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4 common back training mistakes

No mistakes here

A great looking V-shape depends as much on a wide and impressive back or more specifically lats, as much as it depends on having a slim waistline. A slim waistline with an even slimmer lat, will never produce that V shape look, no matter how much you try to "pose" in those tight T-shirts! And for me the back has always been a pleasure to train and try to develop. I remember even as a teenager when I began lifting I always enjoyed rows, and never complained while training my back. Since I had no access to a squat rack in those days, the heaviest I could go was on the back exercises, and this heavy training was what I enjoyed, and still enjoy most.

I am infact often surprised to know that for most people training the back muscles is not a fun bodypart to train. It after all is not exactly part of the "mirror muscle" groups. Mirror muscles refer to muscles that one can see for themselves in a mirror like the chest, arms, abs, and muscles like lats, hamstrings are obviously not part of it since you cannot see them in the mirror infront of you. However the fact does remain that you will probably lift your heaviest weights in the exercises working the the back and legs. And if you want to be big and strong then you must learn to gravitate towards the big movements where you can lift the heaviest rather than spend most of your time working your calves and forearms. 

There are however some major mistakes that trainees make when trying to build up their backs, which halt their progress. Here are 4 of them, that must be avoided if a V shape is desired:

Mistake 1: isolation work before size and strength gains

Picture this, you walk into the gym and see a 110 pound guy training his back. You strike up a casual conversation with him, and he tells you how desperately he wants to add size to his body. Then he goes about his training and after a while you notice him doing bent over lateral raises with 2 dumbbells. You walk upto him and ask him why he is doing this isolation exercise? His answer, it will help him add details and definition to his rear deltoids and upper back. Sounds great huh? Uh......but was'nt the goal in his case size gain and not added definition?

Having often seen this happen with many beginners who will read some pro level drugged up bodybuilder's training program in a magazine and will try to use the same workouts on themselves in an attempt to look like the pro bodybuilder, it amazes me how some people just never learn. Look, isolation work and definition work can all be done only when you have actually added some considerable size to your back. If you have not added any size, then frankly what are trying to add definition to? Get your deadlifts upto 400 pounds, your rows upto 250 pounds and chances are that you will already have achieved some good definition in your back muscles along with size and strength gains. Spending time on reverse laterals or any other exercise by which you try to isolate the back muscle for some definition is not the way to go till you get some basic strength, till then go heavy on a few exercises.

Mistake 2: following a split approach

Split routines in which one trains only one bodypart a day, are clearly not the best way to go for most trainees when it comes to size gains. For most of us training a bodypart intensely will leave us the option of doing only 1-2 exercises for that bodypart in a day. Going beyond that and doing 4-5 exercises for that part in one day will mean that after the first 2 exercises we will just be pushing beyond our limits and pushing ourselves into the dreaded overtraining territory. Look guys, I do not spend a second nowadays trying to argue with steroid infested trainees on how they can manage to train their backs with 5 exercises in one day, and still grow. My own training is natural and I look for methods to develop myself keeping in mind my natural abilities rather than follow what a Johnie Jackson might do, knowing fully well that his genetics are like light years ahead of me and he is taking boatloads of drugs, which I do not.

Mistake 3: light weights

The back is a huge muscle group and not a tiny one like your forearms, so if anyone tries to build up a huge back with tiny weights then they are wasting their time in the gym! Big heavy weights with good form is essential to building a  big big back that spreads wide and is impressive. So if you are lifting the same dumbbell for your rows and for your curls, then its time to move to the bigger dumbbell for the rows.

Mistake 4: poor form

I have often observed people doing back exercises with absolutely rubbish form, which can also be very dangerous. Here are 10 of the more popular ones:


1.      too upright when doing barbell rows

2.      arms flaring out too much to the sides when rowing

3.      doing half reps with rows and not bringing the bar to the navel or the abdomen

4.      using a squat/leg press type leg assist when doing dumbbell rows with a hand on a bench

5.      shoulders too rounded and thus not working the back and also putting too much stress on the shoulders

6.     doing a hyperextension/good morning when doing a row, thus decreasing its effectiveness

7.      back too rounded when doing rows and deadlifts, thus increasing the potential for a low back injury

8.      shoulders too shrugged when doing pulldowns, chin ups or rows

9.      leaning back too much when doing pulldowns and doing half reps

10. losing control and just simply letting the weight "jerk" upwards when doing pulldowns and thus putting the shoulders at a risk

Most of these problems are caused by lack of knowledge, impatience in adding weight and a general lack of respect for proper form. Needless to say that such trainees rarely make progress, and are often frustrated. Talking about form I must admit that there are some professional level bodybuilders including the great Ronnie Coleman, who do not follow proper form and still make great gains. However before you decide to follow them, do keep in mind that they can get away with it due to their crazy superior genetics and the boat loads of steroids that they use. On the other hand natural trainees with regular genetics need to stick to the proper form to get the job done and to have the best back development possible. So determine for yourself which category you fall under and make your choice accordingly. 

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