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"Back Built Basics" - Article From Mick Hart Articles Database Articles by Writer Articles Written by "Back Built Basics" - Article From Mick Hart

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"Back Built Basics" - Article From Mick Hart

by Mick Hart

The back as a whole comprises a very large mass of muscle tissue, and is perhaps only second to the legs in terms of the amount of effort needed to train it effectively. The development of the back musculature, together with a slim waist, produce the characteristic V-shaped torso of the bodybuilder, obviously a much desired physical trait, whether you are competitive, or training for recreation. In this article, some of the most effective exercises and techniques for building the collection of muscles which make up the back will be discussed, and how to apply them to your training...

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Continued ...

The Trapezius Muscles
At the centre of the upper back are the trapezius muscles. These form a diamond-shaped configuration in this region, and are visible at either side of the neck when developed. These are very powerful muscles that respond well to heavy weight. Exercises which target them directly are any type of shrugging movement done with a barbell or dumbbells, but these muscles are also worked hard in any type of rowing movement, and are worked very hard in deadlifts.

The Teres, Rhomboids and Latissimus Dorsi Muscles
The teres, rhomdoids and other smaller muscles of the upper back are worked well by rowing movements such as barbell rows, T-bar rows, low-cable rows etc. These muscles are primarily situated around the shoulder-blade region, and along with the trapezius, their development contributes significantly to overall thickness of the back musculature. The latissimus dorsi muscles originate from the shoulder and run almost down to the waist on either side of the body, and it is the development of these muscles which contributes greatly to back width and to back thickness. They are worked by rowing movements, and by 'pull-down' and chinning-type movements.

The Lower Back
In training the lower back, the primary consideration is in working the spinal erector muscles located at either side of the spine in the lumbar region. These are very powerful muscles and are stimulated to some degree by many exercises as they are involved in stabilising the body during standing movements, such as various types of presses, curls, rows etc. They are worked more directly by exercises such as deadlifts and squats, or more in isolation via hyper-extensions. It is very important that training of the lower back is not neglected, and indeed, in a properly constructed training program, adequate stimulation of these muscles cannot be avoided through the use of heavy basic exercises e.g. rows, squats, deadlifts etc. The development of a strong lumbar region will reduce the chance of injury to this area through the course of your training, and will also translate to the ability to safely move some really heavy iron.

The Exercises and Back Routines
One of, if not THE best back development in bodybuilding, belonged to the ex-Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates. How does he train his back? The answer is through the use of primarily basic exercises such as barbell rows, deadlifts, dumbbell rows, heavy pulldowns and machine rows with high intensity and short training duration. In other words, he uses very heavy weight (in strict form) and tremendous effort to build his back, but doesn't live in the gym. It would be impossible, and completely unnecessary, to train for hours with this kind of ferocity; adequate growth stimulation occurs very quickly with this type of training - any more work simply amounts to overtraining, and consequent loss of size and strength. Remember, although the human body is very resilient, it can only take so much, and so you must give it time to recover and grow between training sessions, before you hammer it into the growth process with another brief but killer workout. However, you must also keep in mind that being able to train this hard is not something that you will immediately be able to do; it is a learned skill and few people have the force of will to push themselves like this - you'll have to find this out for yourself. Regardless of your goals, whether they be to become muscularly massive or just to get in good shape, hard and brief training sessions with the weights is the most efficient way to train, and the best way to get rapid results, assuming your diet is good and you are getting enough rest. You also don't have to be in the gym for hours on end, which frees up your time to devote to other endeavours; an important consideration when you take into account the busy schedules many of us have. Just take your time in applying this training philosophy, and gradually increase the intensity level of your workouts - the results will follow.

Here are some effective back exercises:

Barbell Row
In order to perform this movement, have a suitably loaded barbell resting on the floor in front of you, squat down with knees bent and head erect and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, with hands just over shoulder-width apart. Stand erect with the barbell as if you are performing a deadlift initially. Then to begin the barbell row, bend the knees slightly and bend over at the waist, letting the bar hang down at arms length with head erect, lower back curved inward. Then using the muscles of your upper back, pull the bar into your midsection, hold for a brief static contraction if desired, then lower to arms length. Again pull the bar into your midsection, and so on, for the desired number of reps. This movement may also be performed with an underhand grip on the bar. Feel free to experiment with different grips and hand spacings.

