While it’s logical to want to train your chest and biceps (they’re the ones you see when you look at yourself in front of the mirror), over training these muscles can lead to a host of undesired postural changes and nagging injuries.
Maintain A Healthy Waist-To-Hip Ratio was written to clear up confusion about the true purpose of that measurement. In that article, the concept of a waist-to-shoulder ratio (WSR) was introduced, with the tagline that people with a WSR < 0.75 are described as more attractive by the opposite sex. While we admire the seemingly instantaneous increase in work ethic, we worry about the program design. The intention is clear: “I want to get bigger in areas that will get me noticed” (read: “I want to look better naked”).
While it’s logical to want to train your chest and biceps (they’re the ones you see when you look at yourself in front of the mirror), overtraining these muscles can lead to a host of undesired postural changes and nagging injuries (especially at the shoulder). A better, or at least supplementary way of minimising your WSR, improving your posture and, consequently, your appeal to the opposite sex is to build an iron back. The best way to jump-start your journey toward gorilla-back stature is to focus on these three exercises for your back.
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Set up with two feet on the ground, one hand on a bench and a dumbbell (DB) in the other. Bend over and pull your chest through so that your back is parallel to the ground with a slight inward arch. Extend your working arm fully, then row the DB toward your hip, thinking about pulling your shoulder blade back and down as you raise the DB. Control the weight as you lower the DB back down until your arm is fully extended, and repeat.
Like all the exercises in this article, the one-arm DB row is a multijoint exercise, meaning it trains multiple muscles (primarily the muscles of the upper back and upper arm in this case) in each repetition. By performing a one-arm row, instead of a standard bent-over row, you can lift a lot of weight, but minimise the load placed across your spine.
Grab a high bar with an underhand grip (palms facing you) with your hands about shoulder width apart. Lower yourself all the way down so that your elbows are fully extended and your shoulder blades are spread apart. Pull yourself up until your upper chest reaches the bar. Lower yourself back down to the starting position under control and repeat.
Chin-ups train almost the identical muscles the one-arm DB row works. By pulling in a vertical direction, a greater emphasis is placed on the muscles that pull your shoulder blades down (depression) opposed to back (retraction), which is emphasised in horizontal pulling. This variation will help keep your shoulders balanced and pain free. When you can do six or more chin-ups on your own, start adding external resistance with a belt (ideal), weight vest (OK) or by holding a DB between your feet (less desirable).
“Whether you want to improve the size or strength of your muscles, you need to create a stimulus worth adapting to.”
Set up with your feet about hip width apart, with your toes lined up beneath the barbell. Stand up nice and tall and pull your shoulder blades back. Maintaining this “chest out” posture, push your hips back as you bend at the hips and knees toward the bar. Grab the bar slightly outside of your knees. While keeping your back flat, pull the bar up by extending your knees and pulling your hips through at the top.
The deadlift is by far the best way to build a strong back. It’s also one of the best full-body exercises you can do. Think about it: You’re initiating the movement with your leg and hip muscles, but all that force needs to be transferred through your trunk (strengthening the core) to your shoulder girdle, which has to transfer the force to the bar. Although the musculature of your upper back doesn’t move much in this exercise (so you won’t get that “squeeze” that you will with the other two exercises), they function to maintain a stable shoulder girdle and assist in pulling the bar off the floor.
Whether you want to improve the size or strength of your muscles, you need to create a stimulus worth adapting to. Once you get the form of a deadlift down, you can add weight very quickly. For any given repetition range, increasing the weight will increase the growth stimulus.
Note: Deadlifts are often regarded as bad for your back. This is true, if you perform them with the back posture of a frightened cat, the way most people do. If you maintain the inward arch of your entire back (chest out/shoulder blades back position), and don’t let your lower back round at all, you’re unlikely to suffer any back injuries. Remember that you should be pulling using your hips and upper back, not your lower back. I generally don’t recommend performing more than 5 reps in any set because many people have trouble maintaining correct form beyond this. I also recommend resetting before every rep.
Back It Up
Your upper back can take a beating and recover fairly quickly. You could probably incorporate some form of training for your upper back up to four days a week and still adapt. Incorporate these exercises regularly into your training programs and you’ll be on your way to a bigger, stronger, more functional, healthier, and more appealing physique.