Build and Define Your Back

In Ask Us Anything, Magazine by RI Magazine

Why you need to do the bent-over barbell row.

Q: “I can’t seem to develop the middle of my back. I use cable rows, lat pulldowns, T-bar rows, and dumbbell rows. Every now and then I’ll throw in Hammer Strength machines, too, but I’m not getting what I want. What can I do to hit this area better?” — Leigh S., via Facebook

ANSWER BY: Ed Darcey, natural bodybuilding champion and owner of Personal Fitness in Rocky Point, NY:

Mid-back definition comes with hard work and maturation. In other words, it’s not going to happen overnight. You have some decent variety in your plan, but you’re missing the very best back exercise there is and it should be the very first thing you do on back day: the bent over barbell row.

This is one that hardly anyone does correctly; most people do more of a lean over row, which is not good or effective. You need proper form for this one or it can be dangerous on top of useless. Here’s how to do it right: Bend your knees and “sit” into your hips so your legs hold your weight, grab the barbell with hands a little bit wider than shoulder width. Start with an upper body position parallel to the ground and then pull the bar hard into your mid-stomach. do this for 6-8 tough reps, 4 working sets, use a weight where the last 2-3 reps are very tough. You can’t build muscle without intensity.

After that, the rest of your workout needs to keep the intensity high. Plus, it takes a lot of volume to really develop your back. Put in the work and be patient and don’t throw your program out if you’re not seeing what you want immediately. Building muscle and bringing out definition is a long game. Those with patience always win.