The powerlifting guru Louie Simmons once said “a strong man has a strong back and a weak man has a weak back.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!
If you want to build a strong back then this article is for you!
- Part 1: Rest-Pause Sets
- Part 2: Overcoming Isometrics
- Part 3: Cluster Sets
- Part 4: The Yielding Isometric From Hell
- Part 5: The Modified Hepburn Method
- Part 6: The Last Slow Eccentric Rep
- Part 7: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
- Part 8: Fast-Twitch Drop Sets
- Part 9: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Deadlifts
- Part 10: Wave Loading
- Part 11: 1/6 Contrast Sets
- Part 12: Multi-Angle Yielding Isometrics
- Part 13: Forced Reps
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you 13 of the most effective upper back strength workouts of all time!
If instead you are more interested in increasing the size of your back then you may find the following article helpful:
The back is an incredibly complex region of the body. There are a huge number of muscle groups in the back that you have to strengthen including the lats, traps, rhomboids, teres major, and spinal erectors.
There is no single workout that will maximally strengthen all of the muscles of the back.
I recommend you use a variety of intensification training methods such as isometric training, eccentric training, wave loading, cluster sets, and mechanical advantage drop sets to strengthen your backside. All of these training methods have been battle-tested to produce superior results!
Please note that all 13 of the workouts in this article are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these routines then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Rest-Pause Sets
The procedure for performing a rest-pause set is pretty simple: you are going to train to failure three times in a row on an exercise with about 20-30 seconds rest in between each attempt. Rather than tracking your rest periods with a stop watch Dante recommends that you take 10-15 deep breaths in between each attempt.
- Train to technical failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest while taking 10-15 deep breaths
- Train to technical failure again with the same weight, rest while taking 10-15 deep breaths
- Train to technical failure again, done!
Most trainees will get somewhere around 7-10 reps on the first attempt, 2-4 reps on the second attempt, and 1-3 reps on the third attempt.
Although Dante primarily trained bodybuilders many of his trainees achieved unbelievable levels of strength! As just one example Justin Harris earned an “elite” powerlifting total in his first-ever powerlifting meet after taking a break from his usual rest-pause training style.
David Henry is another long-time DC Trainee who built up an unbelievably strong back with rest-pause sets. For example here is David strict rowing 385 lbs for reps!
Here is a rest-pause back workout that you may want to try. Please note that this is not an official DC-style back workout, just a back workout taking advantage of rest-pause sets to rapidly boost your upper back strength.
Check it out:
- A1: Rack chin, 1 x 7-10**, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Dante row, 1 x 12-15**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- C1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Seal row, 1 x 7-10**, 2/1/X/1, rest as needed
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above. The rep range listed (7-10 or 12-15) represents your first failure point in the rest-pause set.
For each exercise you are going to perform 1 all-out working set to failure after performing a proper warm up. This will be either a rest-pause set or a straight set in the case of deadlifts.
This workout is absolutely brutal and is designed to make deep inroads into your recovery ability. As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform this type of workout once every 5-7 days.
There are many different training splits that you could use with this type of routine. In my experience a 3 days per week or a 4 days per week push / pull / legs split would be an excellent choice. You could very easily perform 1-2 exercises for the elbow flexors at the end of this workout for a more complete “pull” workout.
Make no mistake, the rest-pause method is one of the most effective training methods that you can use to rapidly increase the strength of your back. Many bodybuilders get super strong “by accident” using this method!
Part 2: Overcoming Isometrics
The world-class powerlifting coach Josh Bryant believes that overcoming isometrics are the single most effective and underutilized training method in the world for rapid strength gains. This is especially true when it comes to improving the strength of your deadlift.
There are of course three types of muscular contractions:
- Concentric muscular contractions
- Eccentric muscular contractions
- Isometric muscular contractions
Isometric contractions occur when your muscles are contracting hard but they are not actually moving! There are 2 different types of overcoming isometric contractions. The type that Josh Bryant likes to use with his powerlifting clients is know as overcoming isometric contractions.
The idea is simple: you are going to perform a deadlift into a pair of safety pins. As soon as the bar hits the safety pins you are going to accelerate the bar as hard as you can for 6-8 total seconds. You are literally trying to break these safety pins in half!
