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The Fit 5: Training Your Back

Our fitness expert answers your questions about the most effective exercises to tone and strengthen your back.

For all of our fans who shoot us questions on our Facebook page, this one is for you. Each week, we will tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with any questions or challenges you are having with your fitness regimen. This week, Sean Hyson C.S.C.S., Group Training Director for Muscle & Fitness and Men's Fitness magazines, answers questions about about getting a strong, ripped back without hurting yourself. Be sure to read up on all of Sean’s articles here on MensFitness.com or in Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness magazines each month. You can also catch Sean on Twitter

1) Upping Your Pull-ups — asked by Gary Cook What are the most effective lat exercises to work on to be able to do multiple rep (and, hopefully someday, multiple set) full body weight wide-grip pull-ups?
“Any kind of row or pull-up movement works the lats hard. If you’re trying to improve your pull-up numbers though, you need a specific plan. Try the one-half plus one method. Find the number of pull-ups you can do and divide it in half. Now do four sets of that number. So, if you can do eight reps at most, do four sets of four. The next week, add one rep, so you’ll do four sets of five. Then repeat the process with five pounds added. Add 10 pounds, 15, and then 20. Take a week off and re-test your pull-up number.”
2) Carrying Your Weight — asked by William Giles How much weight should you be able to throw around compared to other upper body parts like chest and shoulders. Is there a ratio?
"Certain exercises, like the bench press, are very stable and done with a restricted range of motion, and that helps you lift more weight. For that reason you’ll always be able to lift more on them than other exercises (you’ll always bench more than you can row or overhead press). You should, however, always strive to balance your movement patterns with equal volume so one muscle group doesn’t grow out of proportion to another. For instance, if your workout has you benching 250 pounds for two sets of six, that’s a total volume of 3,000 pounds lifted. If you can only row 200 for six, you need to do one more sets of at least three reps to equal the same amount of weight lifted."
3) Isolation Exercises — asked by Marcus Ryals What are the best isolation exercises for your back?
"Pulldowns and chest-supported rows."
4) Warming Up — asked by Jason Stamper What's the best warm up/stretching to do before a back workout?
"Use a foam roller or tennis/lacrosse ball to work out knots in your traps, lats, middle and lower back. You don’t need to stretch before the session, but you may see faster muscle gains if you stretch immediately afterward. Hang from a pull-up bar for one minute, then grab onto something sturdy, bend forward at the hips, and arch your back. Hold that for one minute. These stretches need to be extreme and almost feel like they’re ripping your skin. The point is to stretch the connective tissue around your muscles in order to make room for them to grow."
5) Home Training — asked by David Freson When working out at home, what is the best exercise to perform to strengthen your lower back without weights?
“You can do back extensions off a bench or reverse extensions. For the former, lie on a bench with your hips on the edge and let your upper body hang off it (it helps if someone can hold your legs down). Push your hips into the bench and extend your body so it forms a straight line. For the reverse extension, let your legs dangle off and raise them up to be even with your body."

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