T Nation

Easily Gain Back Width, Not Thickness


So I've been on T-Nation for about 4 years now and the improvement I have seen since then is too me great. I got one problem that is now pissing me off really badly. I can make progress in back width (lats, etc) basically at will, but no matter how much or how targeted I try and train rhomboids/middle traps, they stays as flat as a thin sheet of paper.

I have really tight pec/shoulder girdle which I have been working on for about 2 years solidly, with stretches (I'm a Physical Therapist) and that's been improving. But no matter what I do, I just can't get any visible hypertrophy of mid/upper back.

The last straw came yesterday when my old lifting buddy saw me and told me how much wider my back had gotten, but how I look like I lack mid-back musculature. If any of the veterans on here have tips I would appreciate it. I have even consulted friends who are sports certified PT's and CSCS to no avail. Thanks T-Nation.


What are you currently doing for you upper back?

Do you have any pictures that show the problem area?


I could easily put up a pic later, I'm at work now. For back I'm doing bent over rows on the t-bar station ( stand perpendicular), retractions face down on a slight incline, Deadlift from pins with emphasis on retraction, Seated high-rows, facepulls. I find anything where the lats are even slight involved, and thats it's, no work in mid-back.


And I am working out back 2x/week after being retarded for my early years of lifting when I never worked out back. I have a slight structural scoliosis but I don't think it is affecting this that much.


I know it's not really on topic, but would you mind posting (or PMing me) what you do to stretch your chest/shoulders? Whenever I try it seems to just irritate the shoulder capsule and leaves my pecs largely untouched. Clearly I'm doing something wrong...

You're ahead of me in training I think, but fwiw I think a lot of difficulties people have with their backs comes down to mind-muscle connection. Some people basically can't seem to feel their rhomboids contracting. It's something I focus on developing using a few sets of paused reps and playing around with hand positioning.


is your back getting stronger on exercises listed above?


Retracting the scapula is very important in that matter, as Jab1 already said... the rhomboids are playing a huge part in retracting those scapula. As a physical therapist you should know the concept op propriocepsis training. :wink:


@plataeu: yes I have consistently been getting stronger in those lifts. I also don't add weight unless I know form is still perfect, when it comes to back I never sacrifice form.

It's tough to use proprioceptive training for back, It's very easy for me to fix a patient and I do it day in/day out, but when it comes to myself I think I have to get another person to watch/advise me.


Exercises: horizontal cable row, chest supported machine horizontal row
Tempo: 2-1-4
Emphasis: Intiate the movement by retracting scaps, keep them tight throughout the whole rep, if you lose tighten and control you're using too much weight

I personally love this machine the avenger row, notice the retraction, and control of each rep (I've done as heavy as 1.5 times more weight, I'm not sure how important it really is but I feel more distinct DOMS when I keep the reps more controlled and deliberate)


we have a similar machine in my gym, problem is its angled a bit so you don't come back horizontally, but horizontally and up. I've done it before with extremely light weight w/ only retracting scapulae and holding them there. I will admit though that I haven't given it enough time to make a difference (that machine in particular) so I'll throw that into the mix. Thanks deat.


@Deat, that's a very neat excersise indeed. I'm doing it with a twist where I'll tilt my pelvis and keep my legs behind the hips. So'll put the center of gravity more in front.


Hate to say it, but this might be your problem. Try getting a little 'loose' with your form and throw some extra weight on the bar. Don't let the weight snatch you down at the bottom, but a little momentum and 'bounce' can be a good thing.

I'll try to think of a better way to explain and maybe post some vids later. It's go time.



Back is a funny muscle group.
I think it requires both very specific "feel" exercises for width, but also needs power movements for that thick look. What I like to do is include one row movement that is less strict and has looser form, focusing more on the weight. I might do dumbbell rows, dead stop dumbbell rows, barbell rows, or meadows rows in this fashion. I also include a Deadlift variation in all of my back sessions. I think these heavy movements are necessary for that thick look.

Also, don't use this as an excuse to have terrible form...there is a difference between calculated "cheating" or using looser form and using form that is just down right bad or detrimental. I would advise taking one or two heavy movements, focusing on adding weight to them, while also keeping those super strict movements in your routine.


I should be a bit clear, on the exercises that I do with really good form, cable rows for example, i'm up to about 180 for a set of 10, with no jerking or throwing body back. I'm always adding weight and I actually agree a lot about having form a bit loose, for example on barbell rows I don't have perfect 100% strict form.


Good advices here. I do DB rows up to 150, and by then my form is a little sloppy, but I think that heavy weight really helps with the thickness.

Also, I have found that the mind-muscle connection is easier to establish when you use straps, even if you don't need them. I try to visualize ropes attached to my elbows (whether it be horizontal or vertical pulling).


Do you deadlift or rack pull a lot?



Form nazis rarely make progress that impresses


Heavy conventional deadlifts off the floor or 2 inch platform or box. Cleans, snatches. Heavy singles, doubles, and triples. As your max's increase your back thickness will likely follow.


Absolutely agree with this. I have a strong grip, and I train grip regularly, but I still use straps for BB rows. Much easier to focus on your back when you don't have to grip very hard.


To elaborate on what I was having trouble conveying earlier:

Use a weight that you can't row from a dead stop. Use some leg drive or body english to get the weight moving. Try to hold the weight in the top position (you shouldn't be able to, though). Then on the eccentric, again try to stop the weight from pulling your shoulder blades forward... try to dead-stop it with the scaps retracted.

If you ramp your sets, use strict form as much as you can (the first few sets), then graduate toward the 'sloppy' form above. You'll get the best of both worlds. I tend to use strict rows as a warm-up (along with face pulls) then hammer as much weight as possible for low reps without sacrificing my spine, and without raising up out of the rowing position.