Bodybuilding isn’t just about building muscle. A good physique is balanced—every body part is developed proportionately, and nothing important is missing. Yet many advanced competitors (even some in the pro ranks) display huge backs and wide lats but have very little middle-back definition. Because the back consists of several muscles, different areas of the back need to be trained using a variety of exercises and techniques. Virtually all back exercises involve some kind of rowing or pulldown movement (pullups fall into the latter category), but various muscles in the back respond differently to changes in grip width, range of motion, and weight.
GRIP WIDTH AND RANGE OF MOTION
Grip width is closely related to range of motion. When you use a narrow grip for rows and pulldowns, your potential range of motion increases. To focus on the muscles of the middle back (namely, the rhomboids and the middle traps), use a grip that allows for the widest range of motion possible, especially when doing rows.
Bodybuilders often perform heavy rowing exercises to develop their lats. While this practice is effective at building wide, thick lats, going too heavy limits your ability to train the middle-back muscles. To engage the rhomboids and middle traps, you must pull your shoulder blades back as you move the weight and squeeze them together at the top of each rep. If you pile on too much weight during rows or pulldowns, you won’t be able to retract your shoulders far enough to work the middle back, which limits the development of your rhomboids and middle traps.
Almost every bodybuilder who has a big, wide back but no middle-back detail will also have huge biceps. This is a side effect of performing heavy rows that prevent him from being able to pull back his shoulder blades and squeeze them together; as a result, the biceps do most of the work at the top of the movement. All you need to do is lighten the load a bit. Trust me, you can still build muscle without using superheavy weights. I recommend training the bigger lats first, while you’re fresh, and the smaller middle-back muscles later in your workout. If your rhomboids and middle traps are especially weak, however, feel free to do your full-range-of-motion, close-grip rows first in your workout and save your wide-grip rows, pulldowns, or pullups for later.
It all comes down to prioritizing your training to bring up your weak areas. Follow my advice on targeting the middle back, and you’ll build detail and thickness in your rhomboids— and traps you never knew you had.
BACK ATTACK WORKOUT
- T-Bar Row (close grip) | SETS: 3-4 | REPS: 8-10
- Seated Cable Row | SETS: 3-4 | REPS: 10-12
- Lat Pulldown (wide grip) | SETS: 3-4 | REPS: 8-10
- Lat Pulldown (reverse grip) | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12
Note: This routine brings up the muscles of the middle back with close-grip rows through a full range of motion. Heavy lat training follows.