Back Exercises

The Best Change-Up Back Workout

These subtle variations of classic movements fend off boredom and spark new results.

t-bar row
Duration 30 mins
Exercises 5
Equipment Yes

You already know that basic compound exercises—like the bench press or squat—are best for building muscle mass and strength. But don’t forget that a simple grip, equipment, or angle change can keep things fresh without compromising results. In our October 2012 issue, we ran a no-frills back workout in our Straight Up series that included all the components of an effective workout: wide-grip pullups, barbell bentover rows, seated cable rows, lat pulldowns, back extensions—all great foundational exercises in their original forms. But muscles adapt, which means changes must be made to avoid stagnation. 

This updated Level Up back regimen provides variety from the original routine while maintaining the meat-and-potatoes exercises we like so much for building a wider, thicker, and stronger back. Tried-and-true movements with different variations for the same back-building benefits, minus the boredom—a win-win!

Neutral-Grip Pullup/Chinup

LEVEL UP DIFFERENCE: Alternating your grip on pullups will hit all the large and small muscles in your back. In this workout, you’ll alternate between the two grips every other set. Chinups utilize a reverse grip, but don’t go too narrow—think shoulder width or slightly inside that to target the lower lats. 

T-Bar Row

LEVEL UP DIFFERENCE: T-bar rows incorporate the same bentover position as barbell rows but with a close grip. You can use any T-bar setup: chest-supported, unsupported, or even a loaded barbell fixed in the corner of a room or using a landmine. 

One-Arm Seated Cable Row

LEVEL UP DIFFERENCE: Rowing one arm at a time helps ensure balanced back development from side to side. Stabilize yourself as much as possible—having one foot on the floor helps—and minimize torso twist at the top of the movement. 

Weighted Back Extension

LEVEL UP DIFFERENCE: Adding weight to this exercise promotes a stronger, more stable lower back. But err on the light side, as the spine is a vulnerable area. Start with a 10-pound plate and don’t be in a rush to move up to 25 pounds. Instead, focus on keeping the motion slow and controlled. 

Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldown

LEVEL UP DIFFERENCE: Compared with the wide-grip version, which hits the upper lats, this variation targets the lower lats. Focus on keeping the movement under control, and focus on pulling your shoulder blades back and together to de-emphasize the biceps. 


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Straight Up Back Routine

Exercise 1

Wide-Grip Pullup You'll need: Pullup Bar How to
Wide-Grip Pullup thumbnail
4 sets
to failure* reps
60 sec rest
*On the first two sets, do as many reps as possible and stop. On the last two sets, go to failure, then do two rest-pauses with about 15 seconds of rest.

Exercise 2

Barbell Bentover Row You'll need: Barbell How to
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
12,10,8* reps
60 sec rest
*Increase weight every set.

Exercise 3

Seated Cable Row You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment How to
Seated Cable Row thumbnail
3 sets
8,10,12* reps
60 sec rest
*Decrease weight very set.

Exercise 4A

Lat Pulldown You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar How to
Lat Pulldown thumbnail
3 sets
10-12 reps
60 sec rest

Exercise 4B

Back Extension How to
back extension thumbnail
4 sets
12-15 reps
60 sec rest

Level Up Back Routine

Exercise 1

Neutral-Grip Pullup You'll need: Pullup Bar How to
Neutral-Grip Pullup thumbnail
4 sets
to failure* reps
60 sec rest
*On sets 1 and 3, do neutral-grip pullups (palms facing each other); on sets 2 and 4, do chinups (palms facing you).

Exercise 2

T-Bar Row You'll need: Barbell, V-Handle Attachment How to
T-Bar Row thumbnail
3 sets
15,12,10* reps
60 sec rest
*Increase weight every set.

Exercise 3

Underhand-Grip Lat Pulldown You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar, Bench How to
Underhand-Grip Lat Pulldown thumbnail
3 sets
12-15 reps
60 sec rest
Exercise also known as reverse-grip lat pulldown.

Exercise 4

Seated Cable Row You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment How to
Seated Cable Row thumbnail
3 sets
10* reps
60 sec rest
*Perform with one arm at a time. Complete 10 reps per side.

Exercise 5

Static Back Extension You'll need: Roman Chair How to
Static Back Extension thumbnail
3 sets
8-10 reps
60 sec rest
Perform weighted.
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