Muscle Back Irons: Everything You Need to Know
Should you play muscle back irons? Blades? Cavity backs? Hybrid-like irons?
These are good questions because irons make up a huge part of your golf bag setup. The truth is there is no “best iron” as it depends on the person swinging the club.
Figuring out which iron is right for your swing can lead to more greens and hopefully lower scores. Today we’ll review how muscle backs are different from most irons, what type of golfer should use them, and our best picks for 2023.
Types of Irons
Before getting into the design and features of muscle back irons, here is a quick overview of the different types of irons:
- Traditional blade irons: The oldest design that looks great but offers little in terms of distance or forgiveness. These irons are played almost exclusively by professionals as they offer the most shot making capabilities.
- Muscle back irons: These are a version of blade irons but they have more forgiveness and tons of workability. These irons are ideal for skilled golfers – both pros and amateurs – who have a consistent golf swing and want enhanced feel.
- Cavity back irons: These are more forgiving than blades or muscle backs thanks to the hollow design behind the face. They’re a great mix of workability and forgiveness for low to mid-handicap golfers.
- Game improvement irons: These types of cavity back irons are very forgiving thanks to an even larger cavity back and wider sole. They are designed for mid-to high handicap golfers who want distance and higher launch.
- Super game improvement irons: These irons are more like hybrids and extremely offset. They are the most forgiving irons and typically used by seniors or newer golfers who want forgiveness above all else. They also help improve launch even with slower swings.
Today we’ll focus on muscle back irons (commonly referred to as MB’s) as they can do wonders for your approach shots. While the origins are somewhat unknown – some credit Ben Hogan Company in the 1950s, while others reference a Wilson blade in the 1940s – they are great clubs. They’re a version of blade irons but offer more forgiveness with a lot of the same benefits which we’ll cover today.
Muscle Back Irons
So, what are muscle back irons?
Muscle back irons are a type of iron with a distinct shape and design and a spin-off of traditional blade irons. These irons have a thin, flat face with a muscle (hence the name “muscle back”) that runs behind the face. This design is more forgiving than traditional blades and helps create a solid feel that players love.
Muscle back irons have a solid back and a smaller sweet spot than cavity back irons. Traditional cavity back irons have a hollowed-out back to distribute weight and provide extra forgiveness on mishits. This rewards off center hits and makes the misses much more manageable for players.
Pros of Muscle Back Irons
One of the biggest advantages of muscle back irons is the ability to shape shots.
Players like the workability of these clubs as it’s easier to alter trajectories and shot shapes. If you’re the type of person who enjoys hitting knockdowns, draws, and cuts to different pins, these are a great choice.
These irons also have a lot more feel than traditional cavity back irons. The thin face creates a more direct connection between your hands, shaft, and ball at impact.
If you hit one anywhere other than the sweet spot, you will definitely feel it (but not as much as old school blades). But you will also feel when you hit a perfect shot thanks to the enhanced vibrations. This can lead to more confidence knowing that you have created such a consistent swing with regular practice.
Lastly, they tend to go longer than traditional blades as well thanks to the extra “muscle” (aka weighting) that is behind the face. Some muscle back irons also have stronger lofts (1-2 degrees) than blades which can increase total distance.
Cons of Muscle Back Irons
While there are a lot of pros to muscle back irons, they certainly aren’t for every type of golfer.
First, they are much less forgiving than cavity back irons. Since the sweet spot is smaller, a more consistent swing is needed to reap the rewards of these clubs. Mishits off the toe or heel will not work out nearly as well as cavity back irons. This is why a lot of people switch to driving irons rather than traditional long irons.
Second, muscle backs do not go as far as they’re designed with more loft than cavity back irons. While this isn’t an issue for faster swinging golfers who create plenty of speed, it’s not ideal for the weekend warrior with average clubhead speed.
Related: How to Increase Swing Speed
Third, these types of irons are usually some of the most expensive as they’re forged. While they might not have as much technology in their simple design, the forging process is much more comprehensive. Needless to say, if you’re still working on your swing, on a budget, or simply don’t’ play a lot you should skip these irons.
Best Muscle Back Irons
Now that you know more about the design and features of these irons, let’s get into some of our favorite picks. While there are very few true blades in the golf equipment industry, almost every brand has an MB style.
Here are some of our top picks…
TaylorMade has a ton of great looking irons with several muscle back styles to choose from. The P7TW are the true blades (made by Tiger himself) but the MB model is quite similar.
These are a low launch, mid-spin iron set that provide incredible feel. Here’s how TaylorMade described these irons which provide surgical control. “A shorter blade length, narrower sole width, and progressive offset create a minimalist profile that’s designed to control shot shape and trajectory.”
These tour inspired irons have extra mass directly behind the face to provide the most feel possible. While the machine milled grooves deliver the perfect amount of spin and make it easy to shape shots in either direction.
