Building The Cobra Back
Back workouts used to be the bane of my existence, with progress over the years being very slow and at times, non existent.
From my experience I can say that training the back correctly is without a doubt the hardest muscle group to really ‘dial in’ the form and training principles with.
Here’s the mistakes I’ve made and seen other make over the years, if you’re struggling to build that thick, wide cobra back make sure you’re not falling victim to any of these.
Back Training Mistake #1
Disregarding key exercises
There are literally hundreds of different back exercises that you could be doing, however they’re not all as effective as one another.
This is a common trap that gym-goers fall into, they’ll go big on volume and pump out 4 sets of 10 different exercises, however they’re choosing the wrong (ineffective) exercises.
The pull-up, barbell deadlift and bent over row are the 3 most powerful exercises in your back training arsenal.
Lat pull-downs, one arm dumbbell rows, back extensions and the like should not be prioritized over these compound mass builders.
Here’s a basic back workout that works wonders:
Sample Back Workout
Weighted Pull-ups – 4 sets – 4 – 6 reps
Deadlifts – 4 sets 4 – 6 reps
Bent Over barbell Row – 4 sets – 4 – 6 reps
One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 sets – 8 – 10 reps (optional)
Back Training Mistake #2
Not contracting the shoulder blades
In order to add size and increase back strength we need to be using our back when we’re performing rows and pull-ups.
By default most guys attempt to pull through their arms (especially when lifting heavy) as opposed to their lats… this results in a bicep pump and a half assed back workout.
Using correct form and ensuring you’re activating the right muscles requires conscious effort without a doubt.
At the beginner of each set I ensure I lean back and have a slight arch in my back to ensure I’ll be driving through my lats to row the barbell or pull myself up to the bar.
Sitting completely upright or hunching forward is a sure-fire way to set yourself up to struggle the weight through your arms.
The video below demonstrates Ido Portal, Connor McGregor’s movement coach performing strict form pull-ups, note the leaning back and the engagement of the lats while pulling his chest up to the bar. Incorrect form would show a perfectly straight torso pulling through the arms and barely clearing the chin over the bar.
Back Training Mistake #3
Wearing straps for every exercise
Straps are an incredibly basic yet very effective training accessory that you’ll most likely find in the duffle bag of every serious gym-goer.
Deadlift one rep maxes, the last set of weighted pull-ups, high rep hanging leg raises for core training… the straps have there time and place without a doubt.
The primary purpose of straps is to ensure your grip strength is not the ‘weak link’ during your exercise, causing you to finish your set before the targeted muscle is exhausted.
Using straps for every rep of every exercise throughout your back workout may seem like a good idea at the time, however long term you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Straps are a band-aid fix for a lack of grip strength, heavy deadlifts, bent over rows and weighted pull-ups will all assist in building your forearms and grip strength.
Save your straps for testing your deadlift one rep maximum and 150lb weighted pull-ups.
Back Training Mistake #4
Rounding the lower back
Injuries suck, regardless of whether it’s a shoulder, arm or a leg you’ve damaged… However lower back injuries are on another level, as just about anyone who has slipped or ruptured a disc will tell you, your back and confidence performing back related issues are never the same.
The most common cause of back injuries in the gym is you guessed it, poor form – particularly on rowing exercises.
Your back should never be rounded, when performing bent over barbell rows or deadlifts if you’re constantly rounding your back this is a sign that on the ascent you’re lacking strength in your back and you should lower the weight, or if you’re rounding your back on the descent/struggling to isometrically hold the weight in place that you need to increase your core strength as your issue is the stabilization.
As I mentioned in back training mistake #2 if you’re not practising strict form you’re not getting the best bang for your buck out of your workout – the rounding of the lower back makes it impossible for you to engage the targeted muscles correctly while risking a severe injury.