Building a thick, wide back normally comes second only an impressive chest. As the antagonist to the chest, the back contains some of the biggest and strongest muscles on the human body.
Put your back into it isn’t just an innocent saying, it’s a downright necessity when it comes to pure overall body strength. If a man has a good back, he has the capacity for work.
But let’s examine your current back training program. What do you have in your personal arsenal? Let me guess; pull-ups, pull-downs, barbell or dumbbell rows, and possibly some sort of cable row or other type of finisher.
If it’s working, then stop reading right here and I wish you the best in your back-building efforts. If not, then maybe you need a few little-known exercises to spice things up and turn your back session into a brutal, muscle-blasting experience full of new moves and growth.
Below are 5 weird, crazy, alternative or whatever else you want to call them back-building exercises sure to help you blow past plateaus and kick-start your gains once again.
Try one or all of these in your current program, and don’t be afraid to get just a little crazy. You might just need to.
1. Alternated-Grip Pull-Up
The pull-up and chin-up are awesome exercises. To have the strength and capacity to repeatedly pull your own bodyweight despite gravity is a true measure of overall ability and physical awareness.
When you see someone row or use the pulldown machine with an impressive weight you may raise an eyebrow or two. But when you see someone crank out multiple reps of a pull-up you may yearn to be able to do just that one day soon.
Maybe you’ve been there, done that with pull-ups and chin-ups: wide-grip, close-grip, neutral-grip, and reverse-grip just to name a few. But let’s do something a little unnatural - grip the pull-up bar with an alternating grip (one palm facing you and the other facing away).
Pull your bodyweight up in the same manner as with traditional pull-ups. Be sure to you switch grips for each set in order to accumulate the same amount of volume per side.
Why it works: Slight changes in training sometimes only bring slight gains in strength and muscle mass. It’s when you introduce techniques that are from left field that you reap bigger rewards and a new sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, training this way stimulates more brain activity making training new and interesting again.
2. Double Cable Pulldown
Sometimes looked at as the little brother to the pull-up, the pulldown is a decent exercise for those who don’t have quite the strength to pull their bodyweight up yet.
Although there are several techniques to help increase pull-up power and strength, the pulldown can effectively be used to help develop strength and overall back development. Also used as a finishing move once you are spent near the end of your back routine, pulldowns provide a nice, intense contraction.
But pulldowns with a long bar are pretty limiting if you think about it. To put it simply, your head gets in the way of the bar limiting the contraction potential of the exercise.
Here’s an easy fix: stand in the middle of a cable cross pulley set-up with the D handles set as high as possible. Pull the handles as if you were performing a pulldown toward your sides. Instead of the handles travelling in front of you they will travel alongside your body for an intense engagement of your lats.
Why it works: Taking out the long bar factor and using single handles allows the load to travel from the sides and a bit back for an intense, full-range of motion squeeze not allowed with traditional pulldowns.
3. Reverse-Grip Barbell Pullover
The pull-over is traditionally chosen as a chest finisher expanding the ribcage, working serratus muscles and a great deep-breathing movement. Another unique benefit is since most gyms are no longer equipped with pull-over machines the dumbbell pull-over is a nice (not to mention convenient) substitute for isolating the lats.
Here’s a unique twist. For a greater load and a seemingly completely different stimulation try reverse-grip barbell pull-overs.
Lie down on a bench with your head near the edge. Grasp a barbell with a curl-grip over your chest with a 90 degree angle at your elbows. With a deep breath rotate at your shoulders over your head and toward the floor until you feel an intense stretch in your lats. Pause for a count and then reverse the direction of the barbell under control while maintaining the bend in your elbows.
Why it works: The reverse grip may prove beneficial for some regarding comfort and it can potentially allow you to lift greater loads. This, in turn, will expose the lats to more weight and stimulate more isolated growth.
4. Super Wide-Grip Bent-Over Barbell Row
If pull-ups are the ultimate back builder when it comes to V-taper and width, nothing beats the row for overall mass and thickness (okay, maybe deadlifts need mentioning as well). Rows allow you to use a ton of weight and a little body English to help you blast your lats into submission.
Odds are, you currently include some version of the row in your routine be it barbell, T-bar, and/or some sort of machine or cable exercise. Medium-grip and close grip rows are commonplace, but have you considered wide-grip barbell rows – I mean, super wide grip as if you were about to perform an Olympic snatch?
The range of motion will be shorter but you will have to go into overdrive in order to use perfect form and function as you lift the weight and focus on targeting the lats each and every rep.
Why it works: This ultra-wide-grip version will stimulate your lats like no other. As mentioned above, since your range of motion is limited you will have to grind out each rep with laser-like focus. This will force your lats to fire and will create a massive pump in areas you’ve never touched before in your back – namely your outer, upper lats.
5. Landmine Row
By now, most gyms have adopted a landmine device. It’s simply a modern version of the old T-bar row stations from the 60s and 70s but now is used for a variety of functional exercises.
From core work to shoulder complexes to conditioning, the landmine is one diverse piece of equipment. Many gym-goers use it for T-bar rows, affixing a V-handle to one end.
If heaving a massive amount of weight with a short range of motion isn’t your thing then try this unique but highly effective way to use the landmine for bigger lats. Load one end of the bar with a moderate weight. Stand perpendicular to the bar and grasp one end with an overhand grip. Row up to your midsection for a squeeze then return to the stretched position.
Note: if your gym doesn’t have a landmine you can easily set up a regular 45 pound bar in a corner to mimic the move.
Why it works: Aside from the benefit of using less weight and focusing on one lat at a time (this will even out any strength imbalances), it also allows you to use a larger range of motion. Not to mention, the plates aren’t limiting factor in your pull letting you get a full, intense contraction.
Bring it Back
Give one or a few of these a try during your next back session. Be sure to start with a light to moderate amount of weight and always use strict form whenever trying something new.
You may not get it perfectly right out of the gate but stick with it and work to improve your focus and form with each workout. You’ll get more out of your back training before you know it.