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Advanced Back Workout

Olympic bars and heavy weight shouldn’t be limited to chest and leg days.

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back exercise
back exercise

Go to almost any gym and you’ll see a lot of guys with thick pecs, but backs that pale in comparison. While nearly everyone has a love affair with the bench press and related pushing movements, the fan base for pulling exercises (that is, back training) is dramatically smaller. Yet the back makes up the largest area of muscle on the torso, and should be worked at least as diligently as the chest, not to mention every other body part.

So, if you bench press heavy, you should pull heavy. For every grueling set of dumbbell military presses you perform, you should be prepared to knock out an equally hardcore set of pull-ups. The fact is that when pulling movements don’t receive your undivided attention on a regular basis, not only does your back development suffer, your biceps do, too. So make sure to prioritize back training, even if that means— gulp—moving it to Mondays.

The Routine

Outside of deadlifts, which people often save for leg or full-body days, you’d be hard-pressed to find an exercise more ad- ept at building width and thickness in the back than wide-grip pullups or bent-over rows, respectively. In this workout, they serve as primary moves before cable rows (another back-thickening exercise), lat pull-downs (also for width), and extensions for the lower back.

On pullups, rest-pauses on the last two sets will allow you to squeeze out a few extra reps and hopefully build a little extra muscle as a result. On the two variations of rows, the rep counts are flip-flopped so that with the barbell you’re starting with a lighter weight and pyramiding up, and vice versa with the cables. The finisher is a lat-pulldown/back-extension superset that together will hit all your posterior muscles from your shoulders down to your waist.

To help you get the most out of the movements, we brought in Hollywood physique expert Eric Fleishman (aka Eric the Trainer) to offer his unique insight into each exercise in the workout. Put his tricks to use and your back is sure to start growing ASAP.

The Basics

➜ If a Concept2 rowing machine is available at your gym, warm up on it for five minutes. After that, do a light set of lat pulldowns and a set of pullups (stopping well short of failure) before you begin your working sets. 

➜ Limit your rest periods to 60–90 seconds between all sets. Between lat pulldown/ back-extension supersets, feel free to reduce the rest even further (to as little as 30–45 seconds). 

➜ As with any back workout, focus on the back muscles, not the biceps, on every rep to develop a strong mind-muscle connection. Think of your arms only as hooks.