Last Updated: May 6, 2018
Including an effective back workout routine in your overall muscle building efforts is critical to achieving a well-balanced, strong, and muscular physique.
But there are so many lifters out there who don't realize this and they overly focus on certain muscle groups whilst neglecting others. A common example I see is lifters slaving away at the gym doing countless sets of bench press and barbell curls in order to build up their chest and arms because they are the most "showy" muscles, yet they neglect their back muscles and their legs. Doing this will only lead to an unbalanced physique with poor posture.
Of course, building your chest and arms is important, but you need to train ALL of your major muscle groups in order to build an overall great physique. And the group of muscles in your back are perhaps some of the largest and most important in overall upper body strength.
Ok, I do understand why it's easy for people to avoid a good back workout routine. Firstly, the back muscles aren't as "showy" as the arms or chest for example. And secondly, they simply don't understand the importance of building a strong back. Let me tell you, developing your back with a solid back muscle workout week in and week out will help you to achieve a thick and powerful upper body. Your back muscles contribute to roughly 70% of your total muscle mass in your upper body.
Let's take a look at what weight lifting exercises you should perform for the best back workout routines possible. The muscles in your back include the lats, traps, lower back, rhomboids, and spinal erectors.
The benefits of performing heavy deadlifts are simply outstanding, both specifically for your back muscles and your overall muscle gains as heavy compound lifts like deads help to stimulate growth hormone and therefore gains all over your body.
They work your body from head to toe and are therefore great bang for your buck (ie return on effort). You can't really replace deadlifts with any other exercise (apart from an alternative form of deadlift such as stiff-legged deadlifts) and they are an absolute must in any good back workout routine.
You should be careful though and make sure to do them with proper form as you can quite easily injure yourself if you're not careful and if you load up the weight too quickly (I'm talking from personal experience here).
If you really can't incorporate them due to an injury or other reason, make sure to make up for it be absolutely including other taxing compound back exercise such as barbell rows or pull ups as explained below.
A vertical pulling exercise
These types of exercises target your lats and are also a must for your back muscle workout. Some examples are overhand pull-ups, underhand chin-ups, and lateral pulldowns. I would recommend basic wide-grip overhand pull-ups as the most effective out of these exercises for building your lats, as they also work other muscles in your back. If you're new, start with underhand closer-grip pull-ups/chin-ups instead as wide-grip ones will probably be too hard. But try to work your way towards wide-grip style pull-ups as they will work your lats more (underhand/close-grip pull ups target your biceps more).
A horizontal pulling exercise
Some examples of horizontal pulling exercises (also known as rows) include the following: bent-over barbell rows, dumbbell rows, cable rows, and seated machine rows. They target the upper and middle area of the back and also the lats. For the best back workout routine to stimulate the most muscle growth, I would recommend performing a free-weight rowing movement, and avoiding the cable and machine exercises. Bent over barbell rows or dumbbell rows would be excellent picks. However, seated rows can be very effective too.
A shrugging exercise (optional)
At the end of your back workout routine you may want to include a shrugging exercise like barbell or dumbbell shrugs to target the upper traps. You can perform slightly higher reps for this exercise if you want to. Personally, I don't do shrugs anymore because they're just not needed as other exercises will work them enough. But if you have trouble stimulating growth in this area, you may want to include some targeted shrug exercises to induce more growth.
Putting it all together for the best back workout routine
Let's take these four exercises and put them together to form a solid back workout routine that will build muscle mass quickly. This routine has worked great for myself and many others.
This is an example of the best back workout you could do to stimulate maximum muscle gains in your whole back. Remember to use a challenging weight so that you can only perform 5-8 reps on each set, except for very targeted exercises like shrugs which you can do slightly higher reps for. If you need to increase the load for pull ups then you can either hold a dumbbell with your feet, or you could wear a weighted belt.
Following this back muscle routine properly and focusing on either increasing the amount of reps or amount of weight slowly over time will help you on your way to building a strong, thick, and powerful back that forms a good base for a great, well-balanced physique.
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Option C: Find a Good In-Person Trainer ($$$)
I personally don't do 1-on-1 training with clients for various reasons (mainly 'cause I run a business which takes up all of my time, and plus I travel a lot which isn't ideal for training people), but if you have the money to spend on this (PTs can quickly add up in costs) and you care about getting results then ensure they understand the science behind muscle gain, fat burning, supplementation, nutrition, etc, and most importantly pick one who practices what they preach and has similar results to what you want (and if you're a hardgainer, ideally you'll want a trainer who was once a hardgainer themselves and managed to build muscle successfully otherwise they may not understand the best course of action for you or worst-case they'll falsely tell you that you can't build the physique of your dreams; don't listen).
Whichever path you take, if you're a hardgainer/skinny noob who's a little sceptical that you can actually build the strong and muscular physique that you know would change your life - remember this: no matter what anyone tells you, your destiny is 100% in your own hands despite where you may be starting from. Don't fall victim to the illusion that being a hardgainer or [insert excuse] will hold you back, as smart strategies and persistence will always win in the end.
To your success,
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12 Years & Counting
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor