Few people can deny just how impressive a great back can look, right? A well-built and symmetrical back is the sign of an educated lifter, someone who has clearly trained hard and sensibly for some time. Due to the size of the back, this muscle group can take time to develop, but it sure as heck helps if you know what muscles you’re targeting (mind muscle connection and all that jazz). Let me run you through the main muscles you need to focus on when constructing an enviable ‘hammer and tack’.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the origins, extensions and insertions of each muscle, however I will proceed to name the main back muscles and give a little insight into their function. To help us navigate, I will refer to the above pictures as per the respective colours…
The function of this large superficial muscle is to move the scapulae (bony prominence on the upper back either side of the spine) and support the arm. Simple shrug exercises are key to developing this muscle, with nice variations such as front shrugs and rear shrugs helping to hit the top and lower regions of the muscle respectively. The traps (for short) are famed for giving the impression of not having a neck because they insert at the occipital bone at the bottom of the skull. They are also great for increasing breadth i.e. a ‘thicker’ looking side profile, so be sure to alternate your exercises between front and rear shrugs to get a balanced looking Trapezius.
Posterior Deltoid (Rear Delt)
This muscle isn’t strictly part of the back, however it is in clear view when observing someone’s back from behind, and certainly enhances the overall aesthetics of the back. The rear delt is recruited when performing most ‘row’ type back exercises, consequently it responds pretty well when training back.
Known collectively as the Rhomboids due to their diamond like shape, this muscle group is arguably one of the most aesthetic when done right. They are those prominent ‘bumps’ that are on display when wearing a vest and look great when performing a seated row! The Rhomboids are comprised of 2 muscles known as the Rhomboid minor and the Rhomboid major, the minor is located in the top ¼ of the yellow section, whilst the remaining ¾ is the Rhomboid major. The Rhomboids are used to retract the scapula i.e. move them backwards, similar to the movement that occurs during a seated row.
This group of muscles are the bane of many bodybuilder and athletes’ careers, this is due to the high range of motion of the shoulder joint, and supportive structure and function. Their primary function is to stabilise the shoulder, one of the main reasons this resilient muscle group must not be ignored. There are 4 rotator cuff muscles, the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis (cannot be seen as lies underneath the scapula bone), the majority of the rotator cuff’s muscle body are hidden under the rear delts and rhomboids, however a targeted back routine will cause these babies to develop and pop through when flexing. Note that the teres major is not a rotator cuff, but is still clear to see on the back, and helps with the lat pulldown exercise and seated row by allowing medial rotation and drawing the raised humorous downward and backwards.
By far the largest muscle in the back, the latissimus dorsi (lats for short) literally translate to ‘broadest of the back’. The lats have various functions including extension, adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint. From a training and aesthetic perspective, their main function is to give that wide upper back look, as well as emphasising the taper and thin waste. The out and out winning exercise for lat development is the lat pulldown, followed by the close grip pull down which targets the upper lats quite nicely.
This muscle group which extends the vertebral column. This impressive looking muscle gives the lower back a solid, strong look, however it is actually a bundle of muscles and tendons and not just one strip of muscle like many people think. It runs upwards from the sacrum right through the thoracic vertebrae, as well as inserting into the ribs. Some of the main exercises for targeting and strengthening this muscle group include bent over rows, deadlifts, hyperextensions and to throw in a little out and out cardio… rowing.
So now that you have a better idea of what muscles do what, how you target them and what they look like from the outside, you can really tune into those muscles and, in the words of CT Fletcher himself…COMMAND THEM TO GROW!!!