Laird Hamilton: How to Build a Stronger Back

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 Photograph by Peter Bohler

Men have an unfortunate training habit: We tend to neglect the things we don't see. A mirror shows us our chest, arms, and abs, so we hit the bench press, do biceps curls, and crank out crunches. That's why you see so many barrel-chested, big-gunned guys with no back, butt, or legs. There's a serious drawback to this kind of "mirror muscle" training (besides looking slightly ridiculous): Your body can become unbalanced, which increases the risk of shoulder, back, and hamstring injuries.

So it's crucial to do exercises that target your entire posterior chain — the muscles that run from the base of your neck all the way down your back to your ankles. Not only will you create a more balanced body, you'll also see noticeable gains in strength, power, and speed. Here are my top moves.

Dumbbell Row Combo
Upright rows hone upper-back muscles (traps, rhomboids, and rear delts), while bent-over rows focus on the lats. Super-set these two exercises and you strengthen your entire back at once. Grab a pair of 15- to 20-pound dumbbells and hold them in front of your thighs, palms toward you. With shoulders back and abs engaged, raise the weights to chest height, keeping elbows out. Lower weights to sides and hinge forward from the waist at a 45-degree angle to the floor with knees bent; pull dumbbells up to your ribs, keeping elbows in. That's one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps.


Good Mornings
This exercise doesn't get the attention that dead lifts and squats do, but it works just as many major muscle groups and is incredibly effective in strengthening the lower back and hamstrings. Position an empty barbell on your shoulders, and grip it with palms forward, knees soft. Hinge forward from hips, pushing butt back and keeping back flat and neck neutral. Go as far forward as your hamstrings will allow (if they're tight, this won't be far). Rise up and repeat. Do three sets of 12 reps. No barbell? Try it with a kettlebell, holding it at the base of your neck with your elbows out.

Weighted Stair Steppers
Developed calves are tough to attain because so few exercises zero in on them. This one is all you need to see a difference: Stand on the edge of a stair holding a pair of heavy weights. Press up to your toes and hold for four counts; lower, so your heels hang over the stair edge, for four counts. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps. If your calves aren't burning by the end of a set, up your weight.