I see it every day in the gym. The flat bench press and curl stations have lines forming — sometimes out the door. Set after set of barbell bench, 21s curls. Some get so involved in those two types of movements that their shoulders are pulled forward permanently, creating a hunchback that would make Quasimodo look like he’s standing up straight. They have big chests and arms, sure, but they don’t have that presence. The secret to looking like you work out is improving the other side of the body… your back.
To the layman, a chest and arms screams gym time. And it’s true, it does take some, but building the back (your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and seratus, and erector spinae) takes a level of dedication that few put forth. Best of all, because of the poor shape most begginer backs are in, you will see muscular gains quickly. As you work the musculature of your back, your shoulders will widen, you will develop that “V-Taper” so many crave, and will naturally take a more confident and imposing stance.
Exercise 1: Weighted Chin-Ups
Three Sets of 5-8 repetitions
The single best exercise for anything that isn’t your lower back. It hits the lats, rear shoulders, and biceps — all in one go. Once you can safely execute 10 repetitions of chin-ups without weight, begin using either dumbbells or a chin-up belt to add weight. Remember that chin-ups are palms facing your body. Use a grip that is shoulder width or slightly inside of your shoulders. If you are using a dumbbell, grip it with your feet, or have someone place it inside your crossed legs after you get on the bar. Last step? Easy, pull yourself up.
Exercise 2: Bent Over Rows
Three Sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Start with the barbell on the ground. If you can’t row with 45 lb plates on each side, use more plates to raise the bar about halfway up your shins. Standing in front of the bar, bend over at the waist and grab the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Take a deep breath, and flatten your lower back completely by tightening your core. Look up, and yank the bar with all of your might to your upper-abs, pulling your lats, and traps together. Drop the bar, and repeat.
Exercise 3: Seated Rows Burn Out
2 Sets of 30 repetitions
Finally, move over to the seated cable row machine. With the typical close grip v-handle on the machine, take a seat with your knees slightly bent and your shoulders fully extended forward. Without bending your arms, pull your shoulder blades back and together. Execute that movement for 15 repetitions. After your finally rep of the half pulls, begin with the same movement, and as your finish the pull, bring your elbows behind your back and attempt to touch them to one another. Execute the full second movement for another 15 repetitions. Take a short rest, and repeat one more time.