Gaspari Nutrition

Ron Harris


Why are there so few great backs?
01/05/2013

Q.

Why is it that out of all the bodyparts, even legs, you just don't seem to see much development in most guys? Even among serious bodybuilders, great backs are pretty rare. Why is that?

A.

That's an excellent question, one that I have given a lot of thought to myself over the years. So many times I see guys who look phenomenal from the front, then appear to be about half that size when they turn around! There are a few reasons that all contribute to this general lack of backs.

1. Neglect

When most of us started lifting weights as young walking hormones, the muscles we were usually interested in building were the arms and chest. Most young guys do a lot of bench pressing and curling, and not much else in the early stages of training. I don't think I've ever met a kid who had the goal of building a wide, thick back. It's pretty much also a case of 'out of sight, out of mind' - literally. Our backs are behind us, and without a double set of opposing mirrors, you can't see your back. I did a good amount of chin-ups as a teenager, first for Marine Corps JROTC in high school and then just because I enjoyed them and could do a lot of them. So my upper back at least got some stimulation early on. But as far as any kind of a row, that all came later. My back was behind in development for years simply because I hadn't been training it.

2. Difficulty establishing a mind-muscle connection

What's the hardest muscle group to train properly? Legs would be the correct answer if we're talking about pure effort and energy expenditure. But in terms of being able to feel the muscle work, the lats are by far the most challenging muscles for most people. I am sure that there are plenty of guys out there who have never really felt their lats working, and never will. It takes a long time and a concerted effort to establish and then master a solid mind-muscle connection with your back. Often guys tell me they feel everything in their biceps. It does help to think in terms of the arms being nothing more than a pathway to the back, and to pull with the elbows. But really, you have to spend time with lighter weights as well as flexing and stretching the back before you can activate the lats during your sets. Many people either lack the patience for this, or give up in frustration and simply decide they can live without a great back. And unless you're intent on having a truly balanced physique and doing well in bodybuilding competition, I supposed it would seem like too much trouble.

3. Going too heavy

Going too heavy is a major issue in general that prevents many from ever building the physique they are capable of, but even more so when it comes to the back. When the weight is yanked and very loose form is employed, the lats never receive the stimulation necessary to break down the muscle fibers and grow. If you can't squeeze your lats and feel them contracting, you need to lighten the load. It's a macho thing to want to pull the heaviest dumbbell your gym has for rows, or pile on as many plates as possible for barbell and T-bar rows. If you can do it right, that's fine. But most guys just throw and bounce the weight and hardly stimulate the back at all. One example I love to reference is the great 8-Time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. Lee had the best back of his era, and even though he competed at 250 pounds; he rarely used more than 225 for barbell rows or a 75 for dumbbell rows. "But I went all the way up," he noted. Like I said recently, weightlifting, or moving as much weight possible, is not bodybuilding. I don't use as much weight on back day as a lot of guys, but for some odd reason I have far more back development. That's not because my back is a genetic gift, because it certainly wasn't. But I do have a damn good mind-muscle connection with it.

4. Treating back like an afterthought

I see guys who will spend well over an hour on bodyparts like chest or arms. But when they train back, if they ever do train back at all, it's like they are all on the same exact mini routine: 3 sets each of lat pulldowns and seated cable rows. If you treat your back like an afterthought and don't give it enough work, that lack of attention will show in the form of poor development. It's too bad that more guys don't put more priority and attention on their backs. Though I'm sure many people wouldn't notice or care, when I see a physique that has great shoulders, chest, and arms and no back or legs, I immediately think 'beach body.' Hey, if that's what you really want, who am I to judge? But there are a lot of guys out there who do wish they had better backs. They just don't know what they're doing wrong. Well now you know!

Talk to you all later.

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