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Training the back can be quite a challenge because many people cannot feel the back muscles working when they train. This is very common because you can’t see the back and your biceps are heavily involved in all back exercises. Many times you get a great biceps pump and little else.
The secret to taking the biceps out of the picture is to visualize them as hooks. The other secret is to begin all movements with the back muscles instead of pulling with the arms.
If you’ve been training long enough (you can flex any muscle at will) you start any back exercise by flexing the back and pulling with the back muscles first. By doing this, you will feel the back muscles working. If this continues to be a problem, you can try two things: a thumbless grip and/or lifting hooks. Both of these options can take the biceps out of it, putting more stress on the back.
Why it’s on the list: It’s always a good idea to have an overhead pulling movement in your back routine, and the pull-up is one of the best. Wide-grip pull-ups are excellent for putting emphasis on the upper lats. A closer grip may allow for a longer range of motion, but it may be possible to load the wide-grip pull-up to a greater degree because of an optimized starting joint position. The biggest challenge here for most trainers is training to failure in the right rep range for growth, which is 8-12.
If you do pull-ups early in your workout, you might have to add a weighted belt. Of course, if you find them difficult, you can always use an assisted pull-up machine or a good spotter, or switch to the wide-grip pull-down, which is a solid substitute. If your shoulders are healthy, pulling behind the head is okay.
Good form is extremely important here. In the starting position, the scapula should be retracted—pull your shoulder blades down and toward each other—prior to initiating the pull.