Jump to the routine

The Best Change-Up Back Workout

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

Jump to the Routine
  • 30 mins

  • 5

  • Yes

t-bar row
M+F Magazine
t-bar row
M+F Magazine

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!

pullup

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

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

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. 

Back to Level Up 2017>>

Routine

Want a copy on the go?
Print

Straight Up Back Routine

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 1 of 5

Wide-Grip Pullup

Equipment
Pullup Bar
Sets
4
Reps
to failure*
Rest
60 sec
*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 of 5

Barbell Bent-Over Row

Equipment
Barbell
Sets
3
Reps
12,10,8*
Rest
60 sec
*Increase weight every set.
Exercise 3 of 5

Seated Cable Row

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
8,10,12*
Rest
60 sec
*Decrease weight very set.
Exercise 4 of 5

Lat Pulldown

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar
Sets
3
Reps
10-12
Rest
60 sec
Exercise 5 of 5

Back Extension

Equipment
Sets
4
Reps
12-15
Rest
60 sec

Level Up Back Routine

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 6 of 5

Neutral-Grip Pullup

Equipment
Pullup Bar
Sets
4
Reps
to failure*
Rest
60 sec
*On sets 1 and 3, do neutral-grip pullups (palms facing each other); on sets 2 and 4, do chinups (palms facing you).
Exercise 7 of 5

T-Bar Row

Equipment
Barbell, V-Handle Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
15,12,10*
Rest
60 sec
*Increase weight every set.
Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, Bench, Lat Pulldown Bar
Sets
3
Reps
12-15
Rest
60 sec
Exercise also known as reverse-grip lat pulldown.
Exercise 9 of 5

Seated Cable Row

Equipment
Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment
Sets
3
Reps
10*
Rest
60 sec
*Perform with one arm at a time. Complete 10 reps per side.
Exercise 10 of 5

Static Back Extension

Equipment
Roman Chair
Sets
3
Reps
8-10
Rest
60 sec
Perform weighted.
See all of our tutorials