Titleist 620 MB
Titleist makes some great irons but only offer one blade/muscle back style. It’s a very simple design and used by some of the best players in the world including shot making wizard Justin Thomas.
They have progressive blade length throughout the set and provide amazing turf interaction. These provide low launch and are extremely workable. As Titleist mentioned, these are best for “The golfing purist.”
Mizuno Pro 225
If you need a great looking set of irons it’s hard to beat Mizuno. They now make a huge variety of irons from blades (the 221 series) to the more forgiving Hot Metal series.
In terms of best muscle back irons we love the Mizuno Pro 225 series. These irons have a bigger head, wider sole, and more offset than the 221 making them more forgiving. They’ve won just about every award possible as the “hot metal blade design” has everything players need in a set of irons.
These are more compact than the original irons with a new CORTECH multi-thickness face which increases ball speeds. Plus, they’re a great way to replace long irons if you play blades or skilled amateurs can use these as the entire set.
The 2–7 irons produce a higher ball flight while the 8-PW allows for more precision and penetrating ball flight. While they’re no doubt one of the best looking iron sets, the Special Edition Black Ion is even better. Available in right hand models only.
PXG 0317 ST
PXG also has a ton of great irons for both professional and amateur players alike. The 0317 collection is the “player” series and offers extreme shot making with the small club head design.
They have precision weighting that you can custom in a club fitting appointment too. As PXG said, “One large weight is located near the CG on the back of the clubhead. This large center weight can be used to achieve optimal swing weight. Unique to PXG, customers can experience the benefits of these adjustments during an in-person fitting.”
Plus, what’s great about these clubs is that you can easily create a combo set with the 0317CB. Since they have the same loft, offset, and bounce it’s easy to add the CB’s in for the long irons. Then make the rest of the set with the ST as well.
Click here to learn more now. Also, check out my full review of the PXG fitting process here.
Callaway Apex MB
Callaway Apex MB
- A classic shape and muscleback style, with a thin topline, compact design and chrome finish.
- Precision grooves promote better control and spin, while reducing fliers from the rough.
- Newly engineered weight placed in the center of the clubhead to optimize weight distribution without sacrificing CG location.
Another classic blade design is the Apex MB series from Callaway. These are made for the best of the best players with a thin topline, compact blade length and chrome finish.
They have 20V grooves that help control shots from the rough and new CG weighting for even shot making capabilities. Unlike a lot of irons these compact clubs also have an adjustable screw weight in the back of the club too.
Despite being a Tour iron it seems like more professionals use the Apex TCB irons (including Jon Rahm). If you need a little more forgiveness and Tour cavity back design, those are likely a better option.
Top Questions About Irons
If you have more questions about iron sets, keep reading our top questions and answers now.
Do pros play cavity backs?
Professional golfers tend to play blades and muscle backs more often than cavity back irons.
While some golfers use cavity back or driving irons to replace long irons, almost all pros use a more compact shape in mid and short irons. These blades and muscle back designs give them more feel and shot shaping which is needed for the difficult courses they play.
What irons does Tiger Woods use?
Tiger Woods uses the TaylorMade P7TW irons. These are the definition of blades and only available by custom ordering through TaylorMade. It’s safe to say these clubs didn’t make our most forgiving irons list.
What handicap should you have to use blades?
Traditional blades, not muscle backs, should only be used by the best of the best golfers. Heck, even professional golfers who get paid millions of dollars don’t always use blades or even MB’s. Just because you’re a skilled, consistent golfer doesn’t mean you need to switch to less forgiving clubs.
Are muscle backs more forgiving than blades?
Yes, muscle backs are a type of blade but are much more forgiving than traditional designs. The extra weighting (commonly referred to as muscle) makes the sweet spot bigger and can help improve launch as well.
Are muscle backs the same as blades?
Muscle back irons are a type of blade iron but more forgiving than straight blades. They have more mass and slightly larger profile to make the sweet spot larger. But they’re still very workable and less forgiving than cavity back irons.
Muscle back irons are great if you’re the right type of golfer but they are not for everyone. They’re definitely more forgiving than true blades but not by much.
Beginners and higher handicappers should avoid these irons as they aren’t forgiving enough. Plus, they might limit distance potential which makes it harder to hit more greens in regulation and likely lead to higher scores.
While the origins are somewhat unknown they were a natural progression from compact, hard to hit blades. But these types of irons still require a lot of consistency but reward you with more feel and shot shaping ability.
If you are considering using muscle back irons, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, make sure you have plenty of natural swing speed (over 100 mph with a driver). Second, make sure your mechanics are sound and have the fundamentals dialed in a majority of the time.
Finally, make sure you have time each week to practice and stay sharp. Otherwise, a switch to more forgiving cavity back irons might be the best option for your game.
Lastly, don’t forget to use the right shaft in your irons to optimize spin rates, distance, and trajectory.
What type of iron do you play?
Let us know in the comments below.