T Nation

Complete Back Development

I am a big DY fan. big back. trying to follow that rule. nice developed back most dont do in my gym.

specifically guys developing part of the back and lacking in other. its either they are wide but no thickness or wide and lack that inner part that looks like baguettes taped to the middle on the sides of the spine.

I think many just focus on what thjey can see or do some work but dont assess any part thats lacking. I try to get wide and thick and hit everything I can. pullover, lat pulldown, machine row, higher grip, then close grip seated row. sometimes dumbell rows.

for me maybe a bit more width would be good. I have a lot of thickness and middle of back has nice mass all the way down. I am happy im able to get my taper quite lowish as I was certain as a 6’ guy, id only have the width higher up, but it has a nice curve

long arms, and long legs need work.

not a specific question. just looking for a discussiion
thank you

I deadlift, chin / pull up, and sometimes do a row on a machine or with a barbell.

My back is probably my best muscle group. Genetics plays a big role here. One needs a wide frame to have a great back IMO.

A good back is tough. It’s a busy place as big muscle groups go, and tons of angles/insertion points to cover between the traps, lats, serratus, and small muscles of the rear shoulder.

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Granted the first couple decades about the only heavy back work I did was deadlifts, and that because I spent a couple years powerlifting. By the second decade my elbows around the brachialis hurt when I did pullups, so I had to back off of that. I had a good number of years work on the plate loaded Nautilus Pullover Machine using heavy weight. I could never find a position so that I could do a heavy bent over row, so I did machine long pulls (rows).

When I turned 40 a friend talked me into the benefits of heavy barbell rowing. I found a position that worked well for me. I get a very wide stance to the point that the plates barely missed my toes when I set the bar back down to the ground. I was able to “lock my hips” creating a solid foundation for a maximum pull effort.

Fast forward to 1992 (I was 43 years old) and this was my back routine that I did once a week training for the 1992 NPC Masters Nationals. (BTW Back is the upper body movement that I could move the most weight)

  • Bent over barbell rows: 2 sets of 8 reps with 405lbs
  • Deadlift: 2 sets of 10 reps with 505lbs
  • Hammer Strength underhand grip pulldowns: 3 sets of 8 reps with either 3 or 4 plates on each side (I cannot remember)
  • Nautilus Pullover Machine: 250lbs (plates)
  • Machine Long Pulls: 3 sets of 8 reps with the weight stack (whatever that was)

At contest time I weighed 216lbs at 6’0".
This is one of my favorite poses. [1992 Masters Nationals]


Not a lot of shrugging? Or would you say the deads give enough stimulation on that front for you.

Right now with my limited equipment (no cables or stuff like that) I am trying to do the following:

  1. Weighted Neutral Grip Pull Ups - Have some neutral grips for the power rack that I put about a half foot past shoulder width on each side.
  2. DB Rows - Hold at top with 2 second eccentric.
  3. Shrugs - Hold at top for 2 seconds
  4. Weighted Reverse Hypers

Definitely curious what others are doing to try and get strong back development in as few exercises as possible. I figure my list covers most areas but if people have some solid alternatives etc I am all ears.

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This is an awesome article that touches on back training best suited based on limb lengths.

I have long limbs and short torso, and I must say it’s spot on and changed my back training forever. I never do isolated lat work anymore and get enough stimulation from some heavy weighted pullups/chinups. In fact just from movements like zercher/front squats, snatch deadlifts, power cleans/snatches I’ll get charlie horses in my lats sometimes that evening haha. They seem to be involved in everything.

Most of my direct back work comes from things like seal rows, snatch high pulls, and kirk shrugs. Smaller accessory movements will be things like facepulls, upright cable rows, or rear delt flyes.

This, although not impressive, was built using mainly rows and pull ups. I am now doing more machine rows vs BB, but up until this point BB rows have played a roll.

