Earn Your Wings: Mass Building Back Exercises

Building Back Mass

One of the most common questions I hear are how to increase the width of your back. This article will deal with how you can get your wings by which I mean making your back as wide and thick as possible.

First, let’s break down the anatomy of the back. Knowing a little about the muscles that you are trying to work always helps. Next to the legs, the back contains the highest concentration of muscles in the body and for good reason. The back supports the function and movement of all of your limbs and has a wide range of jobs that it needs to perform on a routine basis.

Lower Back (Lower Trapezius)

Function: Depression of the scapula.
Location: From the scapula all the way down to the top of the buttocks.

Middle Back (Rhomboids)

Function: Retracts the scapula, downward rotation of the scapula.
Location: Connected to both the scapula and the spinal column in the middle of the back.

Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)

Function: Extension, adduction, medial rotation.
Location: Inserts in the lower 6 thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Also inserts in the middle side of the arm pit area (humerous).

Traps (Trapezius)

Function: Elevation of the scapula, adduction of the scapula, depression of the scapula.
Location: Insets at the top of the neck travels all the way down the spine and inserts just above the buttocks.

With all of the technical terms aside, let’s talk about some of the best back exercises out there to build that strong, thick back that you are looking for.

Pull-ups / Chin-ups

Pull-ups and chin-ups are two of the best mass builders for the back. Targeting the lats, shoulders, biceps and grip, these exercises have so many different varieties, which means that you will never get bored with them. Keep in mind that these are not as easy as you would expect. You can also perform machine-assisted pull-ups or chin-ups if your gym has one of those machines (most do). Do not be surprised if you are new to working out and cannot do even one.

Grip: wide grip, close grip, alternated grip, reverse grip. You can also add a towel around the bar to increase grip strength.
Weighted: add weight to pull-ups with dip belts, dumbbells, weight plates, sandbags, kettleballs or medicine balls.
Movements: side to side, slow negatives, holds, explosive.


Love them or hate them, deadlifts are just about the best back exercises out to to develop a strong, thick back. There are so many variations to deadlifts that this is another exercise that you should never tire of. Do not believe the hype that deadlifts are not worth it and do more harm than good.

Variations: conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, zercher deadlifts, deadlifts from a deficit, dumbbell deadlifts, cable deadlifts

Bent Over Rows

Bad form is what stops most people from doing bent over rows, but when done correctly, bent over rows are real mass builders. Use the right amount of weight where you are targeting the right part of your back. Keep your torso as close to parallel to the ground as possible while keeping your back in neutral. The biggest mistake people make with bent over rows is that they are too upright. Other mistakes include tucked in chins and using too much weight. This is a controlled exercise. You should not be throwing that weight up.

Variations: barbell bent over rows, dumbbell bent over rows, cable bent over rows

Seated Cable Rows

This is another exercise that is done with horrible form most of the time. Do not tuck in your chin. Do them correctly and you will be targeting your lats, rhomboids, biceps, grip and posterior delts.

Variations: change grips and handles

Barbell Shrugs

This is a very focused exercise that targets only the trapezius muscles. I love to work my traps. I actually typically work them out twice per week. You can go heavy on shrugs. Let the weight hang at your thighs with arms fully extended. Keep your back straight, chin up and try to shrug your shoulders as high as you can. Raise the weight as you do so, pausing for a few seconds at the height of the shrug. Lower the weight under control and repeat.

Variations: barbell shrugs, dumbbell shrugs, cable shrugs

Lat Pulldowns

Lat pulldowns are a great compound exercise that can add width to your back if done properly. I typically use at least one version of a lat pulldown on every back workout.

Variations: wide grip lat pulldowns, close grip lat pulldowns, one arm lat pulldowns

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