If you met Singapore native Yeo Kim Yeong on the street, he’d probably seem like a typical college student.
Go to class. Hang out with friends. Do homework. Stay up late. Study for exams.
He did all that. But he also made time for a little training at the gym.
Well, maybe a lot of training.
In addition to going to school, Yeong hit the gym four times a week.
Those training sessions would last a grueling 1 to 3 hours.
And he had one specific goal in mind: Take down the world record for the number of pull-ups completed in 60 seconds.
How many pull-ups can you do? It’s one of a handful of classic exercises that can help you build a stronger back.
Yeong? He crushed it.
“I have always believed that nothing is impossible, and that one's dreams are achievable,” says Yeong.
After a year of training, he hammered out 44 Wide-Grip Pull-Ups in 60 seconds, and beat the previous record by two pull-ups. Amazing!
Wide-Grip Pull-Ups are great for working your back and upper lats. But this isn’t the only exercise that can help you build a stronger, wider back.
Fit these X moves in your workout for Back Day:
Bigger chest. Bigger arms. Those are the two most-trained muscle groups in the gym.
Don’t believe me? The next time you show up for a workout, take an inventory of what people in the weight room are doing.
Chances are pretty good, you’re going to see a lot of arm-curl action, triceps work, bench press, and flyes
But if you’re aiming for the ideal physique, you’ve got to give every muscle group equal attention. And that includes training your back.
The primary muscles in your back include:
Latissimus dorsi – Probably the back muscle that gets the most attention. The lats support shoulder joint movement, and help you bring your arms down to your sides, or behind you.
Rhomboids – These back muscles give you the ability to squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. Think, standing at attention with your shoulders back.
Trapezius – These back muscles help you squeeze your shoulder blades together, and move up and down. Shrugs part of your workout? That’s a trap exercise.
Erector Spinae – Ever heard someone go on a rant about using proper lifting technique? Injure this back muscle, and you’ll know why. The erector spinae helps to keep your back straight and twist from side to side.
Levator Scapula – This muscle extends from the upper part of the neck to the upper part of the back, and helps support movement of the neck and shoulders.
7 Exercises to Build a Bigger Stronger Back
If you want to build a bigger, stronger back, there’s a long list of exercises you can choose from. But a few rise to the top as the most effective to build muscular strength and endurance, and a better physique:
1. Barbell Deadlift.
Yep. It’s one of the classics. It’s a compound movement that hammers your entire posterior chain, including your back. Start with a lighter weight to master the technique (keep your back straight). Then progress to lifting heavier. Overhand or underhand grip? Take your pick.
2. Bent-Over Barbell Row.
This classic back exercise works your lats, traps, and rhomboids. Plus, your biceps and deltoids get in on the action.
3. Wide-Grip Pull-Up.
Yeo Kim Yeong’s obsession. He actually started regular pull-up training when he was 15. When he decided to go for the world record, he hired a team of trainers to help him make it happen. This exercise works the upper lats. If you can do more than 8-12, do your next set with a weighted belt.
And use a slow and controlled movement…no kicking and flailing to get your chin over the bar. OK.
4. T-Bar Row.
Go with the standing version of this exercise. If your gym doesn’t have a T-Bar machine, load one end of a barbell with weight, and push the other end against the wall. Then put a close-grip attachment from the cable machine under the bar against the plates, and voila. T-Bar rows primarily work your lats, rhomboids, and traps. Keep your back flat, and pull.
5. Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row.
If your gym doesn’t have a wide-grip bar for rows, just grab the bar for Lat-Pull Downs and take it to the rowing station. Narrow-Grip Rows are fine, but this movement forces your upper lats to do more of the work. Try it with an underhand grip, and you’ll work your lower lats.
6. Close-Grip Pull-Down.
It’s another one of the classics to build bigger lats and a stronger back. And if you really want to feel it, go with a slow and controlled lifting tempo. Squeeze your lats hard as you pull down. Then give your lats a good stretch when you return to the starting position. (One more thing. Don’t be the person who uses a ton of momentum to pull the weight down.)
7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
You’ll work your lower lats with this pulling exercise.Use a flat bench, keep your back straight, and parallel to the bench. The biggest mistake people make with this exercise, is pulling with the forearm and bicep, instead of letting the lats do most of the work. Aim for 10 to 12 reps per set.
Want to learn how to build a bigger, stronger back, and better physique? Start here.
- Fenes, V. (2015). Guinness World Record holder for most pull up in one minute. Guinness Book of World Records. From: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2015/6/video-watch-yeo-kim-yeong-destroy-most-pull-ups-in-one-minute-record-386049.
- Tank, P. (2005). Superficial muscles of the back, intermediate muscles of the back, deep muscles of the back. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. From: http://anatomy.uams.edu/introback.html
- Fenwick, C.M.J., et al. (2009). Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. Journal of Strength and Conditions Research. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19197209