Building a massive back is a simple concept. Just heavy deadlifts and rows, and you’ll get there. But one of the most difficult challenges in bodybuilding is building a shredded back.
In this post, I’m going to give you 7 exercises (and how to properly execute them) that will add more muscle definition to your back.
I’m also going to give you a couple of ripped muscle building back workouts where you’ll use a combination of these exercises along with some other techniques that will give you that deeper separation in your back muscles.
Are you ready?
How to Get a Ripped Back
Julius (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) had torn his brother’s shirt while flexing in the car. They get to store and his brother Vincent (played by Danny DeVito) throws him a new shirt to put on.
When Julius took off the torn shirt, Vincent turns to him with this freaked out look…
“Julius! Are you allergic to something? …then why are these bumps all over your body? I mean you’re all ‘swolled up’ you look like you’re ready to explode! And your back…it’s worse than the front!” – Vincent (Danny DeVito)
You will often hear someone compliment muscles like chest and arms. But rarely do you hear compliments on someone’s back muscles. That’s simply because they don’t stand out.
You see, there’s a greater level of difficulty getting a ripped and shredded back. You can’t just go do a few basic bodybuilding exercises and call it a day. That won’t work.
For building a detailed back, you need:
- Specific exercises that target back development
- Combination of low and high reps
- More training volume than other upper body muscles
7 Exercises You Need for a Shredded Back
Let’s start with the 7 best exercises for a shredded back. I’m also going to provide some tips for each exercise to make it more effective. After that, we’ll get to the actual workouts you can start doing.
1 – Reverse-Grip Barbell Rows
I’m listing this exercise first, and for good reasons. In fact, if I were forced to only do one exercise and my goal was to get a shredded back, it would be reverse grip barbell rows.
Why? Because this exercise allows you to move heavier weight and you can also get some of your best muscle contractions and range of motion with this reverse grip barbell rows.
Here’s how to perform reverse-grip barbell rows…
- Grab the barbell with an underhand grip about shoulder-width apart
- Bend over slightly keeping an arch in your lower back (never round your back!)
- Pull the barbell into your stomach area, and release controlled
Barbell rows, in general, are a well-known mass builder. Doing these with an underhand grip just hits different areas of your back, and will help you build out that separation.
2 – Seated Rows
Seated rows is a basic old-school back exercise, yet very effective. You can really contract your back muscles at the top of the movement.
Here’s how you do seated rows…
- Seated, grab the v-bar in front of you and use your back muscles to pull the bar into your upper stomach area
- Hold the contraction, then release
- Bend forward to get a greater range of motion before pulling back
Seated rows allow for quite a stretch at the end of the movement. This will allow you to develop that deep muscle separation in your back.
3 – Cable Pullovers
Cable pullovers is like Mortal Kombat – it’s a great finishing move (“Finish him!” – My cousin and I played hours of MK on Sega during junior college).
Here’s how to do cable pull-overs…
- Connect the lat pulldown bar to one of the side cable stations at the highest position (worst case, you could also use the lat pulldown machine)
- Grab the bar about shoulder-width apart, then step back a few feet until your arms extended all the way
- Using your lats, pull the bar down towards your lower mid-section, keeping your arms extended (a slight bend is ok)
- Hold the contraction for a second or two before releasing back to the starting position
This back exercise brings out extreme detail. Your lats will blow up as you pull the weight down towards your torso. Do these slow using controlled reps.
4 – Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns
Doing lat pulldowns with a reverse, or underhand grip targets the muscles in the middle of your back and your lower lats.
Here’s the best way to do reverse-grip lat pulldowns…
- Grab the lat pulldown bar with an underhand grip a little closer than shoulder-width apart
- Leaning back just a little, pull the bar down towards you lower chest, keeping your elbows close to your side
- Flex those lats and release back up slowly
The concept here is similar to the first exercise listed above, reverse grip barbell rows. Pulling in this position allows for a greater flex, or muscle contraction.
You can also play around with your grip if you want to bring your hands closer together. Just make sure you’re feeling your lats do the work.
5 – Pull-ups
Let’s be honest – pull-ups are tough! And I know a lot of strong people that can’t do one bodyweight pull-up. If that’s the case for you, then start on one of those weighted machines that allow you to lessen your bodyweight.
Here’s how to do pull-ups…
- Grab the bar with your arms a little more than shoulder-width apart (this may vary depending on your body type)
- Without jerking (that part is important!), pull yourself up
- Hold for a brief second and lower your body back down, controlled
Once you get awesome at these you can start adding weight! You can either hold a dumbbell between your feet, or you can get one of those belts with a chain and loop a plate through to add weight.
