Muscle Growth

What are the Best Back Workouts for Putting on Size?

By Joe Talarico on Aug 11, 2021 9:00:00 AM
4 Minutes Reading Time


I’ve mentioned this before in my leg workout article, and it applies to any muscle group. Splitting up the “back day” into 2-3 exercises is more beneficial than trying to do it all on one day.

Too Much Volume - We ultimately want to progress on the workouts and slowly increase weight or reps. We will have a better shot at that if we can come into the exercise more fresh. Splitting it up into at least two workouts allows for that much better than hoping you have the energy to still put forth enough effort by the time you get to the last two exercises on a back day.

Overtraining - On that same note, more isn’t better. The research shows we only need about 3-8 sets to maximally stimulate the muscle building signal on a given muscle per workout. Any more may lead to a detriment in performance with no further gains.

Mind Muscle Connection - We also want to make sure you have a good mind muscle connection on the exercises you do choose. So if you don’t really feel your back working doing a pull-up, you may be better off starting with a lat pulldown where you can focus more on isolating that given muscle. Muscle growth after all, comes down to being able to fully stimulate a muscle and feel it working through a full range of motion. You will need this connection in order to see any growth and progress in that exercise.

When choosing exercises, you want to build your back workout making sure you stimulate all areas of the back. There are a lot of muscles there so hitting it from a variety of vertical and horizontal pulling angles will help cover most of the area. Doing Pull-ups will hit more of the lats, while doing a seated row will hit more of the rhomboids and mid back.

The Workout

Full Body, Push/Pull, Upper/Lower Approach - if you are using the recommended approach, I recommend doing 1-2 exercises spread over 2-3 workouts. In the case of the back some people will usually choose a vertical pulling movement (lat pulldown) and a horizontal (row) to cover the full area, while others may split it into a vertical focused day and horizontal focused day.

Frequency: 2-3 days a week

Reps: Rotate through all ranges for maximum efficiency.

Weeks 1-4 - 8-10

Weeks 5-8 - 10-12

Weeks 9-12 - 12-15

Exercise Selection

Compound Back Exercises: Deadlift, Pull-ups, Chin-Ups, Bent Over Barbell Row, Single Arm DB Row

For isolation exercises, they usually target specific muscle groups (in this case just the quads), rather than a whole bunch of secondary muscles. They’re recommended to do after the compound ones, as the risk of injury is lower. The reason being these are usually done on machines, don’t tax as many muscles, don’t require as much stability, and don’t usually ramp up in nearly as much weight as a compound one would. You can also generally tend to do higher reps with these to get more volume in, although that isn’t a must.

Isolation Back Exercises: Cable Row, Lat Pulldown, Straight Arm Pulldown, Shrug 

It’s best to choose ⅔’s of your leg exercises from the compound list, and then the remainder from the isolation. Think of the isolation exercises as a bonus way to add volume to make sure you’re maximally stimulating all the muscles of the legs. It is a large list as you can see.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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