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Pocket Guide for Back Workouts

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Pocket Guide for Back Workouts

Woman doing chin up

Back Workout: Your Exercise Guide

Your back muscles are essential for spinal and core stability and are the foundation to a strong lift. The muscles of the back are divided into:

  • Instrinsic muscles ( semispinalis, multifidus and rotatores: fuse with the vertebral column)
    • Superficial muscles (splenius cervicis and capitis: shoulder/ neck movement)
    • Intermediate muscles ( erector spinae: movement of the thoracic cage)
  • Extrinsic Muscles (Trapezius, latissimus dorsi, thomboid major/minor, levator scapulae, serratus posterior superior and inferior muscles)

Most of you have probably heard of the extrinsic muscles, often mentioned on different back machines, and by gym “bros”. They’re the muscles you atually can see progress in size.

We all have our favorite exercises, some easier to perform, others demanding some experience and proper lifting technique to avoid injury.

Back Workout: Different back exercises and main muscles activated

Here’s a list of different exercises you can include in your back workout!

  1. Lat pull-down, wide grip – latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, brachialis(1)
  2. Lat pull-down, underhand grip – latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, brachialis(1)
  3. Overhand chin-up, wide grip – latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboid –minor, major; biceps brachii, brachialis(1)
  4. Rope pull-down – latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, brachialis(1)
  5. Straight arm cable pull-down – latissimus dorsi, teres major, triceps brachii – long head(1)
  6. Single arm cable row – latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboid major, trapezius, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis(1)
  7. Single arm dumbbell row – latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboid major, trapezius, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis(1)
  8. Seated cable row – rhomboid major, teres major, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis(1)
  9. Deadlift trapezius, rhomboid major, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris – long head and short head, vastus lateralis and medialis, rectus abdominis (1). Read more about deadlifts here.
  10. Bent-over barbell row – latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboid major, trapezius, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis(1)
  11. Bench barbell row – latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboid major, trapezius, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis(1)
  12. Underarm barbell row – latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboid major, trapezius, posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis(1)
  13. Bent-over T-bar row – posterior deltoid, teres-minor and major, trapezius, infraspinatus, rhomboid, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, brachialis, brachioradialis (1)
Muscles of the back

Chin-Ups vs Pull-Ups

Two different exercises that usually get mixed up. The DIFFERENCE is in the grip. Pull-ups are harder and target different muscles. Here’s how to perform each movement:

How to perfom a Pull-Up A pull-up uses the overhand grip (palms face the floor).
1. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
2. The execution starts with arms fully extended. Try to keep a slight bend in your elbows to reduce the stress placed on your joints.
3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, and bend your elbows to pull yourself up.
4. A correct repetition is when your chin reaches the bar or it goes over it.
5. The pullup is a shoulder adduction movement. You move your upper arm down to your sides.(3)

Now you’re ready to include pull-ups in your back workout!

Muscles used during a pull-up, back workout

Doing a chin-up is almost the same as a pullup. The difference is the underhand grip (palms faced towards you) with a shoulder width. This is mainly a shoulder extensor movement because of the palm position: your upper arms move down to the rear. (4)

Chin and pull-ups both target your back muscles, specifically the latissimus dorsi, which is the large muscle that runs down your back on each side of your spine and gives you the “V-taper” back. Both exercises also target the biceps brachii muscles. During a chin-up, you are actually doing part of a bicep curl.

The main difference in muscle activation between a pull-up and chin-up is that the chin-up activates the bicep muscles more than a pull-up. (3,4)

Supinated Grip vs Pronated Grip

Let’s start off with defining the terminology: supination and pronation. Supination is when you rotate the forearm and hand so that the palm faces forward/upward, therefore a supinated grip would place your palms facing your body if you flex your elbows vertically. On the other hand, pronation is when your palms faces backwards/downwards. A pronated grip would therefore place the palms away from your body.  

Why does the grip matter?

The grip influences which muscle fibers are “better” targeted.

The pronated grip primarily targetsthe latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. This should be prioritized in your training because it engages more fibers and it requires more energy. This grip also places stress on the forearms, shoulders and biceps in order to stabilize the movement.

The supinated grip, on the other hand, is better used more for isolation type of exercises at the end of the workout. You can use this grip if you want to target the biceps brachii a bit more. In order to train the biceps with supinated moves you should stop the lowering phase of the pull-up when your upper limb reaches a parallel state with the ground. If you want to target the back more using this supinated grip you should squeeze the elbows back and outward on the way up.  (5)

Good luck with your back exercises and let us know how you design your back workout!

Article written by Vlad Geroge Radulescu, edited by M.D Omar Kaakati & Artin Entezarjou

References
1. The ilustrated practical encyclopedia of fitness training – Andy Wadsworth
2. Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy
3. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/exercise-library/191/pull-ups
4. https://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/LatissimusDorsi/BWUnderhandChinup
5. https://www.livestrong.com/article/137846-pronated-vs-supinated-pull-ups/
6. Variation of Grip Strength and Wrist Range of Motion with Forearm Rotation in Healthy Young Volunteers Aged 23 to 30 – Stacy Fan, Jeremy Cepek, Caitlin Symonette, Douglas Ross, Shrikant Chinchalkar, Aaron Grant.

Psssst… Hey, you! Here’s a question for you: Do you have a workout plan?

Check out our most popular workouts programs to start building muscle now. 

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