(No pump disclaimer to make myself feel better)

Not the best picture but who TF knows how to take a proper back selfie


No, and the traps are one of my better muscles. But I think I have good back genetics, and everything else sucks. I do have a pic up in my training log that shows traps.

My 2 cents…
Before everything max out the equipment in your gym be able to do chin ups 5 x10 or one set of 20 from a dead hang, controlled negative etc + rows with the heaviest dumbells available for 5x 10, same deal full range of motion etc
Use 5x5 or 5/3/1, 10 x3 powerbuilder type strength schemes to get numbers up fast

I think for total development DYs sequencing /pre -exhaust routine is still king -basically start with pullovers first or second, mind muscle style. Finish with deads heavy and dirty and do normal workout inbetween

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Before I ever lifted a single barbell, dumbbell, or weight machine I could do 20 pullups and 20 dips. But I was only 160lbs then.


So you were touching the ground and “resetting” after each rep? What kinda torso angle to the ground?

I really struggle with barbell rows, I’ve never managed to find a position that feels solid enough to use enough weight to tax the row without destroying my lower back.

Forgive me for jumping in, but I think you might find bent-over rows with a trap bar more comfortable. I find the trap allows me to find a more comfortable torso position, and also has a really good-feeling arm path


Thanks i will give that a try, luckily I do have a trap bar. Been using t bar rows as my heavier row but have maxed out the amount of 10kg plates I can fit on the bar and the reps are were getting too high. So looking to get a heavier row back in the mix.

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I do not reset every rep. Once the bar comes off the ground, it stays off the ground until finished.

With your legs wide and your toes pointed out and knees aligned with your toes, the bar path is closer to your “stable” center of gravity. Now the most important thing to do is arch your back and once the bar is a little off the ground “lock in your hips” (That is the best way I can describe it). Each rep is initiated with a “rock” followed with the upper back pull of a bent over barbell row.

I am not as far above parallel as I have seen Dorian Yates do barbell rows, but am at the traditional position which is a little above parallel. [BTW, the gym I go to now, absolutely no one is remotely close to parallel. The most I see anyone bent over is 45 degrees.]

My row is not a strict form lift and could not hold that much weight in the contracted position. This was my “move a bunch of weight Back exercise.” All the cheat muscles are rear chain muscles, which is what I was trying to develop. I do use straps and use a normal overhand bench press width grip.


Thats great, thank you.


I’m a bit fat right now, but seriously nothing trumps the deadlift. Even Meadows that wasn’t the biggest fan of this movement, came back to it using chains, or the “Yates” deadlift.

I tried many times but I always feel it too much in the arms when the weight creeps up… I prefer using a low pulley or a landmine

This is incredible, and I am a fan of the 90s style training myself.

I’d love to hear more about your whole programming (in general, of course). What did a week typically look like?

I never felt much arm involvement doing bent over barbell rows. In fact, after a bicep reattachment surgery I was back to heavy barbell rowing 3 months later, when I knew I still couldn’t do bicep work. And didn’t do bicep work until 6 months after that. I am pulling with my back, not my biceps.

This thread is for Back development, so I should keep it on focus to back only.
But I can say that my workout partner and I did not go to failure on any exercise, that is, needed assistance for the last rep. We stopped when we got to our predetermined number of reps, or felt we couldn’t complete the next rep. We always tried to increase weight.

Example: When I figured out my most efficient method of doing barbell rows, I worked up to 255lbs for 8 reps that first workout. The next week I tried 265lbs and stayed there until I got 2 sets of 8 reps. When I did, I increased to 275lbs, and so on, and so on… The same with all exercises for all body parts.


Here’s a shot from mid-summer with some pretty unfavorable lighting:

For reference, I’m 6’ and tend to float around 185lbs.

Weighted and unweighted chins, BB/DB/BW rows, and deadlifts have featured the most in my training. Cleans and shrugs come and go, and band stuff is a mainstay but I don’t think that’s responsible for any muscular development.