If you do this correctly your body should be shaking as if you had a bad case of Parkinson’s disease! After the 6-8 second overcoming isometric you lower the bar back down to the ground.
Josh is a big fan of alternating back and forth between sets of overcoming isometric deadlifts and sets of “speed” deadlifts. Here is a perfect demonstration:
The main benefit of overcoming isometric contractions is that they allow you to dramatically increase the number of motor units that you recruit!
In fact, all-out overcoming isometric contractions have been shown in the scientific literature to recruit 10-15% more motor units than either concentric or eccentric contractions! This is an absolutely incredible result!
You can read this article for more information: The Science Of Isometric Training!
When you alternate back and forth between these isometric sets and speed sets you teach your body to use these newly recruited motor units during the full range of motion exercise.
The results don’t lie: many of the world’s strongest deadlifts use overcoming isometrics to blast through their old training PR’s year-after-year.
Here is a deadlift workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Isometric Deadlift Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 2**, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Conventional deadlift overcoming isometric (mid-shin height), 2 x 1***, 120 seconds rest
- B2: Conventional deadlift, 2 x 3****, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Conventional deadlift overcoming isometric (just above the knees), 2 x 1***, 120 seconds rest
- C2: Conventional deadlift, 2 x 3****, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: 45 degree back extension (band tension), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest
**Performed with 90% of your 1-rep max.
***Performed with 135 pounds on the bar. Once you hit the safety pins accelerate as hard as you can for a full 6-8 seconds. You are trying to break the safety pins in half!
****Performed with 75% of your 1-rep max. These should be performed as explosively as possible! Accelerate the bar as hard as you can all the way to lockout!
Josh Bryant’s overcoming isometric deadlift workouts can be very intimidating. They involve an absolutely massive amount of volume and can be very difficult to recover from. However, if you are willing to put in the work on this routine then you can expect some of the best gains of your life.
I highly recommend you use this routine if you are looking to peak your strength in preparation for testing your deadlift 1-rep max.
Here is how you might want to periodize your workouts for this purpose:
- Weeks 1-3: Perform the above workout as listed.
- Week 4: Perform a “deload” workout. Skip the isometric sets entirely and perform all other sets with 70% of the weights you used for weeks 1-3.
- Week 5: Test your 1-rep max!
Just make sure you perform a higher-rep accumulation style workout for a few weeks after a stint with overcoming isometrics. Your nervous system will not be happy with you if you ignore this advice!
Part 3: Cluster Sets
The idea behind cluster sets is simple: you are going to take several short intra-set rest intervals. In layman’s terms this means that you are going to rest in between the reps of your sets.
There are many different cluster set training protocols that you can use. However, the most popular one and probably the most effective one for strength gains is known as the Poliquin cluster set protocol.
This protocol involves performing 5 sets of 5 reps with 90% of your 1-rep max. This may sound impossible. After all, most trainees can only perform 3 reps with 90% of their 1-rep max!
The secret to this routine is you are going to rest for 10-15 seconds between each rep. Here is what the Poliquin cluster sets protocol looks like in practice:
- Perform your 1st rep, rest 10-15 seconds
- Perform your 2nd rep, rest 10-15 seconds
- Perform your 3rd rep, rest 10-15 seconds
- Perform your 4th rep, rest 10-15 seconds
- Perform your 5th rep, done!
In my experience cluster sets work extremely well for exercises such as pull ups, chin ups and deadlifts. Here is a back and triceps cluster set workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Upper Back Cluster Sets Workout
- A1: Shoulder-width supinated chin ups, 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- A2: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated cable row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster sets workout. Rest 15-20 seconds in between each repetition.
Charles Poliquin used to love structuring routines like this for his athletes who needed to boost their maximal strength levels. You may want to use this workout with the following Poliquin-style training split:
- Day 1: Chest / Elbow Flexors
- Day 2: Legs
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Back / Triceps
- Day 5: Off
This Poliquin-style training split works extremely well if you like to train antagonistic body parts together in the same workout.
