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How to Build a Thick Back: Exercises, Techniques, and Workout You Need

February 12, 2020

How to Build a Thick Back

You’re looking into the mirror at the gym and you’re happy with what you see. Chest is popping out, arms are chiseled, and you have some decent back width.

But then you turn to the side and you’re like ‘WTH?’

You’re lacking that thickness in your back muscle. That’s okay because I’m going to give you everything you need to fix that!

In this post, you’ll a complete guide to building a thick back. We’ll go over the exercises but more importantly the techniques that will make them more effective.

You’ll also get a full back workout that will build slabs of thick muscle.

4 Key Exercises for Building a Thick Back

First, let’s start out with the type of exercises you need to do to build thickness in your back. I’m actually going to simplify this into one word: Rows!

In fact, you need a combination of different rowing exercises. These are basic exercises you probably already know and are doing, but I’m going to show you a few little tweaks to make them even more effective.

**One of the problems many have is they focus more on exercises like lat pulldowns and pull-ups.

Those are awesome exercises and you should do them. But your core focus should be on rows if building a thick back is your goal.

1 – Barbell Rows

Barbell Rows back exercises for bodybuilding mass

Barbell rows (some call them bent-over rows) are the single most effective exercise for building back thickness. In fact, if you only had time for one back exercise, this should be it.

How to do barbell rows:

  • It’s best to set this up in a squat rack with the bar on the bottom rack
  • Standing straight up holding the bar with a shoulder-width grip, gradually lean forward while pushing your rear (aka butt, or booty) out
  • Do not round your back!
  • Pull the weight towards your lower torso, almost into your stomach
  • Contract your back muscles at this point
  • Control the weight as you release the bar back towards the starting position

**Tip: You can also do these with a reverse grip to work different parts of your back muscles. Try alternating your grips every other back workout, or do the reverse grip rows on your 2nd back workout if you train back twice a week.

2 – Heavy Dumbbell Rows

heavy dumbbell rows

Dumbbell rows are a more concentrated version of barbell rows. What makes this exercise so amazing is that you can get a better range of motion. This is going to build even more back thickness.

How to do dumbbell rows:

  • With one arm supporting your body in a bent-over position, grab the dumbbell from the floor with your other hand
  • Focus on using your back muscles to pull the dumbbell up as far as you can pull
  • Give that side of your back muscles a good squeeze when you get the dumbbell up to that point
  • Slowly release the dumbbell
  • Make sure you get a full range of motion before you pull the dumbbell back up again

**TIP: You can place your knee and arm on a bench for support for dumbbell rows. Or you can support yourself by placing your hand against another surface as you see in the image above (in this case the dumbbell rack).

3 – Single-Arm Seated Cable Rows

Single Arm Cable Rows Bodybuilding Back Workout

Normal seated rows are an excellent way to build your back but doing single-arm cable rows allows for better range of motion and you can really force your muscles to do the work. These will make your lats sore!

How to do single-arm seated cable rows:

  • Get into the position as if you were doing normal two-arm seated rows holding the single cable handle with both hands
  • Release the non-working hand and pull the cable back as far as you can (but do not lean back too far)
  • Contract that side of your back muscles at this point
  • In a controlled manner, release the cable back to the starting position
  • You can lean forward slightly to get a better range of motion here

**TIP: When you pull the cable back, twist your wrist just a little so that your palm is almost facing up. This will allow you to contract your back muscles harder.

4 – Hammer Strength Rows

Hammer Strength high rows

If your gym has Hammer Strength machines for back, I highly recommend that you use them. There are different types of machines such as:

  • High rows
  • Low rows
  • Regular seated rows

These are plate-loaded machines that give you the feeling of free weights but allow you to focus more on making your muscles work and not so much the actual movement.

In short, Hammer Strength row machines will help you build a massive and thick back.

**TIP: Make sure your posture if close to perfect before you execute the exercise on a Hammer Strength back machine.

And make sure you perform each rep with a full range of motion, concentrating fully on the part of the muscle you’re working.

Techniques that Target Your Back Muscles

You have the back exercises you need for building a thick back. Now we’re going to increase your potential to build more muscle.

How are we going to do this? Through a series of specific techniques to increase workout intensity.

**To make even greater gains, take a look at my top recommended muscle builder here.

Rest-Pause Sets for Seated Rows or Hammer Strength Rows

Do a set, rest-20-30 seconds, then do another set with the same weight.

This is normally performed on the final set of an exercise. And save this for the last exercise that you do. Rest-pause is the single most brutal technique you can do for gains.

*I don’t recommend this technique with free-weights as that may increase the risk of injury.

Drop Sets for Back

Do a set and then immediately decrease the weight by 20-30% and perform another set.

This is another technique that will help you exhaust your back muscles, leading to more growth and thickness. Like rest-pause sets, save drop sets for cable or machine exercises.

FST-7 Sets for Back

For your final exercise, you’ll do 7 total sets of anywhere from 8-12 reps. You’ll rest about 30-40 seconds between these sets.

FST-7 is a technique known for stretching the muscle fascia. This, in essence, leads to more muscle growth and can even change the shape of your muscles.

End your back workout with 7 sets (FST-7) of seated rows or a Hammer Strength row and you can expect to build a huge, thick back. You can learn more about FST-7 in my post: FST-7 Workout Routine for Mass.

Full Back Workout for Thickness

Now it’s time to put all of this together into a back workout that you can do (do this today if you haven’t been to the gym yet!).

This workout is meant to be dedicated solely to your back. So you’ll be doing more volume, sets, and reps than you may be used to. But this is part of how you will build a thick back.

You will be using the exercises and techniques we just discussed. So go drink your pre-workout drink and creatine, and get ready for back day…

ExerciseSets x Reps
Barbell Rows4 x 8, 8, 6, 6
Dumbbell Rows4 x 8
Single-Arm Seated Cable Rows4 x 10*
Lat Pulldowns4 x 10**
Hammer Strength High Rows7 x 10-12***

*Rest-pause set on the final set

**Drop set on the final set

***Rest 30 seconds between sets (use any machine if your gym does not have Hammer Strength equipment)

One of the most forgotten but most critical elements of building muscle is stretching your muscles after your workouts. And the best methods for stretching and muscle recovery is yoga.

I have an entire yoga and stretching routine for us weigtlifters in this post: 11 Yoga Poses for Bodybuilders and Weightlifters.

Look Huge From All Angles

After a few weeks of doing this back workout and applying these techniques, look in the mirror and turn to the side – you’ll see a much thicker version of yourself!

Your back is the one muscle that will make you look huge from all angles, not just the front. Again, don’t neglect exercises for width (this is why lat pulldowns are included in your back workout above).

But make sure your core focus is row exercises on back day. You’ll make some serious gains!

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!