WHAT IS BACK THICKNESS?
Back thickness is essentially a synonym for back density. The main muscles that need to be developed to acquire a thicker back are the trapezius and the spinal erectors. Those are the muscle groups which create the dense back look.
The trapezius is a big and very rigid muscle that runs from the upper base of the neck down to the middle of the back. Many people are convinced that the trapezius is hit completely during shrugs, but this is not the case. Shrugs focus primarily on the upper portion around the neck area. Therefore, rows are a complete trap exercise because they work the middle part too.
Rows done with flared elbows focus completely on the traps and the upper back area. When you row with a wide grip while also keeping your elbows high, the role of the latissimus dorsi is diminished, and the upper back gets an opportunity to shine.
A good and very accessible exercise that hits the traps more evenly is the so-called Bulgarian ring row which you can see in the video below.
The key points are to flare your elbows and to retract your shoulders as much as possible. You will feel this exercise in the traps, rear deltoids and obviously the biceps and forearms. You can mimic this movement by using a pair of dumbbells, a barbell or even a machine.
The next muscle group that is crucial to back thickness are the spinal erectors. They are one of the muscle groups controlling the spine.
The best exercises for the spinal erectors are deadlifts, rack pulls, squats, weighted back hyperextensions and barbell or dumbbell rows without back support.
Small muscle groups like the rhomboids also contribute to back thickness, but they are hit hard during trapezius and spinal erector work too.
WHAT IS BACK WIDTH?
Back width is determined by the size of your latissimus dorsi (lats) and the teres muscles (the lat helpers)
The go-to exercises for back width are:
1. Weighted chin-ups with a narrow grip
Many people have an easier time engaging the lats during chin-ups rather than pull-ups.
I often use rings for this exercise because the straight bar could cause elbow and wrist issues. The rings allow you to find a more forgiving position and remove some of the joint stress.
The main reason to use a narrow grip is to have a larger range of motion. Contrary to popular belief, the narrow pull-up works the lats more than the wide grip variations.
2. One arm dumbbell rows for “lower lats”
Technically, you either have lower lats or you don’t. For instance, people with high insertions showcase less prominent lower lats regardless of training. That cannot be changed through exercises. However, the one arm dumbbell row hits the lower part of the muscle very well.
3. Front lever work
The front lever is an intense lat exercise, although it doesn’t promote more growth than the classic movements. Nevertheless, it’s a cool way to train your lats if you are into bodyweight training.
4. Deadlifts/Rack pulls
It may surprise some of you, but the deadlift is a fine lat exercise. If you have a good mind muscle connection and keep the bar close, your lats will cry.
P.S. The post on natural potential has been updated.