5 Upper Back Tri-Sets For Hypertrophy!

Tri-sets are easily one of the most effective hypertrophy training methods that you can use. In my experience tri-sets work extremely well for training the upper back as the back responds well to a variety of exercises and prolonged time under tension. With that in mind let’s take a closer look at three of the greatest upper back tri-sets of all time!


  • Routine #1: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets For The Lats!
  • Routine #2: You Have To Row To Grow!
  • Routine #3: Destroy All Muscle Fibers With The 6-12-25 Method!
  • Routine #4: A Dorian Yates Inspired Upper Back Tri-set!
  • Routine #5: Thinking Outside The Box For A Massive Back!

Tri-sets are a classic bodybuilding training method that have been around sense the dawn of bodybuilding in the early 1900s.

In fact the first-ever Mr. Olympia champion Larry Scott was using tri-sets way back in the 1960s to build up his Herculean arms!

Tri-sets are pretty simple to perform: you select three exercises for the same body part and perform them back-to-back with only ten seconds rest in between sets.

After you perform the third exercise you rest for 2-3 minutes and then repeat the circuit 2-4 more times.

For example:

  • Perform exercise A, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise B, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise C, rest 2-3 minutes
  • Repeat the entire circuit 2-4 more times

Tri-sets are so effective because they make your muscles work harder by prolonging the time under tension of a set.

As you perform your second and third exercise in the tri-set you accumulate a ton of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue.

As you may know muscular damage and metabolic fatigue are two of the biggest biological triggered for muscular hypertrophy to take place. 

I find that tri-sets for the upper back work particularly well because the upper back is such a complex region of the body with many different muscle groups.

The muscle groups contributing the most to back width include the lats and teres major, while the spinal erectors, rhomboids, and traps contribute the most towards back thickness.

It can be hard to give each of these different muscle groups with straight sets.

Fortunately for us tri-sets allow you to perform a large number of sets and exercises in a relatively short period of time to thrash all the muscle fibers in each of these muscle groups. You simply can’t go wrong with a well-designed upper back tri-set workout!

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Routine #1: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets For The Lats!

Here is a great tri-set routine that I learned from the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin. This is actually a type of mechanical advantage drop set.

Your tri-set is going to consist of three different types of pull ups: wide pronated grip pull ups, shoulder-width supinated grip chin ups, and narrow neutral grip pull ups.

Check it out:

  • A1: Wide pronated grip pull up, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip chin up, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull up, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**perform as many reps as possible with the same weight used on exercise A1.

Here is a perfect video demonstration of this routine by coach Charles Poliquin and his female client. I suggest you watch the full video:

You are going to start with the exercise that you are weakest on (wide pronated grip pull ups) and progress to the exercise you are strongest on (narrow neutral grip pull ups).

Because you are performing the exercises in this order you can continue to bust out additional reps on each exercise without changing the weight you are using!

For example, if you are performing your first exercise with an extra 20 pounds added to your waist then you would do the same for the second and third exercise in that tri-set.

This routine absolutely thrashes the lats and is an outstanding way to train for hypertrophy and muscular endurance.

After a few weeks on this routine you may feel 2 inches wider!

Routine #2: You Have To Row To Grow!

The inspiration for this routine came from another one of my mentors: John Meadows.

One of the things I like most about John is that he uses his unbelievable mind-muscle connection to invent new exercises and find better ways to perform old exercises.

I particularly like some of the exercises that he has either invented or popularized for training the upper back such as one-arm barbell rows and meadows rows.

These exercises give you an unbelievable stretch on the lats and upper back if you perform them correctly.

Check it out:

  • A1: One-arm barbell row, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/1/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Meadows row, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/1/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated unilateral cable row, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This is a fantastic tri-set to perform for both back width and thickness. I really like performing these types of rowing exercises at the end of a back workout after various pull ups or pull downs are performed.

For example you may want to perform the pull ups tri-set shown first in this article followed by this rowing routine!

On all of these exercises I want you to really focus on getting as big of a stretch as possible in the bottom position and as strong of a muscular contraction as you can in the shortened position.

These “extremes” of the exercise are where the magic happens, so to speak.

