5 ways to build a broader back

Get to grips with the seated row to add back size and strength

Look around the gym the next time you train and do a quick calculation. How many people are exercising their “mirror muscles”, or those on the front of their body that can be seen being flexed and getting pumped in a mirror, such as the shoulders, chest or arms. Then add up how many people are training the one major muscle group you can never see working: your upper back.

We’d wager that one group significantly outweighs the other, but to build a bigger and stronger body, you must dedicate as much training time to the muscles you can’t see with your own eyes as to those you can. Not only will you get faster and better results, you’ll also build a more balanced physique that’s at less risk from joint aches and pains and even injury.

Row and grow
One of the best moves for improving upper back size and strength is the seated cable row, and as a bonus the biceps also get in on the act so you get bigger arms into the bargain. While the barbell bent-over row is a similar move, using the cable machine allows you to go heavier more safely for rapid results. Here’s how to make the most of every rep to start building up your upper back.

Set-up strong
The move is best performed on a dedicated seated cable row machine, but if your gym doesn’t have one you can use a standard cable machine. Just attach a double-grip handle to the bottom pulley then sit with your chest up and core engaged, holding the handle with fully-straightened arms.

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Stable base
Make sure your feet are pressed hard into the footrests, if using a specialist row machine, or planted securely if using a standard cable machine. Maintain a slight bend in your knees so your legs aren’t fully locked out.

Elbows first
Keeping your chest up and back straight, initiate the move with your elbows to row the handles in towards your abs. Make sure your elbows stay tight to your sides and don’t flare out to the sides, and keep your torso at right angles to your legs: you don’t want to “rock” back as you row the weight towards you, nor “rock” back forwards as you return to the start position.

Contract hard
This is an upper-back exercise, so you want your powerful back muscles to do the majority of the work, not your biceps. So really drive with your elbows and focus on getting a good muscular contraction at the top of the move, when your hands are closest to your torso. Hold this position with your shoulder blades retracted for a second or more to place even more tension on the working muscles.

Squeeze and hold
If you train with a partner get them to place a finger between your shoulder blades then try to “squeeze” their finger between your upper back muscles as you row the bar or handles in towards your ribcage. If training alone then imagine there is a finger there to squeeze. It’s a simple tip, but it focuses the mind on moving the muscles better, and works wonders for developing a thicker and stronger upper back.

Try these tips to build a bigger, stronger and wider chest!

To find your perfect transformation plan, take the New Body quiz!
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