumbbells, you‘re actually going to shrug them back by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Do four sets of progressively increasing reps. These can even be done as a superset with the next exercise, Incline Front Raises.
Incline Front Raises
Sit facing an incline bench set to about 45 degrees. Your face should be on the bench and your arms should be hanging straight down, holding a very light weight. From here, raise the dumbbells out in front of you as if you‘re doing a regular front raise. Despite the light weight, you‘ll feel this in your upper back, especially when you raise the dumbbells to their maximum height. For an extra kick, use 1 1/2 reps, with focus on the highest part of the movement. Perform one full concentric so your arms are at a 45-degree inclined angle in front of you (making a straight line with your upper body, Superman-style). Perform only half of the eccentric (negative) before coming all the way back up to the top. From there you can come all the way down (which completes one rep) and repeat nine more times for the full set.
Cable Rear Delt Flyes
The coup de grace of this program involves rear delt flyes performed while lying face-up on a flat bench in the middle of a cable machine. The twist for this exercise is that you want to have a 135-degree bend in your elbows (between 90 degrees and completely straight) such that you‘re able to perform external shoulder rotation. This means that you‘ll end with your hands as close to the floor as possible.
Try this program for four weeks and you‘ll wake up fibers in your upper back that you didn‘t even know you had.
Author: David Barr, CSCS