For many athletes, back training is almost blind. After them, there is no that sense of satisfaction that comes after exercises for the chest or shoulders, but often you have to do more work, because without this you cannot develop an impressive back. This is why on “back day” gyms are usually overcrowded with lifters hesitantly performing the same set of movements: pull-ups, deadlifts, hyperextensions. And so week after week, without any tangible progress.
If you tend to blame “bad genetics” for poor back muscle development, you simply must try these simple tricks to boost your workouts. Do the exercises with full dedication, and the reward will be the coveted thickness of the broadest and rhomboid muscles!
Move 1: Pullups with Biomechanical Drop Set
In this exercise, you cannot do without a chin-up machine, which makes it possible to use a straight, neutral and reverse grip. You have to do a drop-set, but not a classic one, in which you reduce your working weight after each failure, but an “anatomical” or biomechanical one. Take advantage of the anatomical advantage with more comfortable and stronger levers to complete multiple extra reps.
Start with a straight grip (palms facing forward) and pull up as many times as you can. Without rest, switch to a relatively wide neutral grip, with which you pull up a few more times. Then switch to a narrow, neutral grip. Do the reverse grip pull-ups last so you have four pull-ups in one single set. Even if you can only pull up a couple of times in the last two options, you will feel a powerful overload of the back muscles.
Here’s how it works: in pronated (straight) grip pull-ups, the main flexor of the elbow, the biceps of the shoulder, does not help you very much, so the maximum load falls on the lats. Pull-ups with a neutral grip are more active in the shoulder-beam muscles, and with a supinated (reverse) grip, the biceps are activated, which allows you to complete a few more reps.
Technique 2: Replace Bent Over Row with Pendley Rows or Cheat Rows
The Pendley deadlift is named after Glenn Pendley, a weightlifting and powerlifting coach who loved to use this deadlift as an aid to his deadlift progress. But it’s also a powerful exercise for developing your back muscles, period.
In fact, this is a variation on the classic bent-over barbell row, in which each repetition begins and ends with a touch of the ground. This makes the movement stricter than a regular barbell row, because you cannot use your lower back and hamstrings to create inertial forces. For those who are concerned about low back pain, the Pendley row is preferable because the load on the lower spine is relieved after each repetition, which gives a short break.
At the opposite pole – cravings with cheating. Start in your normal bent-over row starting position, only use your thigh muscles to push the bar lightly at the start of each rep. The movement acts like an overload technique, since you can take on a working weight 10-20% higher than what you would use in a traditional bent-over row.
Use both techniques in the same training cycle or alternate between them. Try low-repetitions like 5-8, but remember to use 8-12 to develop strength and mass at the same time.
Technique 3: Combine Top and Bottom Rows
Our experience has shown that the lats and mid-back muscles respond well to high volume workouts. And if so, it is imperative to include supersets and paired sets in the program! One of our favorite combinations is the Upper Row Duplicate and the Seated Row Duplicate for all-round muscle development.
While the upper block deadlift works the lats and gives the back width, the lower block deadlift targets the rhomboid muscles, rhomboids, and lower traps to add thickness to the back. The result is a powerful combination for muscle development, after which the upper back will ache (in a good way) for several days.
Try 4 sets of 12-16 reps per exercise. If the gym doesn’t have two suitable machines, just use a weight stack with a height adjustable block: pull the bench up to it and attach the handles you like.
Technique 4: Do Rubber Dumbbell Rows
Like the Pendley Deadlift, this is a classic movement technique that many lifters can use to better “feel” their muscles.
To perform the exercise, tie one end of the rubber loop to a dumbbell, and fix the other on something stationary, for example, on a power rack or on a rack with dumbbells. Now take the starting position for a regular Dumbbell Row in the Incline of the Dumbbell Row, but so that the expander stretches along a horizontal line.
Pull the projectile from the floor to the hip. The resistance of the rubber will force you to pull in an arc, which provokes the strongest lats stretch and thus generates additional stimulus. Use a very strict technique – no cheating! – and try 3-4 sets of 12-16 reps.
Technique 5: Triset on Blocks
This is one of our favorite techniques for boosting back muscle development. Something like a biomechanical pull-up drop set, this triset combines exercises in order of decreasing difficulty. The tee gets the pull of the upper block while standing on one knee, the deadlift on the upper block with straight arms, and the deadlift on the lower block.
Single Knee Rows. As the name implies, this row is performed from a single knee stand with the block in its highest position. Using a neutral grip and keeping your back straight, pull the weight from the top until your hand touches your chest. Bring your shoulder blades together to ensure you engage your mid-back muscles.
Row on the upper block with straight arms. In the starting position of the legs hip-width apart, the block is still as high as possible, you hold the handle so that your palms are facing down. Without bending your elbows, extend the handle from the top point towards your legs, paying attention to the contraction of the lats. To ensure you get a good cut, imagine squeezing an orange under your armpits. Sounds strange, but it works!
Deadlift on the lower block. Move the block to the bottom position. Grasp the handle with a neutral grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, but keep your back straight, as at the beginning of the deadlift. Maintaining this position, pull the weight towards your stomach and forcefully bring your shoulder blades together for each rep.
To increase pumping, do all the triset exercises without rest, trying to do 8-12 reps in the upper block deadlift on one knee, 12-16 reps in the deadlift on the upper block with straight arms and 16-20 reps in the deadlift on the lower block.
Don’t look back!
Do not condemn yourself to living with invisible lats! Add any of these tricks to your back workout and get rewarded with workout variety. Or, if you are frustrated with your current back workout program, replace it with all five techniques and do it for several weeks. You can do the exercises in this order – you get a serious back workout that will remind you of yourself with muscle pain for a few more days!