I remember sometime in 2009 where everyone did high volume split routines while following the “muscle confusion” principle.
Broscience was the main source of information, and people lived by it.
In terms of back training, lifters went all out. They treated their backs like stacks of lego blocks.
They would perform several variations of rows, pullups, shrugs, isolation exercises, etc. All for the pursuit of developing that thick and wide back.
Was this training optimal? Perhaps not, but it does strike an important. Back then, people went all out with back training. They didn’t do one exercise and call it a day.
I mention this, because today it seems that everyone follows a simplistic training model.
With the rise of strength training, people have smartened up, and no longer follow broscience principles. Instead, they’ve steered in the complete opposite direction.
You would think this was a positive change for lifters, but I digress.
Nowadays, you have guys saying that weighted chinups alone will build a great back.
The argument is that if you can pull over 100lbs for reps that everything will be complete. Although this would appear to sound logical, in actuality, it’s far from the truth.
What people fail to realize is that the back is not just one muscle like the chest. It’s composed of several different areas, all of which may be developed in unique ways.
The problem with weighted chinups, as you can imagine, is that it does not effectively target all areas of the back.
In particular, this would feature the rear deltoids, the rhomboids, trapezius, and spinal erectors. The only area which gets thoroughly developed is the latissimus dorsi (lats).
This is why people have said in the past that vertical pulls were for width, and that horizontal pulls were for thickness.
Although it’s a broscience argument and not physiologically true, the premise of the argument is still valid BECAUSE THE LATS ARE PRECISELY WHAT CREATES WIDTH.
Likewise, when people talk about the “thickness of the back”, it is NOT the lats. They are referring to the UPPER BACK, which is not directly related to the lats.
With these facts in mind, you can see why weighted chinups cannot satisfy complete back development. Although it’s a phenomenal back exercise, specifically for the lats, it fails to effectively target the upper back.
This is why you will see several guys who can do weighted chinups with 100+lbs, but who lack that 3D mountainous look. Particularly when they wear a shirt, they do not even look like they lift.
The opposite truth also occurs for guys who have a thick upper back, but no lats, by which they will look very thick and mountainous, but appear very narrow.
Want some examples? Just compare old school bodybuilders to Olympic weightlifters.
Old school bodybuilders seldom performed direct upper back work because it made them appear more narrow. So they focused on lat development instead.
Now if what these fitness gurus online are saying about the weighted chinup being able to satisfy complete back development…then old school bodybuilders would, by definition, have to have thick traps.
But this is not what you saw.
Instead, you had guys with very wide lats, but zero upper back thickness.
Let me give you some examples. Below you will see Marvin Eder, Steve Reeves, Vince Gironda, and Frank Zane.
As you can see, NOT ONE OF THEM HAS THICK TRAPS.
But look at their damn lats! Just incredible, am I right?
So how come this happened? It’s because of what I said earlier. The upper back and the lats are not the same thing. They must be trained in different ways to achieve maximum development in each part.
Now, let me give you the opposite scenario, where people have thick upper backs, but no lats.
I present you two excellent case studies, who you probably know. Here you will see Lu Xiao Jun, and Dmitry Klokov.
I ask to you…where the hell are their lats????
That’s probably the best example I can give you.
Call it nitpicked, call it whatever you want. I got tons of examples, some of which even include my friends. But I’d prefer not to call them out.
Anyhow, the point of this article is to show you that lat training is not the same as upper back training.
Will weighted chinups alone build the upper back? Sure, but not MAXIMIZE its development. That’s what I’m trying to say.
If you want big traps and a thick back, you need to do a combination of ROWS AND PULLUPS. Not one or the other! Your rear delts must also be trained, and I’d simultaneously add rear delt work and possibly shrugs or upright rows/high pulls. This is what really builds that upper back thickness.
Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the guys around you.
Common sense will show you the truth.
PS: Here’s a video on the topic.