Pullup or Chinup Variations
If you want a V-shaped torso, you must do pullups and chinups. They build width because they target your latissimus dorsi (a.k.a. lats), the large back muscles that wrap around the sides of the upper body just below the arms. These muscles are the ones that give the torso a wider, flared shape, and can make you appear slimmer even if you haven't lost an inch around your middle.
Below is a list of variations of this classic back exercise from easiest to hardest. As you pull your chest to the bar during each rep, think about pulling your shoulder blades toward your back pockets. This will force you to use your upper-back muscles—as opposed to your biceps—to perform the move.
For each rep of this back exercise, you'll start in a dead hang and then pull your chest to the bar.
CHIN-UP: Grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
NEUTRAL-GRIP PULL UP: Grab the parallel handles of a chinup station so that your palms are facings each other.
MIXED GRIP CHINUP: Placing your hands shoulder-width apart, use an underhand grip with one hand and an overhand grip with the other.
PULL UP: This is the same movement as a chinup except that you grab the bar with an overhand grip that's slightly wider than shoulder width.
START-AND-STOP PULLUP: Perform a pullup, and then slowly lower halfway down to a dead hang. Pause, then pull your chest to the bar again. Pause, now lower all the way down to a dead hang. That's 1 rep.
ISO PULLUP: Perform a pullup, but hold your chin above the bar for 10 to 15 seconds. You can do this for several reps or on the last rep of your last set of pullups
TOWEL PULLUP: Find your hand positions for a chinup, then drape a towel over each of those spots on the bar. Grab the ends of the towels so that your palms are facing each other. Grasping the towels engages more of your forearm muscles, improving your grip strength and endurance.
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While you can't beat the chin up as a back exercise, the lat pulldown is also great for increasing muscle. In fact, bodybuilders swear by it. Get the most out of the move by performing the exercise at a slow, controlled tempo. You should "feel" your lats working each rep. Do 8 to 12 reps like this, making sure your upper body remains in nearly the same position from start to finish.
DO THIS: Sit down at a lat pulldown station and grab the bar with an overhand grip that's just beyond shoulder width. Without moving your torso, pull your shoulders back and down, and bring the bar down to your chest. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
If you want to achieve the classic V-taper look with a wide back and narrow waist, then T-bar rows is the exercise that can help you. It will improve your posture and help prevent back injuries. It not only works your back muscles, but also provides lower body and core muscle stimulation.
DO THIS: Grab a barbell and position yourself in an area where you have an adequate amount of room. Straddle the barbell and grab it with both hands, one above the other (you can also attach a V-bar onto the barbell). Bend forward at the waist so that your chest is leaning forward over your feet. Keep your knees slightly bent (a bit more bent than they are with one-arm rows) and your feet just beyond shoulder width apart. Start with your arms fully extended, allowing the barbell to hang at about mid-shin level. Next, lift or “row” the barbell up and close to your stomach. Return the barbell back down to the starting position and repeat for the desired amount of reps. Be sure to keep your head up and shoulders back throughout this exercise in order to keep your back in a firm and stable position throughout the movement.
When it's done right, the deadlift is an excellent back exercise. As you pick up and put down the weight, your upper-back muscles—including your rhomboids, traps, erector spinae, rear deltoids, and lats—must fire on all cylinders to keep your torso straight and your lower back from rounding. It's when you fail to engage these muscles that injuries can occur.
DO THIS: Load a barbell and roll it against your shins. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar with an overhand grip, your hands just beyond shoulder width. Keeping your lower back naturally arched, pull your torso up and thrust your hips forward as you stand up with the barbell. Lower the bar to the floor and repeat.
Want more reasons to add the deadlift to your workout routine? World-renowned fitness expert Dan John explains why you should Deadlift for Total-Body Strength.
Seated Cable Row
Seated cable rows are a traditional upper-back exercise. Adding a pause for three seconds when the bar gets to your torso, however, can increase your gains. The pause keeps your scapular retractors working longer. Strengthening these muscles is important because a weakness can lead to unstable shoulders—and that limits your strength and muscle gains in nearly every upper-body exercise, including the bench press and arm curl.
When you start this movement, pull your shoulders down and back. Otherwise, you'll keep your shoulders elevated, which stresses the shoulder joint. Over time, this can cause your joint to become unstable, which often leads to injury.
DO THIS: Attach a straight bar to a cable station and position yourself with your feet braced. Grab the bar using an overhand, shoulder-width grip, and sit upright. Pull the bar to your upper abs. Pause for three seconds, then slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Your torso should remain straight and motionless throughout the movement. Don't lean forward and backward to perform the exercise.
Bent-Over Barbell Row
Compared to other variations of the row—like the single-arm dumbbell row—the barbell version allows you to use more weight. Rowing with heavier loads elicits more muscle growth in your middle and lower traps, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles.
Use an underhand grip to target your rhomboids, the small muscles that start at your spine and attach to your shoulder blades. They assist your traps with pulling your shoulder blades together. These muscles tend to be weak due to the long amount of time we spend sitting at desks, in cars, or on couches every day.
DO THIS: Grab a barbell with an underhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width, and hold it at arm’s length. Lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor, and bend at your hips and knees. Let the bar hang at arm’s length. Pull the bar to your upper abs as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause, and slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.