Part 4: The Yielding Isometric From Hell
Here is another routine I learned from Charles Poliquin. He never gave this training method a formal name but I think “the yielding isometric from hell” is very appropriate!
As I mentioned earlier there are two types of isometric contractions: overcoming isometrics and yielding isometrics. Yielding isometrics involve preventing an external force from moving your muscles.
For example, if you perform a 1-3 second pause in the middle position of a pull up you are performing a yielding isometric. Yielding isometrics are generally used as a hypertrophy training method but they can also be used to induce rapid strength gains.
For this routine the “A1” exercise is performed as a yielding isometric. Select a weight that represents slightly MORE than your 1-rep max and pull yourself half-way up so that your upper arms are parallel with the ground.
You are going to hold yourself in this position for 6-8 seconds before lowering yourself back down to the ground. If you do this correctly your arms will be trembling as if you were suffering an epileptic seizure!
Next you will rest for 10 seconds before performing 4-6 reps with a weight that represents your true 4-6 rep max. For this back / chest routine you are going to perform 4-6 rounds of this brutal back superset. Check it out:
Chest / Back Yielding Isometrics Workout
- A1: Shoulder-width pull ups, 4-6 x 1**, 1/0/X/8, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Shoulder-width pull ups, 4-6 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A3: 45 degree incline DB press, 4-6 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: T-bar row, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: DB floor fly, 3 x 7-9, 3/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform a 6-8 second iso-hold half-way up the movement. Use a weight that is around your 1-rep max.
Unfortunately I was not able to find a video demonstrating the supra-maximal yielding isometric performed on pullups.
Just remember that you are pulling yourself up until your upper arms are parallel with the ground and holding that position for 6-8 seconds. Your muscles will be screaming at you but the goal is 6 seconds AND YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE IT!
I think you will be surprised at how much your pull up strength improves after performing this routine for 2-4 weeks.
Part 5: The Modified Hepburn Method
The Modified Hepburn Method is probably one of the most effective strength training methods in the world. This training method was named after Doug Hepburn, a former Olympic Weightlifting world champion and the first man in the world to bench press 500 pounds.
Doug used a unique training system to build up his superhuman strength. He found that he got his best results by separating his workouts into two distinct parts.
His first part consisted of performing a huge number of singles or doubles early in the workout, while his second part consisted of performing a handful of sets of 3-5 reps.
- Part 1: 8 sets of 1 reps
- Part 2: 5 sets of 3-5 reps
The Modified Hepburn Method is based on the idea of exciting the nervous system early in the workout with a lot of low-rep sets. Then once the nervous system is firing on all cylinders you perform a handful of sets with slightly higher reps to fatigue the newly activated fast-twitch muscle fibers.
This routine works great for various pull up and chin up exercises. However, I do NOT recommend performing this routine for deadlifts as it would be far too demanding for even the most gifted of trainees to recover from.
Here is a great back and shoulders workout featuring the Modified Hepburn Method that you may want to try. Check it out:
Modified Hepburn Method Upper Back Workout
- A1: Pronated pull ups (hands 4 inches apart), 8 x 1, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 8 x 1, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Pronated pull ups (hands 6 inches apart), 5 x 3-5, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B2: Standing behind the neck press (medium-width grip), 5 x 3-5, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
It is very important to pick the right weights for all of your sets. For your singles I recommend starting with about 90% of your 1-rep max and slowly working up depending on your performance for that day. For example:
- Set #1: 90% x 1
- Set #2: 90% x 1
- Set #3: 92% x 1
- Set #4: 93% x 1
- Set #5: 93% x 1
- Set #6: 93% x 1
- Set #7: 95% x 1
- Set #8: 95% x 1
Of course these are just sample training percentages. If the weight feels particularly light then go ahead and add slightly more weight to your dipping belt for the following set.
For your 5 sets of 3-5 reps I recommend you use about 80% of your best single for that particular workout. The goal is to complete 5 reps on all 5 sets. If you fall short of this goal then just keep the weight the same at the following workout.
If you do manage to get all 5 sets of 5 reps then bump up the weight slightly for the next workout and work towards completing all 5 sets for 5 reps with the new weight.