T-Bar Row
The T-bar row, like the barbell row, is also a very effective upper back exercise, and is executed in essentially the same manner. The movement is performed using a T-bar apparatus, which consists of a long bar anchored to a pivot at one end, and to which weights can be loaded at the other. Handles are present for lifting at the weight bearing end, which are pulled up toward the midsection during execution of the movement. This exercise has a slightly different feel than the barbell row, although essentially similar muscles are targeted.

Seated Rows
These are performed on a seated row apparatus. Again the upper back is worked. You essentially sit on a seat with two handles in front of you at shoulder height to which weight can be added. The handles are pulled toward your chest, and the back muscles squeezed for a strong contraction at the top of the movement. Return to the start and repeat for the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Rows
In the dumbbell row, one side of the back is worked at a time. A heavy dumbbell is grasped in one hand, and the torso supported in a position horizontal to the floor by resting the free hand on a knee-high bench. The dumbbell is then pulled upwards using the back muscles as much as possible; you should try to concentrate on the back muscles doing the work and think of the arms simply as hooks, keeping them out of the movement as much as possible. The ability to do this will come with experience. The exercise is then repeated for the other side of the back.

The deadlift is an extremely effective exercise which, along with the squat, works more muscle tissue in unison than any other exercise. This means that it is very hard work to do, and so really stimulates muscle growth and progress throughout the entire body. The muscles of the legs, the trapezius and shoulder girdle, arms and the entire back are worked hard by this movement. In order to perform the deadlift, stand in front of a loaded barbell with the feet about shoulder width apart. Squat down and grasp the bar with a grip of about shoulder width. The grip can be an overhand grip, or one in which the hand with the strongest grip faces palm forward, the other hand facing towards you i.e. a mixed grip. This type of grip usually offers the best stability in the movement for many individuals. Then, with the hips low, lower back curved inward and head erect, pull the weight from the floor. Don't snatch the weight up, as you may risk injury; concentrate on the image of trying to drive your feet through the floor as you pull the weight. Remember not to bend your arms during the movement - keep them straight.

Power Rack Deadlifts
The use of the power rack along in association with your deadlifting efforts can yield tremendous results in increased strength and muscle size due to the massive weights that a person can handle in the partial-range deadlift compared to what they could lift in a conventional exercise situation. By having the bar set near the mid-point or near the top of the movement by suspending it on the pins in the power rack, you can do deadlifts through a short range of motion, and in a range which allows the use of the heaviest weights possible. Itís possible to lift 40% more than you would over a full range, or even more, when doing partials. This translates to tremendous overload on the muscles, and since its the deadlift you're doing, then just about every muscle in your body is stimulated, not just the lower back. I always have to laugh when people say that deadlifting is a waste of time - the state of their physiques usually sums it all up i.e. they're shit!! The people who are not afraid of hard and heavy work on the major exercises like the squat and deadlift are the ones with the great physiques, not the ones who 'fill their pants' at the thought of a tough set.

The pulldown movement is performed on a pulley apparatus; you are seated and 'pulldown' a bar connected to a weight stack from a straight arm position to one in which the bar touches the upper chest. The weight is then lowered, fully extending the arms, and feeling the muscles stretch. Most people are familiar with the chinning movement which uses bodyweight as resistance, pulling yourself up via a chinning bar until your chest touches the bar, lower to full extension and repeat. It is important not to swing the torso in any type of chin/pulldown movement. People do this to make the exercise easier, which of course, is very stupid because the muscles you want to exercise are not being worked as momentum is moving the weight, not the back muscles. Many people are unable to do more than a few reps of chins when they first try the exercise. It just takes persistence and time. When you can do more than ten reps with bodyweight, you can add further resistance by hanging a dumbbell around your waist using a dipping belt.

It is very important that you wear a good, tight-fitting lifting belt on all heavy rowing exercises/deadlifts to help stabilise your lower back.

A good basic back routine would be:

Barbell rows warm up, then 3x10 to failure (3 sets of 10 reps to failure)
Deadlifts warm up, then 3x10 to failure
Chins/pulldowns warm up, then 3x10 to failure

On the chins, if you are not too good at them, you could set yourself a specific number of reps, say 20 or 30, and do as many sets as required until you have completed that number of reps, but use your head and don't overdo it. You don't want to overtrain and lose size and strength.
So, there it is, a simple but effective mass building routine which will put some serious muscle on you if you work it hard enough. Remember, to progress, its not how long you spend in the gym (bodybuilding is not endurance/aerobic training), but how hard, and how smart, you work while you're there.

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If you like Mick's articles, you can see more by clicking here  - Mick's awesome "No Bull Collection" mag will soon be available online, so make sure you subscribe to his ezine to stay informed.

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