how to feel your back muscles working

by Jason Stallworth

October 5, 2020

Your back can be the most rewarding muscle to build. It’s the largest muscle in your upper body.

But the problem is you may not feel your back muscles working when you’re training back.

Don’t worry because I’m going to show you some simple methods you can use to activate your back muscles during your back workouts. You’ll feel every single rep, and you’ll be so wide that you won’t fit through the gym door!

Okay, so I exaggerated not fitting through the gym door. But I can almost guarantee that you’ll look thick and wide after you follow these methods I’m about to show you.

You’ll also get a complete back workout using these methods. In fact, I did this workout the morning of writing this post (you’ll see a workout video for this below as well!).

Why You Don’t Feel Your Back Muscles

Before we dive into these methods, first let’s talk about why you don’t feel your back muscles when you train back. Here are some common reasons…

  • You can’t see your back muscles when you’re training like you can other muscles
  • This can cause you to have a mental disconnect to those muscles
  • Your back is a more complex muscle group, making it more difficult to focus on those muscles when training
  • It can sometimes be easy to just go through the motions with back exercises and not concentrate on those specific muscles

Much of this has to do with your mind-muscle connection. This boils down to developing your mental capability to focus on a specific muscle when you’re training that muscle.

Remember, you have to exercise your mind just like you do your muscles and with consistency. You can read more about developing your mind-muscle connection in my post: How to Build a Mind-Muscle Connection for Bigger Gains

But there are also some other practical methods that you can use that are specific to back training. And I’m going to share those with you.

I’m also going to give you a special back workout you can do (you’ll definitely feel your back muscles with this workout!).

Methods to Feeling Your Back Muscles Work

wide grip seated rows - back exercises

I’m going to give you three simple methods below that will help you feel your back muscles when you train. These methods are literally going to force your back muscles to work harder.

And just a disclaimer here…don’t get pissed off at me if you’re super sore the next day…lol!

3 ways to feel your back muscles:

  • Pre-fatigue your back muscles
  • Crank up your training volume on back day
  • End your back workout with a compound movement (there are special techniques I’ll share for this part!)

**Taking an awesome pre-workout can also help you get better workouts, in general. Especially one that gives you mental focus.

For my recommended pre-workout, read my post: Alpha Lion Superhuman Pre-Workout

Now, let’s dig deeper into each of these back training methods…

1 – Pre-fatigue Your Back

Pre-fatiguing or pre-exhausting your muscles is one of the best ways to force your back muscles to work harder. This technique works especially well when you’re training your back.

How does pre-fatiguing your back muscles work? Normally you would start your workout with a heavy compound exercise after a few warm-ups sets. But to pre-fatigue your back muscles, you’ll instead start with an isolation exercise.

The idea is to target your back muscles directly at the beginning of your workout. Doing this will help you activate your back muscles throughout the rest of your workout.

Here’s how you can pre-fatigue your back muscles…

  • Choose an isolation exercise for back, like lat pulldowns
  • Do 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Go up in weight each set (it should be tough to get 10-12 reps on the last two sets)
  • Do a drop set on your final set

*For the drop set, as soon as you complete that last set, reduce the weight by about 30% and pump out as many more reps as you can do. You’ll actually be doing this in the back workout I give you below.

2 – Add More Volume to Your Back Workouts

Adding more overall sets and reps to your back workouts is another great way to feel your back muscles working.

Your chest and shoulders (and arms) are so much smaller than your back. So you have to take a different approach when training your back.

One of the reasons you need to add more volume to your back workouts is because you need to train your back from several different angles. And that requires doing more exercises.

Another reason is simply that your back is a larger muscle group. If you’re doing 3-4 exercises for chest or shoulders, you should be doing 5-6 exercises for back. You can also increase the number of sets per back exercise, which you’ll notice in the back workout below.

Fortunately, there are many back exercises to choose from. Here’s a list…

  • Barbell rows
  • Dumbbell rows
  • T-bar rows
  • Plate-loaded rows
  • Hammer Strength rows (high, mid, and low)
  • Seated rows
  • Singe-arm seated rows
  • Deadlifts
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Pull-ups
  • Cable pullovers

For even more back exercise options, you can also use different grips on many of these exercises such as reverse-grip pulldowns, wide-grip seated rows, close-grip, and underhand grip pulldowns, etc.

**You can also read how a sequence of certain exercises can help you build a thicker and wider back in this post: 7 Exercises for a Shredded Back

3 – End with a Compound Exercise

Another method that will help you feel your back muscle is reversing the order of exercises in your back workout a little.

In this case, you’ll save your major compound back exercise till the end of your back workout instead of starting with it.

