T Nation

Big Back


I always over looked the saying "big back big bench" but reading the article posted yesterday " Tips from an 800 pound bencher" or something like that, I realized my back is a weak point on me. On monday's I do barbell rows and friday I do lat pull down and sitting cable rows. Are they good ones to get a huge strong back? If not let me know some exercises and a ball park range of sets/reps.


This pic is old and I am leaner now and a little bigger, but my back looks like this mostly from lat pull downs, hs rows (high and low) and occasional use of the t-bar.


Sets and reps? I train back for about an hour. 3-4 sets on the lat pull down (more as a warm up than anything else but I can do the whole stack). 3-4 sets on HS front row, and then two sets on the HS high row.

That is what I did today. If I wasn't in a rush to get to work, I would have added in one more front pull down with the lat machine.

Your back gets big with volume and heavy weight. not occasional training.


100% agree, however a lot of PLers seem to get by with just doing back work "on the side". Personally that doesnt work near as well for me, i need a dedicated heavy back day at least once a week.


I think it works for some people that way is because all of the 3 big lifts involve a lot of back. A lot of the supplementary, assistance, and accessories hit the back even if it's not the main target. Like arched back GMs, front squats, SSB work, any bb bench variation where a big arch is used, RDLs, SLDLs. And then you throw some isolated work for the back for good measure like band pull aparts, face pulls, lat pull downs, chins, and rows.

So what I find is that most compound exercises I do hit the upper back at least a little, then I do stuff to isolate the back, and I have a stocking job on top of that.


Yeah.....but you have to understand their "on the side" training is much harder than most people "back day". & you also have remember the giant amount of good mornings, rack pulls, deadlifts from blocks, and front squats they typically do as well. There is a LOT of indirect volume, which many people just don't realize. I mean, you're talking about people who can make an entire DAY out of deadlifting:

Deadlift to 3RM, + 2 down sets
Rack pulls 5x5-8
Good mornings 3-4 x 8-12
Kroc rows x 2-3 sets

Seriously, thats a shit ton of back volume. But most people see a leg day. It would be different if it had been deadlift + lots of lunges/single leg work...but thats not how powerlifters usually roll.

So yeah. If you put down weekly deadlift and goodmorning volume like that, you "only" need 2 back exercises on each bench day.

However if you look at the weekly volume of back work for a lot of elite powerlifters, you'll see that it is at least comparable to a lot of bodybuilders back days, just spread across more than one day.

If you want a back day, one I used with success was:

face pulls x 8
T-bar row up to a 5RM
Band pull aparts x 10 , the three exercises are done as a triple set, and both the face pulls & the pull aparts are held for 3 second EVERY REP (this means lighter weight). The T bar rows are there for overload, Yates style, so no need to hold the contraction there, just move the weight.

2 sets Kroc rows OR 3-4 sets of high pulls OR 3-4 sets chin ups.

If you are looking for a way to incorporate back work into an upper body day or just across the week, you can start by doing 4 sets of cable rows or pulldowns, or facepulls as a part of your warm up for every gym day, lower or upper body. Stay away from failure obviously if you are going to use it as a warm up. Then on your upper body days also do at 2 back movements (preferably different angles & also different exercises from your warm up). Do one heavy for 6-8 and the other lighter for 8-10. And make your leg days heavy on back work, like goodmornings, rack pulls, reverse band deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, high pulls, or whatever.

To the OP--your major problem is that you only have 3 back exercises in the entire WEEK! How are you going to build a big ass back with only 3 exercises in a week? I do it, kind of.....but I do one or two of those exercises EVERY time I am in the gym as part of my warm up (power snatch, leaning row to neck), so I end up getting a bare minimum of 6 sets 4 days a week. thats 24 sets. Typically I get more.

I could never make it work only doing 3 total exercises, 2 on one day and 1 on the other. You nees to focus on it, not leave it as an after thought. So. You, OP, need to do a) more deadlifting and rack pulling and goodmornings and b) you need on top of that to either do 3-4 sets every dzy in your warmup + do 2 exercises on bench day, or do a dedicated back day separate from deadlifting.

Sorry for typos, on my phone


Yep, this is exactly why i put "on the side" in quotes heh. It might seem tacked on as an afterthought but it truly is not. I think the underlying message is the back requires a good chunk of volume one way or the other.


I only hit 3-4 back exercises a week and my back has still grown a lot in the last year.



No love for weighted pull-ups here? They remain my favourite lat burner.


To a lot powerlifters, EVERY DAY is 'back day'. Look at most powerlifters training and every day you will see at least some type of back exercise, romanian deadlift, SLDL, good morning, rack pulls, deadlift, deadlift off of block, sumo, rows of all kinds, chin up/pull ups, shrugs even, and the list goes on.


I saw that you're benching around 280.

What're you using on the barbell rows, pulldowns, deadlifts, and cleans?


I'm not in the gym to burn lats. The guys I see doing that tend to stay small.

Your back grows with shit-heavy weights and frequent training.

There is nothing wrong with weighted pull ups. Until recently, Vic Martinez did them as his first back exercise (usually not even using weights at all).

If I was really trying to go heavy on lats, that is NOT how I would do it. I would load that heavy shit on the HS lat pull down and try to keep my ass in the seat.


That is common to a point.

If you want a back that makes people move seats at the movie theater, it isn't about the number of exercises but more what you are doing with them.

I usually only do 3-4 exercises also. You don't need much more than that usually.


Weighted pullups are the best, especially when you throw on some Fat Gripz! Quite sadly, though, I have to remove them temporarily to let my lats regain some length and fix my anterior humeral glide syndrome. It's truly a terrible loss for me.


rear delt flyes

maybe add some straight arm pulldowns if I feel funky


problem I find with these is it's hard to really squeeze the reps, which I think is essential for lats. Don't get me wrong, it's a great exercise and I do chins first in my back routine every time, but I treat them as more of a power movement and really try and blast myself up.

Just my opinion...


Not just your own opinion.
My lats didn't spread out until I quit jerking the weight and started holding some of those reps on the lat pull down.

I now do all back movements much slower....shrugs as well.

As a result, this is probably the biggest I have been in that area especially since my accident.

So, if you want a really big back that people comment on, don't just go heavy...control that weight as well.

But take steps. No one expects a newb to be doing super heavy weights with holds. It took me years to get strong enough to do HEAVY weight like this.


not a huge difference between pulldowns and pullups, unless you're too fat for pullups and loading is an issue

I'd like to add that straps and chalk shouldn't be avoided if your focus is on making the back grow. Grip needs to be trained, but not with every set.


Not true. I can focus on my lats alone with pull downs as opposed to full body positioning and lifting with a pull up.

That would be why I don't do them as much...not because of being too fat for them.

many pros have stated the same...that some avoid the pull up once reaching more than about 240lbs or so...but again, that ain't everyone and the key is to find what works FOR YOU.

What I do know is acting like the pull down is for fat people is blind and misinformed.


yeah man, I've totally dropped the weights I use on back exercises (by almost half in some cases!) and my back has never looked better. Slower reps with a squeeze are the way to go.

I'm a little annoyed that I trained back the way I did for so long. I thought I was pretty strong heaving around the heavy weights and couldn't understand why my back looked so shit. Ah well, live and learn.