Back Building Basics to Gain Muscle and Improve Strength

If you want to improve your strength, performance, and physique then listen closely.

Today I want to show you my favorite exercises to properly train your back so you can build more muscle, gain more strength, and look the way you want to look.

And, at the end of the article, I’m going to give you 2 sample workouts you can start using today for better back gains.

Two Classifications of Exercises

When training the back, we can split up our exercise selection into vertical pulling and horizontal pulling movements. To properly train all the muscles of the back, we need to perform both vertical pulls and horizontal pulls.

Image courtesy of CorpsHumain.ca

Vertical pulling exercises such as the lat pulldown or pullup, heavily recruit the lats (the large muscle that wraps from the side of your body to your spine). These are generally thought to contribute more to the ‘width’ of ones back since they mostly train the lats.

Horizontal pulling exercises such as rowing variations, primarily involve the lats and rhomboids (middle part of the back) and the biceps as well. These are generally considered as back ‘thickness’ exercises that help give the 3D look of many lifters.

For simplicity sake, you only need to be concerned with the two main movements: vertical pulls and horizontal pulls.

Vertical Pulling Exercises

Part of your back training should be focused on performing vertical pulling movements to best target the lats. Aside from looking good, the lats also help to stabilize your back during squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. To put it clearly, the lats play a crucial role in getting stronger.

Pullups are the most well known back exercise, especially when it comes to training the lats. There are several different styles you can do. You can perform them with an overhand grip, wide grip, neutral grip, underhand grip, band assisted, and machine-assisted. I’m going to show you a few of these variations below.

Overhand Grip Pullup

Band Assisted Neutral Grip Pullup

Weighted Chin Ups

Assisted pullup variations are also a great way to build up strength, increase volume, and put on muscle. Bodyweight and weighted pullups are often too challenging, so the machine assisted variations are a great option for training the vertical pull.

Machine-Assisted Pullup

The third main type of vertical pulling exercise after pullups and machine assisted pullups are variations of pulldowns.

The most well known is the standard lat pulldown.

Lat Pulldown

When designing your own program, pullup variations, machine assisted pullups, and pulldown variations should be the bread and butter of your vertical pulling exercises.

Horizontal Pulling Exercises

Variations of rowing exercises form our category of horizontal pulling movements. These types of exercises will help build more thickness through your back and can help improve your physique. Rows give you more of a 3D look and are quite useful for improving strength overall.

As with vertical pulls, horizontal pulls are best incorporated with a variety of movements. Within this variety however, you’re getting the meat and potatoes exercises, not ‘that 1 weird exercise to take your back growth to the next level’ stuff. 

Bent Over Barbell Row

1 Arm DB Row

Seated Cable Row

DB Seal Row

Barbell Row to Chest

DB Chest-Supported Row 

If you use the right amount of weight (ie you aren’t using more weight than you should be), you should be able to ‘feel’ your back working extremely well on these exercises.

Focus on progressively loading more weight over time, with good technique, and your back is sure to become stronger and more defined.

2 Workouts for A Bigger, Stronger, More Defined Back

With the exercises above in our toolbox, we’re going to put together 2 back emphasis workouts.

One workout will be focused more on vertical pulling exercises and the other on horizontal pulling exercises.

Workout 1 (Vertical Pull Focus)

A1) Pullup or Machine Assisted Pullup 3 x 6-12

B1) Wide Grip Lat Pulldown 2 x 8-15

C1) Bent Barbell Row 2 x 8-10

D1) Cable Face Pull 3 x 10-20

E1) Barbell Curl 3 x 10-15

Workout 2 (Horizontal Pull Emphasis)

A1) 1 Arm DB Row 3 x 8-10

B1) Seated Cable Row 2 x 8-12

C1) Underhand Grip Lat Pulldown 2 x 8-15

D1) Chest Supported Rear Delt Raise 3 x 10-20

D2) Standing DB Curl 3 x 10-15

Back Training Tips

  1. Always aim to use a full range of motion
  2. Strive to ‘feel’ your back working when you’re doing pullups, pulldowns, and rowing variations.
  3. Train with a variety of rep ranges–6-8, 10-12, 15+
  4. Stick to the basic exercises for the most part. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do a ton of variations every time you train your back.
  5. Split your total volume (number of sets per week) between 2-4 sessions. 10-20 sets of vertical and horizontal pulling per week seems to be a good number for most people.
  6. Strive to increase weight progressively week to week, with good technique.

Get More From Your Training

Hopefully, you’ll give these workouts a try. I’d like to help you make even better progress, though, so I’d like to invite you to join my VIP community where I share workouts, nutrition tips, motivation, and practical tips for building muscle, gaining strength, and losing fat.

When you join below (it’s 100% free by the way), I’ll send you my 36-page nutrition manual ‘10 Commandments of Fat Loss‘ as a thank you gift.

Are you ready to take control of your health and fitness and build your strongest and fittest body ever?

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