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7 Biggest Back Training Mistakes

It’s complicated. Combining ball-and-socket joints that allow maximum arm mobility, a ribbon of snaking bones and nerves that divide the region down the middle, and a phalanx of big and small muscles spread from your butt to your neck, your back is your most complex bodypart. So it’s little wonder that many bodybuilders earn failing grades for training it. A lot of things can go wrong, but we’ve simpli- fied the list to a top seven. 

#1 Leaning Back As You Pull

Whether you’re doing pulldowns or rows, it’s not uncommon to see bodybuilders see-sawing their body in an effort to move weights that are simply too heavy. That motion turns a lat exercise into a lower-back move, and guess which muscle group is doing less work because of the added momentum? That completely defeats the purpose. Swallow your pride and lessen the weight a few plates. It’s okay to bend forward or backward about 10 degrees, but anything more reduces the emphasis on the target muscle and increases your risk of injury.

#2 Neglecting Elbow Position

Exercises such as one-arm dumbbell rows, close-grip seated cable rows and close-grip pulldowns are all back training favorites, but there’s a big problem doing them all in the same workout: They miss the upper lats (the meaty area that accentuates your V-taper). When doing those moves, the elbows stay in tight to the body so that the lower lats are more heavily engaged. Always consider elbow position: With your elbows out wide and away from your sides, the upper lats are more effectively recruited. Wide-grip pull-ups and pulldowns and wide-grip rows more effectively target this region. Make sure to include moves in which your elbows are both tight to your sides and away from your torso in your back workout to hit all areas.

#3 Not enough compound movements

Over reliance on machines is probably the biggest error. Using a machine takes all the stablilsing muscles out of the equation. Machines may be more comfortable and lock you into a safe position, but a freer range of motion is generally superior for muscle stimulation.

Fix it:
T bars
Chin ups

#4 Not Feeling the Muscles

Quite often people perform lat exercises either in one of two ways. They’re either training without regards to feeling their lats actually performing most of the work and squeezing well, or they’re performing exercises in search of wider lats without it actually being a good lat-targeting exercise.
It is important to find which exercises stimulate your lats well, and stick to those. Continual progression over time should lead to some good lats. If you look like a cobra at any point during a back exercise, it’s a safe bet that it’s a pretty effective exercise.

#5 Neglecting the lower back

One area not mentioned in our preceding rundown is spinal erectors. That’s because the most common problem here is not in missing the target, it’s in failing to even try. It is true that your lower back is stimulated during virtually any standing exercise, but to maximize the size and strength of your lower erector set, you need some isolation time, too.

 #6 Not Pulling Your Elbows Far Enough Back

You’d never dream of loading up the squat bar and going down just a few inches (well, with the exception of dedicated partial reps), but that’s effectively what’s happening when you try and row weights that are too heavy. In the rowing motion, for a full contraction you need to pull your elbows as far behind the plane of your back as possible, retracting your shoulder blades as you squeeze the target muscle. Going too heavy limits the range of motion. While you may not be able to fulfill the full range of motion toward the end of a heavy set, make sure you’re using a weight that at least enables you to get 5–6 complete reps on your own.


Because your back is such a vast and complicated muscle group, there is much confusion about how to best train various areas. Many believe you simply need to pull your hands to the area you want to stimulate — low for lower lats, high for upper lats, etc. — but it’s not that easy to hit the target.