Here’s how compound exercises work (then I’ll explain why doing this at the end of your workout will make you feel your muscles working harder)

  • Compound movements are your mass-building exercises, building overall muscle (not just one specific muscle).
  • The problem is you often don’t really feel your back muscles working when you perform those types of exercises.
  • This is because you’re using multiple muscles.

A good example of a compound back exercise is barbell rows. When you lean forward to pull that bar towards your lower torso you’re also using your legs to stabilize your position. On top of that, you’re also using your shoulders and biceps to pull the weight.

Now, how is this relevant to pre-fatiguing your back muscles?

When your back muscles are pre-fatigued your back muscles are going to be activated during that compound exercise. In fact, this may be the first time you really feel your lats working when doing barbell rows.

I’m going to go into more detail with this method in the workout below.

To get even more out of your workouts and for bigger gains, be sure to read about one of my top muscle-builders in this post: Jason’s TestoFierce for Gains

Intense Back Workout to Feel Your Back Muscles

Are you ready for a back workout that’s going to force your back muscles to work harder and make your lats sore for days? Get ready!

I’ll also talk more about each exercise as well as give you some more options if your gym doesn’t have all of the equipment in this workout (this will be below the workout video).

ExerciseSets x Reps
Lat Pulldowns5 x 12 drop set on final
Dumbbell Rows5 x 10
Plate-Loaded Rows4 x 10
Hammer Strength High Rows4 x 10
Barbell Rows5 x 20, 12, 10, 8, 20

Back Workout Video

Below is the video for this back workout. I also explain each exercise and the structure of this workout.

I strongly encourage you to do this workout on your next back day!

**Don’t forget to read about my top pre-workout supplement in this post: Alpha Lion Superhuman Pre-Workout

And be sure to use my personal discount code in that post when you order!

Lat Pulldowns

Lat pulldowns - back exercises

You’ll start with lat pulldowns as this is your pre-fatigue exercise. Lat pulldowns are a great exercise for targeting your lats making it an isolation exercise.

  • Start your first set with light-weight as a warm-up
  • Gradually increase the weight each set
  • Your last two sets should be challenging
  • Do a drop set on the final set

Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows - back exercises

Dumbbell rows are somewhat of a hybrid between a compound and isolation exercise. You’re getting the benefits of a compound movement simply by lifting free weights.

But you can also get a deeper stretch and muscle contraction, which targets your back muscles more directly than regular barbell rows. Because of that, you’re continuing to pre-exhaust your back muscles.

Plate-Loaded Rows

Plate loaded rows - back exercises

This exercise mimics barbell rows but takes away the need to balance the weight. Like dumbbell rows, you’re getting the benefits of a compound movement as any type of rowing is going to recruit more muscles.

However, because it’s plate-loaded and there’s a chest-rest, you can focus more on forcing your back muscles to work harder while not having to worry about balancing a barbell.

If your gym does not have a plate-loaded row machine you can just do t-bar rows instead.

Hammer Strength High Rows

Hammer Strength high rows - back exercises

The Hammer Strength high row is one of my personal favorite back exercise machines. It’s plate-loaded and really helps target those muscles in the middle of your back while also activating your lats.

You can also get a deeper pull and stretch with this exercise.

If your hum does not have a a high row machine, just choose any other row machine, or you can do seated cable rows.

Barbell Rows

Barbell Rows - back exercises

Here’s where your back workout gets really interesting and when the intensity is dialed up a notch.

Here are a few things to consider…

  • Your back is pre-fatigued and this is your final exercise
  • Because of that, don’t expect to row near as much weight as you would normally row
  • Don’t worry about the weight as your focus is on feeling your back muscles working, not just moving weight from one point to another

On top of all of that, your approach to this exercise is going to be super intense. You’re going to do five total sets like this:

  • Set 1: 20 reps
  • Set 2: 12 reps
  • Set 3: 10 reps
  • Set 4: 8 reps
  • Set 5: 20 reps

You’ll start out light and pump out 20 reps. Then you’ll move up to a heavier weight each set and the reps will decrease.

On the final set, you’ll go back to the weight you started with and crank out another 20 reps, or as many as you can do.

Feel Your Back Muscles Working for More Gains

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, there’s a ‘big’ reward to feeling your back muscles working harder when you train your back.

Having a thick, wide, and defined back is the one thing that will set your physique apart. And unfortunately, many lifters don’t pay enough attention to their back development.

But that’s not you. Especially now that you have these methods and the back workout I gave you.

And you can finally leave the gym after back day feeling your back muscles busting through your tank top.

I truly hope that you enjoyed this post and I really want you to try this workout on your next back day. Feel free to share this post with your gym buddies.

*Also, you can see all of the gym gear I use, my current supplement stack, and more on this page: Jason’s Gym Resources

Train with Passion,

Jason

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