Part 6: The Last Slow Eccentric Rep
Eccentric training is outrageously effective for boosting maximal strength levels. Of course when I say eccentric training I am referring to a wide range of training methods that increase the stress on the eccentric phase of an exercise.
There are many different ways to structure an eccentric workout to increase the strength of your back. However, through trial and error I have found that the “last slow eccentric rep” method is unbelievably effective for busting through a deadlift plateau.
The last slow eccentric rep method involves performing a 10-second lowering phase on the final repetition of a set.
For example, you might perform a set of 6 reps on the deadlift with a 3/1/X/0. After locking out the 6th rep you would lower the weight back down to the ground over 10 seconds.
Basically you are thoroughly exhausting your eccentric strength levels after first exhausting your concentric strength. This 10-second lowering phase will provide a powerful stimulus to both your central nervous system and to the muscles of your entire backside.
Here is a sample deadlift routine you may want to try. Check it out:
The Last Slow Eccentric Rep Deadlift Workout
- A1: Deficit conventional deadlift, 3 x 5-7, 3/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Walking alternating DB lunges, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 2 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
I am sure some of you reading this will question the reasoning behind performing accentuated eccentric deadlift training. After all, most of the strongest deadlifters in the world never even bother to control the negative phase of their lifts.
They just drop the weight down to the ground after locking it out!
This may be true. However, it is also true that Bob Peoples deadlift 725 pounds at a bodyweight of 181 pounds in the year 1947. Bob was 38 years old at the time and trained on a farm with very limited equipment.
How is this even possible? Bob’s secret to deadlifting success is that he would perform supra-maximal eccentric deadlifts with the help of a tractor. His tractor would lift the weight up to lockout and he would then lower the weights back to the ground!
In my opinion we would see many more deadlifting records being set today if more people took a page out of Bob’s book and started experimenting with accentuated eccentrics on the deadlift.
Part 7: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
Mechanical advantage drop sets are traditionally thought of as more of a hypertrophy training method. While they are fantastic for building slabs of functional hypertrophy they are also quite effective for increasing maximal strength!
A mechanical drop set involves you performing multiple exercises back-to-back for the same body part. Each of these exercises should be similar to each other.
For example, a mechanical advantage drop set for the upper back may involve 2-4 different types of pull ups or chin ups performed back-to-back.
The real key to this method is that you are NOT going to drop the weight as you move from one exercise variation to the next! Instead you will start with the exercise variation that you are weakest on and finish with the variation that you are strongest on.
By progressing from more challenging to less challenging exercises you will be able to continue to bust out repetitions without decreasing the weight from one exercise to the next.
In my experience one of the best ways to structure a mechanical advantage drop set workout for the upper back is to superset wide overhand grip pull ups with narrow supinated grip chin ups. This superset creates a nasty amount of fatigue in the shoulder extensors and elbow flexors.
You can expect some serious neurological adaptations from this routine as well as some nice functional hypertrophy gains. Check it out:
Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Drop Set
- A1: Wide overhand grip pull up, 5 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Narrow supinated grip chin up, 5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated cable rope row, 4 x 7-9, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
You will probably find that you have to decrease the amount of weight that you use from one superset to the next. For example, here is what your weights might look like for each of the five supersets:
- Set #1: Bodyweight plus 35 pounds
- Set #2: Bodyweight plus 25 pounds
- Set #3: Bodyweight plus 20 pounds
- Set #4: Bodyweight plus 15 pounds
- Set #5: Bodyweight plus 5 pounds
Don’t worry, a progression like this is perfectly normal. You may find that your strength endurance improves significantly by your 3rd or 4th time repeating this workout and that your working weights do not drop by nearly as much.
Overall this routine calls for 14 very demanding sets for the upper back. Trust me, this is a very respectable amount of volume if you are training with any degree of intensity. If you are looking for an upper back strength workout that reliably produces results then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot!
Part 8: Fast-Twitch Drop Sets
When most people hear the phrase “drop sets” they immediately think of higher-rep training protocols designed to increase muscular hypertrophy. In my opinion this is a very limited way of looking at drop sets.
In reality drop sets can also be performed with lower rep ranges to target the fast-twitch muscle fibers for rapid strength gains!
