Building a better back is a tough task, but someone's got to do it. You may not think back training is particularly sexy -- after all, it's not one of your mirror muscles like your shoulders or biceps, and who cares about back muscles when you could have toned abs or sculpted legs instead? Well, back training is actually pretty important. Not only can a well-developed back round off your physique, but a strong back can also prevent injury. To build an awesome back, you need a tough, tremendous bodybuilding workout.
Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups and build more mass than single-joint isolation movements. Your back muscles work in tandem with your shoulders and biceps, so it makes sense to perform mainly compounds to hit your back. Make chinups and rows the foundation of your back workout. If chinups sound scary, fear not. According to strength coach Charles Poliquin, any woman should be able to work up to 12 full chinups within 12 weeks of training. Focus on assisted chinups or slow negative reps while you're building up to being a chinup queen. For rows, use dumbbells, a barbell or cable machine. Pick two compounds per session and perform four sets of six to eight repetitions on each.
While compounds may be your bread and butter, every bodybuilding routine has a place for isolations. When you're tired, isolations are really useful for further fatiguing your muscles. Try straight-arm pulldowns on a cable machine, or scapula retractions on a seated row machine. These are performed like straight-arm rows. Set up as you would usually, hold the handles with straight arms, then pull the weight back by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Your elbows should stay straight, and the weight will only move a few inches, but you'll get a great back contraction. Throw in two isolation exercises each workout, each for two sets of 15 to 20 reps.
To take your workout from average to awesome, incorporate some bodybuilding-specific techniques. Supersets are a common practice in bodybuilding and involve performing one exercise, then moving immediately to the next with no rest. Supersets can burn up to a third more calories per minute and give your muscles a new challenge, according to trainer Natalie Gingerich of Fitness magazine. This would work well with pullups and barbell rows or pulldowns and cable rows. Use drop sets, too, writes bodybuilder Alicia Marie in Oxygen magazine. Pick one exercise and perform a maximum set, then drop the weight down 20 to 30 percent and go to failure. Then drop it by the same amount again and perform a final, brutal back-torching set.
Putting It All Together
You've got the exercises, you've got the sets and reps and you've got the intensity techniques, now it's time to take charge of your back workouts. Train your back once a week, and hit it hard. At each session, aim to add a little extra weight or perform an extra few reps or another set. Don't settle for average sessions; don't even make do with just plain good. Make them tremendous. Pretty soon, you'll be bringing sexy back.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.