A strong back involves the muscles that pull the arms to the body, including the lats and the teres. It involves the muscles that move the shoulder blades around, pulling them up, in, or down, including the trapezius and the rhomboids. A strong back also means having a strong lower back, which supports the trunk during all movement. Despite the complexity of the back muscles, they all work synergistically. To develop a truly strong back that will protect you from injury, you should focus on big, compound exercises.
In "The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding," Arnold Schwarzenegger explains that the chin-up is the ultimate back-widening exercise. The chin-up works the latissimus dorsi -- the largest muscles of the upper body -- harder than any other exercise. Depending on your grip, it also utilizes the rhomboids and lower traps to retract the scapula. The chin-up is a very effective compound exercise, but the gorilla chin-up takes it one step further. To perform a gorilla chin-up, grip the chin-up bar with a shoulder-width, underhand grip. Bend your knees so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. Perform a chin-up, but at the top crunch your knees to your chest. This extra movement brings your entire core into the exercise, and the explosiveness will take your back strength to new levels. Perform in sets of 10 or fewer reps.
The "Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding" lists the barbell row as one of the top seven exercises. It considers the barbell row to be one of the basic, mass-building exercises that every strength athlete should perform. The reason the barbell row, and not the cable row or a machine row, is rated so highly is that the barbell row is unsupported. Your entire body works to support the barbell, and you activate every muscle on the rear side of your body, from your traps down to your hamstrings. This builds practical strength that will improve your athletic performance and prevent injury. To perform a barbell row, grip a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Bend at the waist until your body is nearly parallel to the ground. Keep a slight bend in your knees for balance and to release some tension in your hamstrings. Pull the barbell to the bottom of your rib cage. Lower the barbell. Perform barbell rows in sets of eight to 12 reps.
According to "Strength Training Anatomy," the deadlift utilizes almost every muscle group. The deadlift might just be the ultimate exercise, especially for the back of the body. With deadlifts, you can build your traps without shrugs, back thickness without rows and increase the size of your glutes and hams. To perform a deadlift, squat down and grab a barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Keep a straight back, not letting it round forward. Press through your heels and stand up. Squat back down to set the barbell down. Perform in sets of four to six reps.
- The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding; Robert Kennedy
- Strength Training Anatomy 3rd Ed; Frederic Delavier
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.