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How To Get A Wide AND Thick Back

Many areas of resistance training are widely misunderstood, and this isn't helped by clickbait culture. Have you ever seen those photos on social media, showing you which 3 exercises to do for a wide back, and which 3 exercises to do for a thick back? Maybe you've even watched a video, where the person tells you to do high volume for a thick back, and low volume for a wide back. Well, I'm here to tell you it's bullshit. Here's what it actually means to create a wide and thick back, and how to go about it in a way that will actually work.

Sam Barnes Lifestyle ftm fitness how to get a wide and thick back


Sorry, I know you might not care about this kind of stuff, but you do need to know what muscles we're talking about if you're to truly understand this topic. Let's start with the Lats.

The Latissimus Dorsi (known more commonly as "the lats") are two fan shaped muscles running down either side of your back. They start out on your upper arm bone, and connect to a number of different points on your torso, including your ribs and shoulder blades. Grow this muscle and you get the look of a wider back.

Next we need to look at 3 muscles making up the majority of the upper back musculature. These are the Rhomboids, Traps, and Rear Delts. Your Rhomboids connect your shoulder blades to your spine, your Rear Delts sit on the back of your shoulders, and your Traps are a diamond shaped muscle crossing over your upper back and neck. Grow these muscles and you get the look of a thicker back.

Sam Barnes Lifestyle ftm fitness how to get a wide and thick back

Muscles Fibers

A muscle fiber is a muscle fiber. When it grows, you add new protein filaments in length and width. In a nutshell, that's it. A certain number of reps or a different amount of weight isn't going to grow it in any other way. We don't try to differentiate our chest training for thickness and width, so why do we take this thought process with our back? It's all made of the same stuff.

Sam Barnes Lifestyle ftm fitness how to get a wide and thick back

If you want your back to look wider, you need to train your lats. Want it to look thicker? Grow your upper back. It's purely about exercise selection.

How To Train Your Lats Properly

Traditional pull ups and lat pulldowns where your palms are down and your elbows flare wide ARE NOT BAD. They just don't create much of a lat stimulus. If you want to use those exercises be my guest, but use them as upper back builders instead. Here's what you need to do to get the most from your lats.

Your lats wrap around your rib cage, this means they are in their strongest position possible to move your arm down/ back when the arms are kept tight to the body. What does this mean in a practical setting? You need to use a grip that allows your elbow to stay close to your sides. For most people, this will be a neutral grip.

On top of this, if we go too wide with our hand position, we limit the ability for our shoulder blades to move through their full range of active motion, meaning we end up missing out on a bunch of stimulus to the muscle on the eccentric. We're better off going shoulder width with our grip.

Here's 4 lat focussed exercises to try...

Lat Pulldown

Chest Supported Row


Pull Up

The Upper Back

So, we've covered what works for the lats, now let's take a look at the 3 upper back muscles we identified earlier on.

As I mentioned above, using the traditional pull ups and lat pulldowns actually leaves the lats in a really weak position, and ends up working some of the upper back muscles a lot more. This is because our elbows are now further from the side of the body. Here's a few exercises to try if you want to train your upper back well.

Pull Ups


Upper Back Row

Crossover Cable Row

These are by no means the only exercises we can use to target these different muscles. However, what it does show you, is that back width and thickness are simply the results of exercise selection, nothing more. So, next time someone makes it out to be anything more than that, you know what to tell them.



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