4 frequent mistakes when working out your back


The back is the third most complex muscle group (because they’re composed by small and big muscles) and they’re the most important muscles for men, after the chest and the biceps.

Many athletes work out their biceps to increase the volume of the arms, but they usually forget about the triceps. There are also people who work out the chest but skip back workout. The back is bigger than the chest and should not be forgotten. Neglecting your back workout may cause injuries, bad posture and muscular unbalances. Here’s where the you’re making a mistake, but during the execution of the exercises there are other errors you may be making and choices that may not be the best ones for the results you’re looking for.

Take notes of the mistakes you shouldn’t make during your back workout and take a look at the tips you should follow to improve your short and long term performance:

1. Missing the target

Most people work out their back without knowing which area they’re exercising when they execute the movements.

Tips #1:

– To increase thickness in the dorsal area, do exercises with the bar – wide grip chest raises – and wide grip front lat pull downs (wider than shoulder width).

– To increase lat thickness, focus on freeweight rows: barbell, T-bar and dumbbell.

– The key to lower lat activation is keeping your elbows close to your sides and pulling them as far back as possible. Two good exercises are underhand, shoulder-width pull-downs and one-arm low-cable rows, both performed with maximum ranges of motion at the contractions.

– To hit your middle, upper-back muscles–especially the rhomboids, and lower and middle trapezius–do wide-grip rows pulled to your chest. Using a Smith machine or a low cable while seated, instead of a barbell, can make balancing easier when rowing to your chest.

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2. Use a close grip

The position of your hands determines the correct execution of the exercise. When performing a back exercise, don’t forget that you’re working out several muscle groups and secondary groups. General rule, your hands are the weakest link and if you don’t use a right position, you won’t be able to stimulate your back safely, regardless of how developed the other muscles in your body are. If the exercise’s goal is to work, for instance, the dorsal area, then you should place your hands a bit wider than the shoulder line. If you use supination, you’ll be recruiting the biceps more, allowing bigger loads. However, you should do your exercises using both pronation and supination in your back workout routine.

Tips #2:

Whether overhand or underhand, always wear training straps for any row, chin or pulldown. In research performed by the Weider Research Group, trained bodybuilders using straps during a typical back workout increased the number of reps they were able to complete by one or two on every set of every exercise compared to when they did the same back workout with bare hands. Wrist straps make it easier for you not to worry so much when holding the bar. This way, you can work your target muscle as much as you can until you reach a positive rupture point. Weightlifting straps are excellent for exercises that imply pulling like: dead lift, rowing with a bar, lat pull down, vertical row with the bar, etc.


3. Using the machines too much

Using free weights does not limit the execution of the movement. On the contrary, it demands a lot more from the athlete and, consequently, generates better results. Most gyms offer machines for rowing/pulldown combinations, etc. The problem is, people tend to forget about the bars and dumbbells and instead rely on levers, pulleys, cams and cables because they’re more comfortable and safer. If your workout goal is increasing muscle mass, you should make sure that your back workout is also composed by free-weighted exercises. In some cases, it is recommended to use the machines, but still working out with free weights is better for muscle stimulation and, by far, much more efficient. Changing your workout routine is fundamental to avoid muscle stagnation.

Tips #3:

– Do at least one type of free-weight row–barbell, T-bar or dumbbell–in each back workout.

– Do dead lift with freeweights, every two days.

– To replace lat pull downs, do the exercise on a bar with your body weight, every two days.

4. Neglecting isolate exercises

The lower back is used in almost every exercise you do while standing, but in order to work out that area you should do isolate exercises.

Tips #4:

– Do an isolate exercise just for the lower back at the end of each exercise.

– Chest extensions, good mornings and dead lift are excellent exercises for the lower back.

If you can’t correctly isolate the muscles of the lower back when you’re doing the exercises, the tendency is to work out with more intensity than you should, execute the exercises wrong, using an impulse with the lower back and pulling the weight too much using the biceps or the posterior deltoids. This way, you’re not allowing the contraction and stretching of the dorsal muscles. It is essential that you do the exercise correctly, feeling the contraction with every pulling and rowing.

Tips #5:

– Use a load that allows you to perform the exercise correctly and that allows you to complete the necessary reps.

– Pull the elbows towards the back and down, as far away as you can, during the execution.

– If you’re recruiting your biceps too much, always use a pronation grip.

– Focus on the area that should be worked and not on the weight or the movement caused by the weight.


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Greg Merritt, Top 5 Back-Training Mistakes & How To Correct Them, n/d, translation and adaptation of the original version


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