Struggling to build the barn door back you aspire to possess? Try this comprehensive, attack-from-all-angles back blaster workout that follows a traditional bodybuilding style of torturing the muscles from each segment.
This workout is quite simply, designed to leave your back in tatters - in a good way, mind.
It's one that I've used myself to great success in the past, and it's also one that's quite important to me as a serious lifter, as some of these movements really intensified what I was doing at the time.
I've also given this workout to colleagues, close friends and other serious lifters over the years and they have all had to some degree, very good success after adopting the principles of intensity, the rep schemes and movements employed.
So, let's get down to the nitty gritty. Here's my all out, back-blaster workout that you can incorporate immediately if you follow a traditional bodybuilding split that allows it!
Weighted chin-ups (underhand or neutral grip) - 3 x 6-12 reps / Target: Lats (slight emphasis on lower)
The only vertical pulling movement I think is necessary to include in this program is quite simply, the weighted chin-up.
When it comes to lat builders, the chin has remained the classic, most widely used movement to solve every fitness conundrum relevant to building a pair of "lights out!" lats.
So, why do I recommend an underhand, or neutral grip?
In my experience, the overhand grip is not the most conducive to building the overall lats and it will make you more susceptible to nagging shoulder injuries as you progress heavier. As I've already said, I like guys to hit chins hard and heavy, and the underhand or neutral grip approach is usually by far the most comfortable for most trainees and also has the added benefit of allowing you to handle the heaviest poundage on. And, as we already know, progressive resistance over time = stimulus for muscular growth!
Use a shoulder width grip - no wider, no closer in. This will be safest and also most comfortable. Going wider will not give you bigger lats. Forget that myth.
There are some small considerations: big guys, and really big guys, may have to use their bodyweight. This is generally not a problem. Use weight assistance if you have to on one of those specifically designed machines. If you can't do chins with your bodyweight, then that's a big problem, and you absolutely need to be focused on rectifying this glaring weakness as an athlete.
On the rep ranges, I want you to keep things simple and intuitive, so I won't give you specific percentages to work around. Just start heavy on your first set and go 1 rep shy of failure in the 6-8 rep range, after warming-up thoroughly. I can't emphasise this enough on a movement like chins. Ensure you're warmed up correctly beforehand having done a proper dynamic warm-up including movements like thoracic extentions, light lat pull-downs and rotator cuff work.
For your second set, reduce the weight by roughly 10%, and go for 8-10 reps, 1-2 reps short of failure.
The third set, reduce again by 10-15%, and aim for 12+ reps to really get the blood pumping in the lats. This will stand you in good stead for the rest of the workout and ensure you're fully warmed up, ready to row heavy!
2. Pendlay Rows - 3 x 5 reps (all out on the last set) - Target: Upper back, thickness, upper lats
Now that your posterior chain should be warmed up and lats sprung into action, it's time to incorporate a wonderful movement for overall thickness, width and phenomenal core strength: the Pendlay Row.
I'm often asked why I'm such a proponent of these over conventional barbell rows and the answer is simple: they minimise risk of cheating, are more effective at building strength and explosive power, and in my personal opinion, hit more upper back musculature overall if your form is correct.
The reps need to be kept relatively moderate on Pendlay's to preserve the form. As you're re-setting the weight with each rep dead on the floor, this generally isn't a big issue anyway. Gradually build up with 1-2 warm-up sets - non-taxing - to a weight that you believe will offer a comfortable 8 reps. Intend to be able to hit this for three sets of 5, but as an added intensifier, feelf free to go towards failure on the last rep to test yourself.
3. Dumbbell Rows - 3 x 8-15 reps - Target: Back thickness, overall lats
No back workout is complete without the classic, neutral grip, dumbbell row. I always prefer these to be done unilateraly, one hand at a time for increased range of motion. You may also incorporate an incline bench press if to rest your body across if you enjoy the added strictness it adds to your form.
After expirementing for a few years both standing up and resting with one knee across a bench, I will say I favour with resting across the bench. It will give you the added component of stability and this is essential when rowing effectively to ensure no sloppiness creeps into your form making your back round, and removing tension from the target muscles - most prevelantly, the lats.
Start off with a heavy weight for roughly 8 reps, and make sure you're really contracting your lat when pulling upwards and using your elbows primarily to row. A lot of people's form goes to crap on rows, as it's quite addictive to grab the biggest dumbbell you believe you can manage in the gym. If you're focused on quality, powerful contractions, you'd be humbled by how much weight you will need to make this exercise live up to its potential.
With that being said, for the second set, reduce the weight by 10% and go for 10-12 repetitions. Lastly, give the lats a good toasting for the day and finish up with a slightly lighter set, all out, for 15+ reps! Your forearms should also be pumped beyond belief by this point and we've got an excellent, comprehensive blend of both types of hypertrophies as the workout commences.
4. Back extentions - 2 x 10-12 reps - Target: Lower back
An under-utilised, but very effective exercises that is wrongfully neglected by many. This is an excellent finishing movement that will ensure you've hit the back comprehensively, all segments individually.
We've already blasted our core effectively and hit the whole lumbar region, but a little additional emphasis, isolate on the back extention platform will allow us to make sure we're covering all bases. The key to making this movement effective is to not choose weight, but really concentrate on form. After d/b rows, you'll be very toasted, so it's important you take heed to this advice to ensure the movement is as effective as it's meant to be.
Simply watch the instructional video for a quick demonstration on how to perform the movement correctly.
QUICK NOTE: You can also, if you wish, superset back extentions with some rear deltoid fly variation in a similar rep range. It's not necessary, but may provide some further nice work to your upper back musculature that's always well warranted on a healthy lifters physique.
So there you have it - let me know how it goes after you've tried it out!
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