As a general rule of thumb the phrase “fast-twitch drop sets” refers to any drop set protocol where you perform 1-4 reps on the first part of the drop set. For the purposes of this routine I am going to recommend that you use a 2/1/1/1 drop set protocol.
- Perform 2 reps, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
- Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
- Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
- Perform 1 rep, done!
This constitutes just one 2/1/1/1 drop set. The first attempt with 2 reps will excite your nervous system and recruit nearly all of the available motor units while the additional single repetitions will further fatigue the fast-twitch muscle fibers that were already recruited.
Altogether this is one powerful stimulus for strength gains!
One of the most challenging aspects of designing a drop sets workout (for size or strength) is figuring out how many drop sets to perform per exercise. For optimal results I recommend that you perform as many as 4 of these 2/1/1/1 drop sets in a single workout.
You may want to slightly back off on the training intensity for your other body parts so that you do not risk overtraining yourself into the ground.
Here is a back and shoulders workout featuring the 2/1/1/1 drop set method that you may want to try. Check it out:
2/1/1/1 Drop Set Upper Back Workout
- A1: Narrow supinated grip chin ups, 4 x 2/1/1/1**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Seated DB overhead press, 4 x 6, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: T-bar row, 4 x 7-9, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seated poliquin DB lateral raise, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed as a 2/1/1/1 drop set as described above.
Fast-twitch drop sets are a highly underrated way to train. Even in the earliest scientific literature drop sets were shown to produce faster and greater strength gains than traditional “straight sets.”
If you are looking to rapidly increase your chin up strength then go ahead and give this routine a shot!
Part 9: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Deadlifts
In a previous routine I introduced you to the concept of accentuated eccentric training on the deadlift. This was performed by utilizing a 10-second lowering phase on the last repetition of the working sets.
There are of course other ways to perform eccentric training on the deadlift. If you have two highly competent training partners at your disposal then there is no faster way to boost your strength on the deadlift than with supra-maximal eccentric repetitions.
The idea behind this training method is simple: two training partners are going to give you a large amount of assistance in lifting the bar to lockout. Then you are going to lower the bar down to the ground on your own over 10 seconds.
For the purposes of this routine you are going to perform multiple sets of 3 in this manner. Here is a sample training video for this method:
I strongly recommend you perform this method with the deficit snatch grip deadlift rather than a traditional conventional deadlift from the floor.
First of all the increased range of motion of the exercise will dramatically increase the quality of the training stimulus. The other benefit is that the deficit snatch grip deadlift forces you to use far less weight than the conventional deadlift.
This means it will be MUCH easier for your training partners to help lift the weight to lockout. Here is a supra-maximal eccentric deadlift routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Eccentric-Only Deadlift Workout
- A1: Eccentric only deficit snatch grip deadlift**, 6 x 3, 8/1/1/0, 5 minutes rest
- B1: Front foot elevated split squat, 2 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Band face pull, 2 x 6-8, 2/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest
**Two training partners will give you substantial assistance during the concentric range of this lift. You will then lower the weight under control over 8 seconds without any assistance. Rinse and repeat.
Very little accessory work is necessary after 6 sets of supra-maximal eccentric deadlifts. Your entire backside including your lats, traps, rhomboids, teres major, spinal erectors, glutes, and hamstrings will all be absolutely thrashed!
In fact this workout is so demanding that I recommend you be very conservative with your weights selection.
You may want to pick a weight that represents 90-100% of your estimated 1-rep max on the deficit snatch grip deadlift for the first workout and perform all 6 sets of 3 reps with this weight. Trust me, you will be feeling it the next morning even with these conservative training percentages!
Depending on how your first workout goes you may want to make significant weight jumps at your subsequent workouts. If you are going to use this workout then I highly recommend you alternate it with a more traditional squat-focused workout.
- Workout #1: Eccentric deadlifts
- Workout #2: Regular squats
- Workout #3: Eccentric deadlifts
- Workout #4: Regular squats
- Workout #5: Eccentric deadlifts
- Workout #6: Regular squats
And so on.
Supra-maximal eccentric training is so demanding on the nervous system that you should probably only perform it every other workout per body part.
