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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.