Like many other gym-goers, one of the main things I wanted to achieve when I first started lifting was more width to my back.
A wider back helps build out your V-taper and creates the illusion of a smaller waist.
If you’re seeking to build a wider back, then the primary muscle that you're going to want to develop are the lats, as growing this muscle will help effectively add the width to your back that you're after.
But, unfortunately, doing so often isn’t as simple as just hammering away at the lat pulldown machine.
Because adding a decent amount of width to your back requires more than just performing all of the right exercises.
If you’re serious about improving your back width and doing so quickly, then luckily there are a few back training strategies that research indicates are able to considerably speed up the process.
I’ve personally implemented and benefited from these training strategies over the years as well.
In this article, that’s exactly what I’ll cover so that you can build a bigger, wider back as fast as possible.
Before that: if you're looking for a training program that'll help you set up every single one of your workouts for optimal muscle growth (not just for the back, but for ALL muscle groups!), I've got just the thing for you. Every BWS program is designed to be an all-in-one, science-based process that’ll get you to your dream physique FAST. And best of all? It's all rooted in science. For more information:
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First, you need to ensure that you’re able to maximally activate and utilize your lats in the first place.
For most lifters, one of the more difficult muscles to activate and actually feel working when training tends to be the lats.
Without enough lat activation, other muscle groups such as the biceps and traps take over. When these other muscle groups take over, this essentially steals gains from the lats during back training.
This is detrimental since we know based on a recently published 2018 study that establishing a strong mind-muscle connection with your muscles when training them seems to boost growth.
If you aren’t actively feeling a strong contraction in your lats during your various back exercises, then this is something you’ll want to improve.
You can start doing so by performing lat activation drills.
One drill I’d highly recommend trying out is something I came across from John Meadows that incorporates many movement functions of the lats to help you feel them working.
To perform this lat activation drill:
You should feel a very strong contraction in your lat almost to the point where it cramps.
I’d highly recommend performing this drill a few times on both sides before your back training.
Performing this lat activation exercise prior to training will help you establish the important mind-muscle connection with your lats.
In addition, I’d suggest incorporating various cues to use during your actual back training, as this has also been shown to significantly boost the activation of the lats.
A few things I’d recommend implementing are to:
Utilizing these various cues along with the activation drill mentioned earlier will help you significantly boost the activation of your lats during back training.
Next, you need to ensure that you’re emphasizing both the upper and lower lats in your training.
Although we know that the lats are the main muscle you’ll want to develop when it comes to building a wider back, most people are unaware that anatomical studies have shown that the lats are actually comprised of an upper and lower region.
Therefore, if you want to maximize your back width, it’s vital that you target both regions appropriately during your training. Most people don't do this and is part of the reason why a lot of people don't have a wide back.
But we can successfully do so by paying attention to the way the lat fibers run.
The upper region of the lats, for example, runs almost perpendicular to the body or more horizontally.
Exercises that involve more shoulder adduction - where the angle of pull is more in line with the upper lat fibers - will more effectively hit this region.
Such exercises include wide grip pull-ups or wide grip pulldowns for example.
Whereas the lower region of the lats run more parallel to the body and are basically straight up and down.
Therefore, exercises involving more shoulder extension where the angle of pull is more vertical, such as close grip pulldowns, chin-ups, and close grip rows will more effectively hit this region.
So you’ll want to ensure that with your back training you’re incorporating both types of movements for full lat development.
Or on the other hand if one region of your lats, for example, the lower lats, is less developed and needs more work, then allocating more volume to that region and less to the other can also significantly improve the overall width of your back.
Next, we want to tweak your rowing exercises to focus more on the lats.
Now when most people think of lat exercises, they mainly think of pull-downs and pull-ups.
But it’s important to realize that many rowing exercises when done properly are just as effective at building the lats.
In fact, as shown in this EMG analysis from a 2018 study by the American Council of Exercise, we can see that many rowing movements elicit lat activation similar to that of pull-ups and lat pulldowns.
There’s a specific way to maximize the recruitment of the lats when performing the rowing movements.
Let’s take a look at the seated row for example.
If you perform the seated row by angling the elbows out and away from the sides more and focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together every rep. By doing this, you’ll mainly be emphasizing the traps and rhomboids.
If you tuck the elbows in close to your sides, pull slightly lower, and think about pulling your elbows down and back.
By doing so, you’ll be able to emphasize the lats much more since you’re putting it in a more mechanically advantageous position.
When done properly, these two slight variations should essentially feel like two completely different exercises.
You can implement this into all your rowing movements. This will help make all your rowing movements more lat-focused and maximize your back width.
Can't feel that lat engagement no matter how hard you try? Don't worry. The team here at BWS (along with myself) have successfully coached many like yourself - and are confident that we'll be able to help you to properly target your lats. If you'd like a bigger back (and achieve your dream physique in the most time-efficient way possible):
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Lastly, you’ll want to ensure you’re properly using your lats during the deadlift.
Because when done properly, the deadlift is a great exercise for not only adding back thickness but width as well.
I’d even personally attribute a lot of my back width to the years that I’ve spent progressively overloading the deadlift.
To best utilize the deadlift for back width, you need to properly use your lats during the movement. The lats play a crucial role in stabilizing your upper body through the deadlift.
Before you lift, pull the bar into your shins and think about performing a straight arm pulldown with the bar. This will help ensure you're activation your lats.
You should now feel your lat muscles activated and turned on as a result of this.
As you pull the bar up from the floor, maintain lat engagement. You can do this by thinking about pointing your elbows back towards the wall behind you.
Try to avoid thinking about pointing your elbows out to your sides.
If you still struggle to feel your lats despite this, then I recommend attaching a resistance band to the bar. Attaching a resistance band to the bar as you warm-up will help you better feel your lats during the deadlift.
A resistance band will help you properly activate the lats during the deadlift. Lat activation during the deadlift will also help keep your form solid. Furthermore, you'll experience better lat development over time.
It really is key training tips like these that will make all the difference to your gains.
Building muscle fast is possible, but it's important to follow a step-by-step guide that's actually backed by research to get optimal results.
And that’s exactly why within each of my Built With Science programs we've taken the time to carefully select each and every exercise included in your weekly routine. Additionally, we’ll also show you exactly how to optimally perform your routine and use it to build muscle. For more information:
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