6 Advanced Exercises to Build a Big and Wide Back (Plus Free Workout!)
Basics can be best when it comes to building muscle and getting stronger. My guess is that you are reading this article because you want to do both.
When it comes to back training, you can stick with the same and simple movements such as pull ups, one-arm rows, pulldowns, and just try to add more weight each time you do it. Let’s be honest, though. That will only work for so long.
Eventually, you’re going to need to find new ways to challenge yourself because it will keep the workouts interesting, you will find new ways to improve, and your overall fitness and shape can benefit from trying something new.
That’s why we’re offering six new movements that you can add to your pulling session, back workout, or full-body training. The movements themselves may not be as complicated as you’d expect, but proper execution and desire to get stronger are what will make them effective for you.
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A common question that we get in the comments sections is if someone can perform an exercise in a different way and still see the desired benefits. Typically, you can to a degree, but not with these.
Here’s the tough love – if you can’t do these with proper form, you’ll simply have to try to stick with it until you can, lower the weight you’re using, or find something else to do.
Now, if you don’t have the proper equipment to do these with, feel free to ask your questions, and we’ll try to help you out based on what you do have access to. Most of these should be pretty accessible for most of you reading this.
Five of these six movements can be seen in the M&S Exercise Video Database, and I got you covered with the details of the other one.
1. Archer Pull Up
The Archer Pull Up will work the lats more than the upper back, but you’ll feel it in the shoulders, arms, and even the core because you’ll have to keep yourself stable throughout the movement. Imagine taking the pull up and using it to isolate one side of the back over the other. That is what you’re doing here.
Instead of pulling straight up, you’re going to pull to one side first in a diagonal motion, then return to the starting position. You will then alternate by pulling up to the other side.
If you know which side of your back is weaker, then start with that side first when you have the most energy. You can either go back and forth from side to side, or you can perform as many reps as you can on the weak side before switching to the stronger side. That is up to you.
If you need straps for grip, go for it. You can loop a band around the top of a pull up bar to help you as you learn the execution of the move. That said, if you cannot do regular pull ups with your bodyweight for reps, focus on that before trying this version.
Related: 10 Killer Pull Up Variations to Grow Huge Lats
2. Rope Lat Pulldown
This is similar to the traditional close grip lat pulldown with the V-handle. You can pull that handle down to your chest, but that is the end of the movement. While the basic version is effective, being able to pull beyond that point would help make the most out of the pulldown because you can get a greater contraction and range of motion.
That’s why using a rope attachment is better for this exercise. When you pull down, you can pull the ends of the rope apart. As a result, the elbows can go down further, and you can really contract the upper back and lats to the best of your ability.
The grip is different because you’re holding the end of a rope instead of a handle, but in the end, the change will be worth it when you see your upper back in a photo and notice new detail and density you may have not seen before.
3. Dead Stop Rack Row
The bent-over row is a foundational exercise for back training, but doing them inside a rack with a dead stop serves two purposes. First, it will help you get stronger because of how you need that explosion to get the weight up. Second, it eliminates all momentum because the bar has to be completely stopped on the rack before you go again.
Here is the key to making this even more beneficial. Once you pull the weight up, do your best to perform a two-second negative back down. Then, gently set the bar on the rack before beginning again. Don’t jerk the weight, let it drop, and slam it on the rack. All that’s going to do is bring the wrong type of attention to yourself, and you’re cheating yourself out of the benefits that come with the negative.
Wear a belt, use straps, and don’t be afraid to chalk up if you need it. If your gym happens to have a trap bar that can be used in a rack, that is even better because of the vertical handles.
Related: Eccentrics: Build Strength With Heavy Negatives
4. Neutral Grip Chest Supported Dumbbell Row
Doing dumbbell rows by leaning against a rack or by placing a knee and hand on a bench is great. However, you can cheat as the set comes to the end by jerking and using momentum.
Doing these rows on an incline bench with both dumbbells at the same time eliminates that option. Because of this, you won’t be able to use as much weight. The reward is that you can pull back further, protect your lower back by lying on the incline bench, and round your back slightly when you lower the weights to maximize the stretch.
Start very light on these to make sure you can handle them before trying to go up. If you do a one-arm row with a 100-pound dumbbell, don’t assume you can use 50’s on this. Start with 30’s or even 25’s and make sure that form is on point.
5. Cable Shrug
Most people train traps with shoulders, but they are actually a part of the back. The cable shrug will really blast the traps because the weight is to the sides and you’re pulling diagonally instead of straight up and down. You will also feel a better contraction at the top than if you were to use a barbell or dumbbells.
Bonus: To make this even more intense, take a half-step forward when you have the cable handles in your hand, then lean forward slightly. This will help you hit the mid-traps instead of just the top.
Related: The Best Trap Exercise You’ve Never Tried
6. Reverse Hyper with Pause and Negative
The reverse hyper is great for the glutes and lower back. However, many people “cheat” by allowing the legs to swing, which can subtract from the effectiveness. Here is how to counter that.
When you perform the lift, stop at the top for a three-count, then lower the weight back to a count of five. This will keep almost all of the tension on the lower back, which is what you want. Weight is irrelevant. There is no reverse hyper lifting contest. Use whatever it takes to help you keep the form as directed, and you’ll see the benefits. If you have lower back issues, skip this one and talk to a doctor.
Using These Exercises in Training
If you want a specific workout to use while trying to execute these movements, there is one below. You can perform this workout in one of two ways. You can either take it on as a standard back session by performing all exercises with a standard 60-90 second rest period between sets. If you go with this option, try to increase weight each set starting from light to heavy. The first sets should be focused more on lighter weight and maximizing form, while the heaviest set should be performed to failure.
If you have access to all of this equipment at home, or if you’re training in a gym that doesn’t have many people in it (we should all be so lucky), then you can do them as a circuit by performing all six exercises in a row before taking a break. That break should be two minutes. Try to do three or even four circuits in one workout. If you choose this option, keep the weight the same for all the circuits.