The back is one of the physique's most beautiful yet rugged areas. When completely developed, this bodypart, with its abundant mounds, deep crevices and sweeping musculature, is a breathtaking work of art, but a work of art with a certain durable quality.
The upper back is so majestic because of the numerous smaller muscles that contribute to the functions and appearance of the larger ones: infraspinatus, teres major, teres minor, rhomboideus minor and rhomboideus major. These smaller muscles are the detailing accessories, so to speak, of the larger trapezius (midback) and latissimus dorsi.
With two very large muscle masses (the lats and traps) along with a variety of smaller muscles filling out the back region, most bodybuilders believe that they need to work this bodypart considerably more than the others if they are to attain maximum back development. This isn't necessarily so, however. As the larger muscles work in conjunction with the smaller ones, the smaller muscles are more than taken care of without any special attention.
Even with all of the aforementioned smaller muscles in the back, the efficient bodybuilder only has to train the larger masses: the lats and traps. By working these two areas hard and heavy, you'll work the smaller muscles just as hard and they'll become just as developed, especially if you make sure to work the large areas from their three positions of flexion (POF). Training with POF will allow you to hit every crevice of your back wasting as little effort as possible.
In case you're not familiar with POF, this training approach is based on the fact that for each muscle or muscle group there are only three positions that must be worked to achieve full, complete development: midrange, stretch and contracted. There is no reason to perform two or three exercises that mimic the same function. For example, doing one-arm dumbbell rows and bent-over barbell rows in the same workout just wastes your recovery ability and thus limits your gains.
To help further clarify POF, let's take the two major areas of the upper back, divide each into its three positions of flexion and describe the movements that effectively work each position:
- Midrange: Front chin or front pulldown movement.
- Stretch: Bottom of a pullover movement—upper arms overhead with the elbows slightly below the plane of the torso.
- Contracted: Bottom of an undergrip chin or under-grip pulldown—upper arms down, behind the torso.
- Midrange: Behind-the-neck chin.
- Stretch: Bottom of a cable row or bent-over row—torso forward, bent at slightly less than 90 degrees to the thighs, arms extended.
- Contracted: Top of a cable row or bent-over row—elbows back behind the torso and angled slightly away from the body, shoulder blades together.
As you can see, hitting the latissimus dorsi's three positions of flexion will require three exercises, while the midback will only require two, you can work the stretch and contracted position with one exercise: bent-over or cable rows.
With this analysis complete, we can now construct a productive back attack that will give you full, complete development in all areas with as little wasted effort as possible.
Efficient Back Training
The POE training strategy will work your upper back thoroughly, but you will need to follow a few rules for best results:
• Work the weaker of the two areas of your back first. For example, if your midback is fairly well developed but your lats are lagging, work the lats first and the midback second.
• Work the three positions of flexion in this order: midrange, stretch and contracted. The midrange movement will help warm up the muscles without taking them through any extreme stretching or contracting. After a few sets of midrange work the muscles will then be ready for the stretch movement, followed by the contracted-position movement, which finishes off the muscle with a peak contraction—resistance at the top.
• Take each work set to at least positive failure.
• Do no less than one warmup set with 50 percent of your work weight on each midrange movement.
Now let's look at an advanced POF back routine that will push this area to new levels of width, thickness and ruggedness. (Note: M = midrange, S = stretch and C = contracted.)
Advanced POF Back Routine
|Front pulldowns (M)||3 x 8-12|
|Barbell pullovers (S)||2-3 x 8-12|
|Undergrip pulldowns (C)||2-3 x 8-12|
|Behind-the-neck pulldowns (M)||3 x 8-12|
|Cable rows (S&C)||2-3 x 8-12|
Keep in mind that this is an advanced routine. At the top end you'll be doing 15 sets, which is quite a bit of work but no more than you would do for, say, chest, which also has two areas (upper and lower) that require work in all three positions.
Intermediate bodybuilders can use POF for specialization purposes every so often, but they should do less total sets. Here's how an intermediate POF back routine would look:
Intermediate POF Back Routine
|Front pulldowns||2-3 x 8-12|
|Barbell pullovers||2 x 8-12|
|Undergrip pulldowns||1 x 8-12|
|Behind-the-neck pulldowns||2-3 x 8-12|
|Cable rows||2 x 8-12|
That's still 11 sets at the top end, so if you're an intermediate and decide to use this routine for back specialization, be sure and cut back your sets elsewhere to accommodate the extra work. Recovery ability is precious, especially to the hardgainer, so it must be preserved at every opportunity; don't overtrain if you want to continue to gain.
All beginners should steer clear of POF. It's simply too rigorous for those with less than six months of training experience. Beginners will want to stick with one basic movement for each area of the back. Here's a good beginning back routine:
Beginning Back Routine
|Front pulldowns||2 x 8-12|
|Behind-the-neck pulldowns or cable rows||2 x 8-12|
There's no denying the fact that POF covers all the angles. If you're interested in total back development with complete efficiency in the gym, give the POF strategy a try. There is one drawback though: You may have Jeep drivers trying to run you down so they can test that rugged terrain you call your upper back!
Take a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width grip on the pulldown bar (or a little wider, whatever feels best). Anchor your legs under the supports, get comfortable and pull the bar down to your clavicles while arching your lower back. Alternate exercise: front chins.
Recline on a flat bench with your head hanging off of one end and a loaded EZ-curl bar on the floor behind you. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, palms facing up. With your arms bent, pull the bar up to your chest, keeping it about two inches from your face. Touch your upper chest with it, lower to the floor and repeat. Alternate exercise: straight-arm pullovers with a dumbbell.
Grab the pulldown bar, palms facing toward you, with a shoulder-width grip. Secure your thighs under the supports and pull the bar down to your lower chest. Your elbows should be back behind your torso so the lats are fully contracted. Release and repeat.
Take a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width grip on the pull-down bar with your hands facing forward. Pull the bar down until it touches the base of your neck. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for two seconds, release and repeat.
With a good grip on the parallel handle, sit on the cable row bench and lean forward, stretching your back. Pull the handle toward your abdomen while simultaneously sitting upright, not allowing your torso to exceed a 90-degree angle to the bench. Hold the handle at your abdomen and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Then release, lean forward, stretch and repeat.