I had to be careful with the title of this post as I know many of you are going to immediately say deadlifts! And deadlifts are indeed one of the best exercises for building a thick back. Even better, deadlifts are great for building sheer mass. But I want to take a step back and talk about building a muscular back.
Building muscle is not only about gaining size or getting stronger. Yes, those are indeed related. However, building the actual muscle tissue is more about targeting that specific muscle or muscle group.
Building Your Back Muscles
There’s a big (no pun intended) difference in getting stronger and actually building a muscular back. The former requires lifting as much weight as possible from point A to point B. This philosophy is more about powerlifting and strongman lifts. This is indeed a great quest to be on, especially if you’re naturally strong and have a knack for lifting heavy stuff. And yes, you will build muscle with this style of training. However, when strength is the focus, stimulating a specific muscle is not part of the plan.
Targeting the muscle requires complete focus throughout the rep. In other words, you’re doing more than merely moving the weight from point A to point B as described above. It’s not about a strong lift, so to speak. In fact it’s the opposite. You want to make the lift harder as you want to force your muscles to contract and move the weight.
By no means am I saying go light. From day one I’ve been a believer in using heavy weights to build muscle. You have to overload the muscle to break it down so that it can rebuild (given that you’re giving it the proper nutrients and rest to rebuild). What I’m saying is your focus is going to be more on how you execute the lift. You need a healthy mix of compound exercises with controlled reps and isolation exercises for more reps to build a muscular back.
Bent Over Rows
So what’s my favorite back exercise for building a muscular back? Bent over rows (also called barbell rows). This exercise is considered a compound exercise and it’s a great mass builder. But it also allows for a deep contraction and greater range of motion than some other back exercises.
I feel every muscle in my back working when I do bent over rows. And I incorporate some type of row in every back workout. I’ll often do free weight bent over rows yet sometimes I may use a plate loaded machine that mimics that movement. Sometimes I’ll even do both in one workout. I don’t think you can overdo row exercises for back.
Back Workout with Bent Over Rows
Here’s one of my typical back workouts. This will give you a good example of how I incorporate bent over rows. You’ll also see that I like to increase my training volume a little with bent over rows by adding more sets, and sometimes ending with a 20-rep set.
Back Exercises, Sets & Reps
- Dumbbell Pullovers
- 4 x 8-12
- Bent Over Rows
- 5 x 8-12, 1 x 20
- Dumbbell Rows
- 4 x 8-12
- Seated Rows
- 4 x 10-12
- Lat Pulldowns
- 4 x 10-12
How to Perform Bent Over Rows
- Set the barbell up on the bottom level of the rack (such as the squat rack)
- Grab the bar about shoulder width apart and stand straight up
- Slowly bend over, keeping a slight arch in your back (do not round your back)
- With the barbell hanging in front of you, pull it in close to your abdomen area
- Contract your back muscles once the bar is pulled in close to you
- Lower the bar in a controlled manner
You’ll also notice I threw in some dumbbell rows and seated rows after bent over rows. This movement in general helps you develop a thick and defined back. Another note on this back workout is I like to start with dumbbell pullovers. This is an old school back exercise. I don’t see a lot of people doing them but it’s very effective at warming up your back before the heavy work, and also helps tie in those muscles between your chest and lats.
Back Muscles that Makes You Stand Apart
The two body parts that separate great physiques from mediocre physiques are legs and back. Your back is, or it should be your largest upper body muscle. Likewise, you should train your back harder and with more volume.
Bent over rows will not only help you build a solid foundation but it will be a staple in your back workouts if you want to continue growing. And they happen to be my favorite back exercise. I encourage you to do them for the majority, if not every, back workout.
Train with Passion,
Love the weights? Love metal music? Some of you know I’m also a metal musician songwriter. Check out my album Heavy Metal Workout, an instrumental metal workout album!