I talk about this in more depth in my article “The Pros And Cons Of Eccentric Training!“ if you are interested in reading more about this topic.
Part 10: Wave Loading
Wave loading is by far one of the best training methods you can use to increase relative strength, or how strong you are relative to how much you weigh. A “wave” is really just a series of three sets performed with decreasing rep ranges.
You can click right here to listen to strength coach Christian Thibadeau giving an excellent primer on wave loading.
The main benefit of performing your sets in wave loading fashion is that the varying rep ranges help to “excite” your central nervous system. Each time you perform a wave your strength will go up slightly thanks to a concept called post-tetanic facilitation.
There are many different wave loading set / rep schemes but for this routine I am going to recommend you perform 5/3/2 waves.
Here is what a 5/3/2 wave looks like in practice:
- Set #1: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #2: 3 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #3: 2 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
These three sets count as one single “wave.” A typical 5/3/2 wave loading workout may consist of 2 of these waves followed by some assistance work performed with slightly higher rep ranges.
Here is a wave loading upper back / deadlift workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Wave Loading Upper Back Workout
- A1: Snatch grip deadlift, 6 x 5,3,2,5,3,2, 3/2/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Wide overhand grip pulldowns, 3 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- D1: DB shrugs, 3 x 6-8, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- E1: 45 degree back extension (eccentric emphasis with dumbbells), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
There are of course many other wave loading set and rep schemes that you can employ. One of the things I like about 5/3/2 waves is that they let you flirt with very heavy weights without getting completely burned out on them.
I know from experience that many trainees cannot handle a large number of sets performed in the 1-3 rep range.
That does not mean that these trainees should completely avoid the 1-3 rep range, especially if they are primarily interested in getting stronger! Instead it means that you need to be careful about the total number of sets that you perform in these lower rep ranges. 5/3/2 wave loading more than gets the job done in this regard!
Part 11: 1/6 Contrast Sets
I have a confession to make: I have the attention span of a goldfish in the gym. If I am bored with a particular workout then there is no way in hell that I am going to go through with it!
Perhaps this is why I spend so much time talking about novel training methods and set / rep schemes here on Revolutionary Program Design. I have the attention span of a fruit fly!
Over the years I have continued to experiment with different training programs that prevent me from falling asleep in the gym. If you are like me in that you respond well to lower-rep training protocols and absolutely hate being bored with your training then you are going to love the 1/6 contrast method!
The 1/6 contrast method involves alternating sets of maximal singles with sets of 6 reps. Typically 6 total sets would be performed or 3 singles and 3 sets of 6.
- Set #1: 1 rep
- Set #2: 6 reps
- Set #3: 1 rep
- Set #4: 6 reps
- Set #5: 1 rep
- Set #6: 6 reps
The 1/6 contrast method works for a lot of the same reasons as wave loading. The contrast in rep ranges helps to excite your nervous system so that your strength should increase a little bit as you progress through the workout.
Do not be surprised if you can lift more weight on your 5th and 6th sets relative to your 1st and second sets! In my opinion the 1/6 method is a lot of fun.
The extreme variation in rep ranges from one set to the next gives this method a very unique feel to anything you have ever done before. Many of my online coaching clients have made some of the best strength gains of their life using this method.
Here is how you might want to set up a 1/6 method back and triceps workout to boost your pull up strength. Check it out:
1/6 Method Upper Back Workout
- A1: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 6 x 1,6,1,6,1,6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 1,6,1,6,1,6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: One-arm DB dead stop row, 4 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Flat DB extension, 4 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
This method is very demanding on your nervous system and should primarily be reserved for times when you are trying to peak your strength.
I would not recommend performing this type of routine in the middle of a powerlifting offseason or when you are feeling burned out from too much exposure to very heavy weights.
Part 12: Multi-Angle Yielding Isometrics
Let’s cover another highly effective yielding isometrics routine. This time around we will cover one for the deadlift. Yielding isometrics are an extremely effective way to increase the strength of your deadlift if you know how to use them right.
I have trained in hardcore powerlifting gyms all over the United States sense I was 18 years old and every single gym had at least one powerlifter who absolutely SWORE by these.
