I’ve found that most of the time bodybuilders have trouble building their back to match the rest of their body. Any number of reasons could explain why your back isn’t developing as strongly as other body parts. Having watched my fair share of back training, though, I noticed that people frequently aren’t engaging their back muscles at all. You may think you are using your lats when doing a lat pull down, but in reality your biceps could be doing the majority of the work. The same is true for other exercises, such as a seated row. If you aren’t performing the exercise properly to engage the right muscles you are trying to stimulate, then the exercise itself was not necessarily benefiting you the way you wanted. This could be why someone can have a physique with both very dominant and lagging body parts. Your first priority should be to make sure that you are engaging the specific muscle that you are intending to work. Once you are able to engage the muscle properly, then you can add more resistance/weight to the exercise.
There are several ways to stimulate the muscle. Adding more weight isn’t always the end all be all. In fact, I like to include distance, time under tension, and duration to my exercise sets before adding massive amounts of load. When you can stretch or lengthen the muscle a greater distance while being able to contract the muscle at a shorter distance, you will be able to get a full range on the muscle activation and stimulate more of the muscle to grow. With time under tension, the longer it takes you to perform each rep through a full range of motion, the more you will stimulate the muscles compared to faster contractions with the same number of reps. For example, doing 10 reps over a time period of 20 seconds will be less stressful to the muscle than 10 reps with the same weight for a set that lasts 40 seconds. Throwing this method into your training will be a big shock to the muscle. Be prepared for the burn and muscle pump. You can also increase the number of reps you perform for one exercise before adding more weight. If you’ve been doing bench press with 225 lb for 8 reps for several weeks, you could push yourself to do 10-12 perfect reps before making the bar heavier.
I’m not trying to discourage you from increasing the weight in your lifts. It’s important that you do lift heavy. What I want you to understand is that adding more weight to an exercise is not always the first “go to” method of building muscle and strength. But as science and experience has shown, heavy weight will build muscle. You have to find a balance between being honest with yourself and pushing more weight or using a different method to shock the muscles into growth. The best way to know if you should increase the weight or if the weight is too heavy is to challenge the muscle by engaging the specific muscle. You’ll know it’s too heavy when you let yourself shift your body into using other muscles to finish the rep. ?
Lat pulldowns, seated rows, and bent over rows—my three “bread and butter” back movements—are great at developing an overall thick back. Perfecting these three exercises will surely help you grow each area of your back. It’s great to start off with lat pulldowns. I like to make sure to engage my lower lats by bringing my elbows and shoulders down, almost in front of me, not back or behind me. As I depress my shoulders, it forces my lats to engage instead of my traps. At the top of the movement, I like to stretch as far as I can to really open up the lats and entire back. ?
Seated rows done properly are a great tool to develop the overall back. It’s typically safe to go heavy on this machine and really build dense, thick muscle. Do not lean back too far in the exercise. When you lean back it takes away the angle of movement and then most people start using arms and traps to pull the heavy weight to their chest. Stay perpendicular to the machine with your chest up and spine straight. Another key tip when doing seated rows is to bring your hands low toward your belly button. Pulling the hands low instead of to the chest will engage all of your back muscles versus just using traps and arms to pull the weight.
Last but not least, bent over rows are a tried and true exercise for bodybuilders. Your lats should be pretty exhausted by the time you get to this exercise. So the main focus when performing bent over rows is to engage the traps and rear deltoids. This exercise needs to be perfected more than any other. If done incorrectly, you can start to cause yourself some back or neck problems. If your lower back starts to hurt, it’s probably because you are going too heavy and lacking proper posture. Keep the back and spine aligned properly the entire time. The most important thing is to control the weight on the negative, or as it’s being lowered to the ground.