Why Your Back Is The Key To Getting Bigger, Stronger And Fitter In The Gym

How and why to start giving the building block of your physique the attention​ it deserves

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While most gym-going men spend plenty of time honing their arms and chests, the back often goes neglected - probably because it's harder to admire in the changing room mirror afterwords.

But, as Esquire fitness expert Harry Jameson points out, what's behind you is equally as important as the showroom muscles.

"Because you can't see your back, it's often ignored," says Harry. "But a strong back adds depth and shape to your physique, and more importantly, is the base that adds stability to all of your arm, chest and abdominal exercises." 

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No more back pain

One of the biggest afflictions from our increasingly sedentary lives is constant, niggling back pain, which often puts us off from focusing on the back as a muscle group during exercise, in case we make things worse.

"Obviously if you're in pain you should see a physio. But beyond that your attitude should be that your back is weak, so therefore you need to train it carefully and build up its strength, not leave it alone" says Harry.

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"Lower back pain can absolutely be reversed with the right training, which will inevitably help both your posture and your day-to-day comfort."

Speed up your metabolism - and get bigger arms

The more muscles you train simultaneously, the more calories you burn. And because your back is part of the posterior chain that contains large muscle groups, you'll be firing up your metabolism whenever you engage your back in the gym.

And as Harry says, "The vast majority of back exercises, like pull-ups and rows, utilise the biceps and shoulders too, meaning you'll be working on your anterior muscles as well as your back whenever you train it."

What exercises to do

Harry recommends performing a back routine once a week in conjunction with another muscle group like legs or chest. 

Perform each of the five exercises for 10 reps with a 60 second rest, repeating for four sets.

1 | Deadlift

"The single most important exercise for training your back" according to Harry. The deadlift can be a daunting prospect, but with the right form and application, it is massively beneficial.

"Warm up your legs before and keep a neutral spine while hinging from your waist," says Harry. "You don't want to be swinging in with your back."

"And remember, don't worry about just using the bar and building up from there. Your back will thank you in the future!"

2 | Wide-grip pull-up

The ultimate bodyweight exercise, the pull-up will target everything from your back to your shoulders to your biceps and abs.

If you're struggling for form or want to know the correct stages to improve and progress, then read our essential guide.

3 | Seated row with a cable

"Go for a nice, long range of motion," says Harry. "Keep your elbows in tight as you pull in and let your arms stretch out while keeping control of the cable when you release."

4 | Single arm row with a dumbbell 

"If you feel like you need to swing your back or arm through this exercise then your weight is to heavy," says Harry. "Engage your abs, keep your back straight and go slow."

5 | Single arm lat pulldown 

"This one's a little bit more unusual, but the single arm lat pulldown will give you a strong workout through your middle and upper back, as well as your traps and shoulders."