For this routine you are going to perform 3 isometric pauses during the lowering phase of the lift. Each of these pauses will last three seconds.
- 3 second pause just above the knees
- 3 second pause just below the knees
- 3 second pause just above the ground
Overall the eccentric range should take approximately 9 seconds to complete. During these isometric pauses it is EXTREMELY important to maintain a tight arch in your lower back.
It is OK if your upper back rounds a little bit as long as your lower back is kept nice and tight. If you are used to dropping your weights on the lowering phase of deadlifts then you may need to swallow your ego and use very light weights the first couple of times you perform this routine.
Don’t worry, your strength will rapidly shoot back up as your lower back catches up in strength. If you do have a weakness in your lower back strength then this deadlift workout may be just what you need to get back on track with your training.
Here is the actual deadlift routine. Check it out:
Upper Back Multi-Angle Yielding Isometrics Workout
- A1: Deficit conventional deadlift, 6 x 3, 9/1/X/0**, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldown, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Reverse hyperextension, 4 x 12-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
I am going to sound like I am repeating myself here but so be it: you MUST maintain a tight arch in your lower back during these 3-second isometric pauses. If you fail to keep your lower back arched then you are just asking for an injury.
If that means swallowing your pride and dramatically reducing your training loads on this exercise then so be it. Don’t worry, you will be glad you kept your ego in check when your deadlifting strength shoots through the roof 2-4 weeks later!
Part 13: Forced Reps
Forced reps remind me a lot of rest-pause reps. In fact forced reps and rest-pause sets share a number of things in common:
- They are both highly effective bodybuilding training methods
- They both involve training beyond failure
- They both produce extremely rapid strength gains!
The procedure for performing a forced reps set is rather simple. First you are going to train to concentric muscular failure. You should literally fail on the last rep that you attempt!
Immediately after reaching failure your training partner is going to assist you through the concentric range of 1-3 additional repetitions. He will provide you just enough assistance so that you can complete the concentric range of the lift.
Once the weight is lifted you are responsible for lowering the weight back down on your own. So the basic protocol is train to failure and then bust out an additional 1-3 reps with the help of a spotter.
Forced reps are primarily thought of as a bodybuilding training method but they are also incredibly effective for strength gains! In my opinion the main reason for this is that they allow you to tax your eccentric strength levels after first reaching muscular failure.
They are very similar to the “last slow eccentric rep” method as discussed earlier in this article in this regard.
I feel I would be doing you a great disservice if I did not provide you with Dorian Yates’ exact forced reps back routine.
Please note that not every exercise is performed with forced reps. In particular the exercises such as bent over rows and deadlifts that tax your lower back heavily are performed with one straight set to failure or just shy of failure. Check it out:
Dorian Yates Forced Reps Upper Back Routine
- A1: Nautilus pullover machine, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Bilateral hammer strength pulldown (supinated grip), 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Barbell bent-over row, 1 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Hammer strength unilateral row, 1 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- E1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 1 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
- F1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
Here are the videos of Dorian Yates performing this routine in his “Blood And Guts” training dvd. If you are at all interested in forced reps training then I consider these videos a must watch. Check it out:
The main disadvantage of this forced reps back routine is that you need a training partner in order to make it work. There is simply no getting around this fact. If you do have a training partner at your disposal then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot.
I think you will be surprised at how quickly your strength goes up! Keep in mind that Dorian was performing his deadlifts with 500 pounds for reps and this at the very end of his back routine. Talk about impressive!
Building a stronger upper and lower back can be a real challenge. There are so many different muscle groups that you have to target and it can be very difficult to design training routines that produce results.
I think it is safe to say that you won’t have this problem any more! After all, you now know how to perform 13 of the most effective strength-focused back training routines in the world.
If you are looking for more information on strengthening your backside then I highly recommend the following articles:
- The 15 Best Rowing Exercises For Mass!
- The 11 Greatest Lower Back Exercises Of All Time!
- The Deficit Snatch Grip Deadlift Is King!
These articles should help you understand which exercises you should be prioritizing in your own training.
“Tear down that mirror. Tear down the mirror that makes you always look at yourself and you will see beyond the mirror and you will see the millions of people that need your help.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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