Building a big, brutal back isn’t easy. It takes a ton of dedicated hard training, time, and utilizing the right kind of exercises.
But what about when you want to take things a bit further? What about keeping your back in the fryer for just a little longer so you can fatigue every last little fiber?
If you have checked all of your required boxes including rows, weighted pull-ups and deadlifts, then you may need a few special techniques to finish things off.
Here are 5 tips on how you can squeeze every last bit out of your back so you can leave the gym confident you did everything you could – and then some.
1. 3-Way Row
You know all too well the benefits of the barbell row. It enables you to pack on mass and develop real strength. What’s more basic than picking up a barbell from the floor? The barbell row is only second to the deadlift for getting big and strong. But what about turning this beast-maker into an end-of-your-workout finisher? Why not tweak a few things and get even more out of rowing?
Here’s how: If you’re familiar with different grips and widths then you know you seem to be stronger from one to the other. Here you will take full advantage of that tactic and blast your back. Start with a moderate weight and a wide (beyond shoulder width) overhand grip. Perform your set as normal.
Once you hit failure, immediately put down the barbell and take a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Continue your set. Again, once you reach failure, and for your last few reps, take a shoulder-width underhand grip. Your grips are essentially making each set easier so you can continue repping out. Go for 3 sets total.
2. Inverted Row Ladder
The inverted row is one highly effective muscle-builder. Seen as possibly the little brother to the full-on pull-up, these rows enable you more options for adjusting difficulty without the use of a spotter. All you need is an adjustable stationary bar and a bench for your feet and the inverted row will become your new secret weapon for a wider back.
Here’s how: Set the bar slightly below hip-level and get into an inverted row position with your feet on the bench. This will be your most challenging position. Perform as many reps as you can with proper form. Next, immediately drop your feet to the ground and continue your reps.
As you fatigue, raise the bar to the next notch or setting and continue once again. Keep raising the bar each time your form breaks down and you finish each set. As you raise the bar you are increasing your back’s ability to continue the set in easier positons. 3 rounds should do the trick.
3. 3-Way Pull-Up
The pull-up and its variations of grips and widths is one of the most effective back-builders around. Your ability to manipulate your bodyweight is a true showcase of strength. Proper form and technique are paramount, but the benefits are well worth the challenge. Wide-grip, narrow-grip, parallel grip and underhand versions all have their place and difficulty levels, but mastering any or all will only build more muscle mass. But how do you turn a seemingly simple move into a brutal, back-busting finisher?
Here’s how: Much like the 3-way row, the 3-way pull-up uses difficulty (or should I say ease) of angles to keep the fire stoked and more muscle fibers recruited. If you’re up to it start with a wide (and I mean wide) overhand grip on the pull-up bar. Perform as many reps as possible. Once you are fatigued, drop down for a 10 to 20 second rest.
Next, take a narrower grip or a close parallel grip and, again, perform as many reps as you can. Drop once again and rest for 10 to 20 seconds. Finally, take a shoulder width, underhand grip for your last set and rep to failure. Shoot for 2 to 4 total rounds.
4. Straight-Arm Pull-Down/Row Superset
Normally, most individuals will place straight arm pull-downs either at the beginning of a workout to warm-up or pre-exhaust their back or near the tail end because their biceps are fried from all the heavy rowing. Either way it’s seen as one of the few isolation movements available for your back. Effective? Yes, but it can be improved upon when sequenced the right way.
Here’s how: Taking advantage of the pre-exhaust benefit, pairing straight-arm pull-downs with a multi-joint, compound movement will surely give you that coveted shirt-busting pump.
A great way to accomplish this, especially in a crowded gym, is to get an adjustable height cable apparatus and perform the straight-arm pull-downs as mentioned and then immediately drop the cable pulley to a low position and do a standing close-grip row. Shoot for 3-5 supersets.
5. Supported 1-Arm Machine Gun Row
The dumbbell row is another exercise that is not only convenient but is also a real equalizer. What do I mean by that? It enables you to work each side of your back independently without the other side assisting. This way you will know which side is weaker and make the necessary corrections in strength and development. Additionally, the one-arm dumbbell row can be used as an excellent finisher so no stone is left unturned when it comes to a complete back.
Here’s how: You will choose a dumbbell or kettlebell of moderate weight – one that you can comfortably use to perform 8 to 10 reps with perfect form. You will start by getting 8 reps with one side then immediately do the same for the other side. You will continue to switch sides after each 8 reps is performed until you have reached a rep goal of your choosing, say 80.
Here’s the catch: stop a rep or two shy of muscular failure so you can continue to pump blood into your back effectively. Also, no rest will be taken until all sets are completed.