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Top Three Lifts and Exercises for a Broader Back

Updated on June 28, 2013
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Just as Important as the Front

Many gym-goers train their back with less intensity than other muscle groups, subconsciously preferring those that are readily visible, such as their chest and biceps. If you are training for image, women love the thick muscle they can hold as they wrap their arms around you. If you train purely for strength, a stronger back will lead to stronger biceps as well. Whatever the end-goal for your back may be, these three exercises will help you reach it.

#3. Barbell Rows

Barbell rows, also known as bent-over rows, work the muscles of the back with more intensity than their dumbbell counterpart. The range of motion for the exercise is also greater with the barbell variant, as your arms can be extended into a complete dead hang at the end of each rep before pulling the bar all the way to your chest.

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With more total weight able to be used, the muscle fibers of the back are required to exert more force in order to handle the load that is being held. In addition to working the back, the rear deltoids are also placed under significant stress, resulting in the development of this particular muscle in addition to all the others activated throughout the movement.

Rear delts play a large role in the perceived width of your back, and basically serve as a visual link from your upper back to the rest of shoulders. Speaking of upper back, barbell rows will hit this area fairly hard, progressively building thickness over time, which will also provide you with more overall width. While barbell rows are best suited to building thickness in the back, they are efficient at increasing width as well.

From this point on during the lift, the upper back muscles are worked very intensely.
From this point on during the lift, the upper back muscles are worked very intensely. | Source

#2. Deadlifts

The deadlift reigns supreme over all compound movements. It allows the largest amount of weight to be handled for one specific exercise. Virtually every muscle in the body is involved to some degree, making the deadlift a staple exercise for serious lifters. While it is primarily considered a "posterior chain" lift (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles), the upper back is placed under a significant amount of stress during the top half of the movement.

The heavy barbell combined with gravity places enormous stress upon the upper back and shoulders, but in a good way. The barbell's downward force attempt to pull your shoulders down and forward with it, but the muscles of your upper back and shoulders themselves resist this force. thus resulting in growth and development in these areas. There is no danger in this aspect of the lift, however. Even those with the strongest grip will have the bar slip from their hands before any damage to the body occurs from the shoulders being unable to support the weight.

Since deadlifts are able to be performed with such a large amount of weight, it's no wonder why the men with the broadest backs also have astronomical deadlift numbers. This movement provides a very solid foundation for the lifter's back, particularly the trapezius muscles of the upper back, which are sure to be sore the next day after deadlifting.

Grip strength may be an inhibition for those who attempt to lift heavy weight while performing deadlifts. If so, lifting straps could easily rectify this issue.

#1. Weighted Wide Grip Pull Ups

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This segment specifically is targeted. The latissimus dorsi are the muscles that give width to the back.
This segment specifically is targeted. The latissimus dorsi are the muscles that give width to the back. | Source

Pull ups are the kings of back development. Weighted pull ups are the gods that created those kings. Every muscle you can visually see in the back is placed under stress during a pull up. With a wide grip taken, the latissimus dorsi (lats) are the major part of the back that is being utilized. This is just what you want, as bigger lats will give you the coveted and highly sought-after V-shape to your mid-section.

Pull ups done using only body weight are known to promote incredible back development over an extended period of time if done consistently. Weighted pull ups will take your back to an entirely new level. When performed regularly, this exercise will drastically increase the width of your back more so than any other movement.

Pull ups are about as basic as back exercises get: you use your back muscles to shorten the distance between your hands and chest as much as possible, literally pulling yourself upwards and utilizing your entire back's anatomy in the process. Adding weight to this movement provides a new kind of overload to the muscles, as they are generally used to handling only body weight.

Using a chain and a weight belt, one is easily able to strap a few plates to their waist and get to work. For those without access to such equipment, the simpler method of holding a dumbbell between your feet can be used to the same effect, although it is less comfortable.

Like barbell rows, weighted pull ups will also develop your rear delts, which further complements the broadness of your back. The pull up is an all-in-one movement for the back that should definitely be implemented in every lifter's back routine.


Use All Three

The end result from these three lifts is a broad, powerfully built back that will only complement the rest of your physique. While weighted pull ups are the best exercise for overall back development, all three lifts should be incorporated for maximum results. With the added thickness from barbell rows, the upper back and trapezius development from deadlifts, and the width from weighted pull ups, your back will be complete in all areas.

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    • Jake Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Henry 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Bent over rows are a staple exercise in my back routine; I almost always start my back workouts with them. I used to devote less than 100% to back work, too, but then I realized I would never neglect my arms or chest, so I shouldn't neglect my back, either.

    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 

      5 years ago from San Diego, California

      I just started doing deadlifts. They're pretty brutal. Haven't tried the bent over rows yet. They look like they'd be pretty effective. I'm definitely guilty of not going high intensity on back days :( Trying to change my ways.

    • Jake Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Henry 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Of course. As long as the weight distribution is even on both sides, you could add weight with virtually anything. Your body doesn't know whether you're lifting steel or rocks; it just knows it's lifting.

    • soconfident profile image

      Derrick Bennett 

      5 years ago

      Good read, I'm looking to strengthen my back muscles. Can I use a weighted vest for my weighted pull-up?

    • Jake Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Henry 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Thanks a lot, Jared! The bulk of my opinion is based on research, but I regularly use all three exercises and have definitely noticed the greatest back development occur since I started including weighted pull ups a few months ago.

    • Jared Miles profile image

      Jared Miles 

      5 years ago from Australia

      Truth be told, this is one of the first Hubs I've stumbled across that I could relate to, (and, one that I knew much about before I read it). For what it's worth, I completely agree with your exercise choice.

      Thanks for an interesting read, I look forward to some more!

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