Routine #3: Destroy All Muscle Fibers With The 6-12-25 Method!

One of my all-time favourite ways to design a tri-set workout is with the 6-12-25 method.

The idea is simple: you perform 6 reps on the first exercise, 12 reps on the second exercise, and 25 reps on the third exercise.

You also typically use slower eccentric tempos on the 6-rep sets and faster ones on the 12- and 25-rep sets.

Check it out:

  • A1: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: T-bar row, 4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Chest-supported DB row (30 degree incline bench), 4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

The benefit of the 6-12-25 method is that it absolutely thrashes all of the available muscle fibers in one knockout punch!

The six-rep set does an excellent job of targeting the higher-threshold motor units while the 12- and 25-rep sets thoroughly exhaust the lower-threshold motor units.

You also get an absolutely unbelievable pump on this kind of routine!

One of the keys to making this type of routine work is to make sure that you select three different but highly effective exercises and sequence them appropriately.

For example, performing pull ups at the end of this routine would be silly as few trainees can bust out 25 reps of pull ups when they are fresh, let alone a the end of a tri-set!

On the other hand performing a set of t-bar rows for 6 reps may not be the safest way to train.

If you are looking for your next upper back routine then look no further than this 6-12-25 drop set. It will blow up your back in no time!

Routine #4: A Dorian Yates Inspired Upper Back Tri-set!

Dorian Yates was known for two things: his unbelievable work ethic and his gargantuan back. Dorian’s upper back was so wide that it could have doubled as a movie theater in his prime!

The exercises and rep ranges for this routine were inspired by Dorian’s upper back training routine as demonstrated in his “Blood And Guts” training DVD.

Of course there is no need to perform forced reps on this routine (as Dorian liked to do) as the tri-set will more than take care of the hypertrophy stimulus.

I do recommend you train just shy of failure on every set for maximum results. 

Check it out:

  • A1: Machine pullover, 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral hammer strength machine pulldown (supinated grip), 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing barbell row, 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This routine can be thought of as more of a fast-twitch tri-set. The lower rep ranges mean that this routine will be perfect for thrashing the higher-threshold motor units.

You know, the ones with the greatest potential for growth! Dorian performed many of his sets to failure in the 5-7 rep range and it clearly worked for him!

If you are someone that responds best to higher reps then you may want to adjust the reps upwards, perhaps into the 8-12 rep range per exercise.

However, I highly recommend you give the routine a try as written before making changes to it. Your upper back development will thank you for it!

Routine #5: Thinking Outside The Box For A Massive Back!

The inspiration for this routine came from John Meadows and another one of my strength training mentors, Dante Trudel.

I first saw John Meadows perform a superset of wide grip pullups and rack pulls many years ago. It seemed a little strange to me at the time but I quickly saw the light after trying it myself.

This strange exercise combination smokes the entire backside!

Check it out:

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Conventional rack pull (mid-shin height), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Dante rows, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

The third exercise in this routine is an invention of the mad genius of bodybuilding Dante Trudel.

Dante no longer trains bodybuilders but in the early 2000s he was known as THE guy to work with if you wanted to add 20-40 pounds of muscle mass to your frame in less than a year.

Dante rows are actually more of a lat width exercise than anything else.

They are designed to target the lats and place them under a tremendous stretch in the bottom position of the movement.

It takes some time to get the feeling right for this exercise. However, once you figure it out you won’t want to drop this exercise from your routine!

Bodybuilders such as Justin Harris, Dusty Hanshaw, and Marc Dugdale all swear by this exercise. And for good reason: it works!


You are now fully equipped with five of the most effective upper back tri-set routines of all time. I am confident that you will see some of the best gains of your life if you bust your ass on any one of these routines for 2-4 weeks.

Remember, these routines only work if you do!

I’ll leave you with one of my Nick Mitchell quotes to finish things off:

“If you train like a beast you will eventually become a beast. If you train like a maggot…”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. When I'm not writing about some of the greatest minds in the fitness industry - including Charles Poliquin, John Meadows, Josh Bryant, Dante Trudel, Louis Simmons, and more - I can be found lifting pink dumbbells in gyms all over Panama!

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