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STRENGTH & CONDITIONING BLOG #2: King of the back exercises for novice & intermediate lifters

What’s going on everybody, I hope that you enjoyed the king of chest post, but now it’s time to press on. Today we are discussing the king of back exercises for the everyday gym enthusiast. The competitors for this article are weighted pull-ups, rack pulls, and bent-over rows. The back is often overlooked and under-trained. This is because it is not something hat we usually see and therefor it doesn't get as much attention as the other vanity muscle groups ex. Chest & Biceps. Having a strong and well conditioned back will give the lifter good posture as well as prevention to injury. When training my clients I put an emphases on hitting the lats, mid traps, lower traps, rhomboids and the often forgotten spinal erectors. In my opinion this is all part of creating a complete back package. Now lets get to the analysis.

WEIGHTED PULL-UPS - Pull ups is definitely the most effective back exercise for the lats bar none. The issue is that the majority of gym goers can barely knock out 1 solid pull-up. In or order for me to program the weighted version into my clients workout plan, my client would have to prove to me that they could at least be able to knock out 3 sets of 10 body weight pull-ups while fresh. Even though the EMG data shows that weighted pull-ups and chin-ups are insanely effective in building up lats; this is an high level movement to perform safely. This isn’t for the average gym bro.

RACK PULLS - I’m going to need to incorporate more of these into my programming for my clients. They hit the lats very well, and they are not necessarily a high skilled movement. Also the ability to get good spinal erector activation is in there as well. But we are still missing strong mid and lower trap activation.

BENT-OVER ROW - The bent-over row is an exercise that the trainee can easily jump into and has a high muscle activation when it comes to the mid traps, lower traps and spinal erectors. The muscle activation for the lats isn’t the best but definitely not the worst. During my early training days I would hit Dumbbell bent over row regularly. This not only gave me a crazy pump, but it allowed me to develop mind muscle connection very quickly with my back movements.

FINAL THOUGHTS - Do to it being a low skill movement with very high muscle activation, I have to go with the bent over row. In my opinion you are getting the biggest bang for your buck. Not only are you getting a decent amount of Lat activation, you are getting the most mid-lower trip activation as well. Of course continue to work on your pull-ups and then when you as the trainee are ready, add the weighted pull-ups into your program! And that is it for now. If like what you read or have disagreements, please come see me in the comments. Until then, peace.


Contreras, Bret. "Inside the Muscles: Best Back and Biceps exercises" March 15, 2010

Edelburg, Holly. "Electromyographic analysis of the back muscles during various back exercises" September 29, 2017


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