- Vary the rep ranges used
- Don’t take your back exercises to failure if you want it to grow
- Make sure to use vertical pulling and horizontal pulling exercises
You’ve heard of “Mirror Muscles” right?
Those are the muscles you can see in the mirror, so the chest, shoulders, arms and abs.
And if you want to look jacked, you work just those muscles right?
If only training your mirror muscles is your workout strategy, you have a great plan for injuries and shitty posture. The guy on the left has the same training strategy btw.
Not exactly the posture of someone that is confident or people would know that he lifts.
When you only work the mirror muscles, your shoulders pull forward (known as rounded shoulders) and that puts you in a good position to deal with shoulder injuries and to generally lift like shit.
Which is why having a strong back is the key to having great posture (like the dude on the right) exuding confidence, lifting like a beast and in some cases looking like a goddamn gorilla.
Now you might not want to get as big as the Rock, but a strong back can make you a better and stronger lifter as well as improve your quality of life.
A wide back is one of the key points of getting that V-taper most guys want. So in this article, I’m going to show you exactly what back exercises you need and how to make a workout to get that wide back.
Back Muscle Names
Your back is made up of a bunch of muscles that you don’t really care about so let’s highlight the big muscles:
Lats: Everyone knows the lats, they are the wings that show up when you show off the biceps and what keeps guys with Invisible Lat Syndrome from putting their arms by their sides.
Big lats answer the question “Do you even lift?”.
Rhomboids: The rhomboids are in the upper back region and help to stabilize your shoulder along with your rear delts.
Erector Spinae: Finally the erector spinae runs from the bottom of your spine all the way up to your neck. These muscles straighten your back and allow your spine to rotate side to side like when you’re crushing homers in your work softball league. For the purpose of this article, we’ll address these as Lower Back exercises below.
Working in Different Planes
Since the back is made up of lots of different muscles all situated in different ways, you need to work two movements, horizontal pulling and vertical pulling.
With a muscle like the chest, the muscle fibers for the most part go in the same direction so working in one movement pattern (horizontal pushing) can hit virtually all muscles. Your back is different.
NOTE: Yes, I know there’s an incline and decline bench but the angle of those movements are still in the horizontal pushing spectrum. An overhead press however is in the vertical spectrum and is not a chest exercise.
Setting the Right Volume for a Gorilla Back
With having to work in two movement patterns (vertical and horizontal) that means the back needs some extra love when it comes to volume.
According to Dr. Mike Isratel’s Hypertrophy Guide
Most intermediate-advanced lifters need at least 10 sets of direct back work per week to make gains, and possibly more for some. If you’re training 2x / week, that’s about 5 sets per session. 3x / week training requires 3-4 sets per session, 4x / week: 2-3 sets, while 5-6x / week training necessitates 2 or so sets.
I personally like stacking 3-4 sets of horizontal pushing with 3-4 sets of horizontal pulling on the same day and vertical pushing and pulling on a different day. But you could very well do a horizontal push and vertical pull together. I like to work by pairing opposite movement patterns (i.e. vertical push/pull) but you can arrange these in whatever way that tickles you where it smells funny.
For example, I would normally stack a barbell bench press and some horizontal row then on another day stack a Overhead press with a pullup.
In this article I went really in depth on how to make your own workouts, plus there’s templates for you to steal so you can make your own.
Back Exercise With a Barbell
Barbell Bent Over Row -Horizontal
Inverted Row – Horizontal
Landmine Row – Horizontal
Good Morning-Lower Back
Back Exercise With Dumbbells
Dumbbell Row- Horizontal
Incline Dumbbell Row – Horizontal
Dumbbell Pullover -Vertical
Back Exercises with Cables
Seated Cable Row – Horizontal
Straight Arm Pulldown – Vertical
Back Exercises with Machines
T-Bar Row- Horizontal
Hammer Strength Row -Horizontal
Hyperextensions – Lower Back
Back Exercises with Resistance Bands
Band Bent Over Row – Horizontal
Band Single Arm Row – Horizontal
Banded Good Morning – Lower Back
Band Lat Pulldown – Vertical
Back Exercises at Home
Pullup – Vertical
Pullup Superman – Vertical
Prone Pull -Vertical
Renegade Row – Horizontal
Kettlebell Swing-Lower Back
Back Exercises for Strength
The best bang for your buck back exercises for strength are going to be basically anything that is using both arms and free weights. I would also throw pullups in there too. Lifting your own bodyweight off the ground takes some serious freakin’ strength.
So anything barbell is going to be king here. And honestly, my best back and bicep gains came when I was deadlifting everyday.
Barbell exercises/Pullups >> dumbbells >> cables >> machines >> Bands
This is because the machines take the role of your stabilizer muscles when you lift which is why you can Hammer Row 125 but only dumbbell row 50’s.
The Best Back Gainz Don’t Come From Going To Failure
Your back, like every other muscle group is going to respond to a variety of rep ranges so I like to program back exercises like this generally:
Barbell Back Exercises and Pullups: 5-12 rep range,
Dumbbell/ Cables/Machine Back Exercises: 8-15 rep range
Band/Machine Back Exercises: 15-30 rep range
This way you can hit the three drivers of muscle growth; mechanical tension by using heavy weight with barbell exercises, then transition to mechanical stress with dumbbell, cable and machine exercises and put a nice bow on the whole package with a pump with bands or machines.
This also takes into account fatiguing supporting your body when doing the exercises. For example, if you were doing sets of 20 on the bent over row, your lower back would be toast before you got close to your rep target and form would slip, possibly causing injury.
SIDE NOTE: Here’s an article where I showed how to program a proper workout and you can even steal the templates I use.
Now once you put a program together, hitting on all rep ranges and different movement patterns (vertical and horizontal), it’s important to not go full-on ape shit in the gym taking every back exercise set to absolute failure.
Instead use Reps in Reserve and gradually increase reps over the course of the month.
This prevents you from digging yourself into a deep recovery hole each workout because you’ll only build muscle when you can fully recover from the exercise. Otherwise it’s like trying to get out of a hole by digging deeper.