**There is a case for semi-partial rep pull-ups. You may not want to extend your arms all the way down in order to keep tension on your lats. Just don’t be one of those people that bang out these quick, half-rep pull-ups!
6 – Dumbbell Rows
Dumbbell rows are one of my all-time favorite back exercises. It’s also the most exhausting and will make your lats sore the next day. You’ll use them here to get ripped, but dumbbell rows are also an excellent mass building workout.
Here’s how to perform dumbbell rows…
- Rest one knee and the same arm on a bench with your outer side facing away from the bench
- From the floor, pull the dumbbell up towards your torso
- Release with a controlled movement (you need to feel the muscle working!)
Most of the time, I just brace myself with one arm on the lower dumbbell rack. Just play around with different positions and do the one that feels most natural for you.
The reason dumbbell rows are so great for developing a shredded back is from their increased range of motion. So don’t short-change yourself here.
Make sure you pull all the way up, hold it and release slowly all the way down, especially on those last few reps.
7 – Unilateral Rows
The best way to do unilateral rows is on a Hammer Strength row machine. If your gym doesn’t have one of these, ask them to get one. If they refuse, then change gyms!
How do you perform unilateral rows?
- Pull both handles towards your torso and hold them there
- Release one arm while holding the other at your torso, keeping the tension
- Repeat with the opposite arms
Another method is if doing this with dumbbells with your chest down on an incline bench. Or if your seated row machine has a dual-cable setup.
Unilateral exercises, in general, are great for exhausting your muscles, which in turn help you get ripped and shredded. They also jack up your heart rate and boost fat burning because they take a lot of energy.
2 Workouts for a Shredded Back
Now I’d like to give you 2 different workouts you can do that focus on bringing out more detail and separation in your back.
You will find at least two or more of the above 7 exercises we just went over in each workout. But the first exercise in each workout will be a heavy compound movement.
I’m a firm believer in starting out with that first. Never neglect the exercises that build your foundation.!
Back Workout 1: Shredded Mass
This first workout is like that Van Halen song off the 5150 album ‘Best of Both Worlds.’ You’re going to build lean muscle mass and get ripped, all in the same workout.
*Speaking of music, check out this workout music album Heavy Metal Workout!
That being said, you’re going to start out with heavy barbell rows (using the regular overhand grip). But you’ll finish with plenty of reps from your ‘get shredded’ exercises we talked about.
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Barbell Rows||4 x 6|
|Dumbbell Rows||4 x 8|
|Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns||4 x 10|
|Seated Rows||4 x 12 *drop set on final|
|Cable Pulldowns||3 x 12 *drop set on final|
Back Workout 2: Ripped Lats
This back workout focuses on width, although you’ll build thickness as well. You’ll notice there are 2 exercises that pull down.
I suggest really concentrating on doing controlled movements, and maybe throwing in some negative reps towards the end (I’ll go over negatives below after the workout).
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Pull-ups||4 x 8-12|
|Dumbbell Rows||4 x 10|
|Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns||4 x 10 *superset with below|
|Pulldowns||4 x 10|
|Unilateral Rows||3 x 12|
Shredded Back Techniques
There are some common weight training techniques you can use to increase the intensity of your back workouts. These will help further exhaust your muscles…and you won’t be able to fit through the gym door on your way out!
- Negatives: Take 3-6 seconds on the descent (negative part) of the rep
- Supersets: Going from one exercise to another with no rest between those sets (this would constitute as one superset, which you would then rest before the next round)
- Drop Sets: Do a set, then reduce the weight by 30-40% and immediately do another set
*You can learn more about these and other techniques to increase workout intensity in my post 7 Weight Training Techniques to Increase Intensity.
High Volume for a Ripped Back
Another aspect of bringing out detail and striations for your back is training volume. And I believe this is one of the core reasons why many don’t see the results they’re looking for in their back development.
Think about it – your back is your largest upper body muscle. In fact, it’s much larger than your chest and shoulders. Yet I see many train their back with just as many sets and reps as those muscles. No wonder they’re back isn’t catching up!
If you’re one of those, I encourage you to add 1-2 more exercises to your back routine, and maybe another set or 2.
And it’s ok to go heavy at the beginning of your back workout but make sure you’re getting more reps towards the end.
I hope you try these workouts! You’ll get an extreme pump and some awesome results!
Train with Passion,
How to Get Even More Ripped
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