To finish up the back portion of the “Best Exercise for…” series, it is going to be one for the upper back thickness. For back thickness is general, rowing motions are going to be the best. So, with this in mind, the exercise that allows the most weight to be used is the Bent-Over Barbell Row. A great compound movement, the barbell row allows you to target different portions of the back to build thickness. More will be discussed on this in just a moment.
For the barbell row, the starting position is going to be bent-over, usually to a 90 degree angle or less, depending on your mobility. Some may only be able to bend over 45 degrees, but that’s okay. The barbell is held at about shoulder width apart for the regular variation, hanging down but not touching the ground. (When using Olympic plates, Arnold Schwarzenegger used to stand on a flat bench while he did barbell rows so that the plates would not hit the ground.) Usually, an overhand grip is used, but an underhand grip can be used to get a better contraction in the biceps and hit the back just a little differently. Making sure to keep your back from rounding, pull the weight up using your back and arms. The standard variation usually has the weight going toward the upper abdominals. At the top position, with the weight barely touching the abdominals, squeeze the lats, and lower the bar back to the starting position.
There are many different variations of the barbell row. A wider grip, for instance, hits the upper back more, with the bar coming up toward the chest. A narrower grip may also be used to hit the back differently. As I mentioned, an underhand grip incorporates more of the biceps, although basically any rowing motion you do is going to hit the biceps. One variation of the barbell row that allows you to lift a bit more and puts less pressure on the lower back is the Pendlay Row. With this one, the starting position is with the bar on the ground. The concentric contraction is the primary focus of the exercise, so just the portion where the bar is being lifted. Slowly letting the bar down puts more pressure on the lower back, so with the Pendlay Row, the weight is lifted to the top position and generally lowered quickly back to the floor.
If you find that one side of your back is a little smaller than the other side, what you should do is use dumbbell rows rather than barbell rows in order to work each side individually. This principal goes with any body part. For biceps, focus on different dumbbell exercise variations. For chest, use more dumbbell bench presses.
Next week will be moving on from back to shoulders and then legs. If you have any requests, feel free to mention them in the comments.