I’ve never met a bodybuilder satisfied with the size of their back! I’m sure even Dorian Yates in his prime was looking for ways to beef up his back further.
If you feel your back is a lagging body part then this is your chance to turn things around with 11 incredible upper back workouts for mass!
Routine #1: Heavy-Light Supersets
Routine #2: Devil’s Tri-sets
Routine #3: Milos Sarcev Giant Sets
Routine #4: Forced Reps
Routine #5: A Brutal John Meadows Superset Workout
Routine #6: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
Routine #7: Rest-pause training
Routine #8: 6-12-25 Tri-sets
Routine #9: The Matt Kroc Back Attack
Routine #10: A Brutal Drop Set Routine
Routine #11: Yielding Isometrics
Many trainees have a very difficult time increasing the size of their upper back. In my experience there are two main reasons for this.
The first reason is that many trainees have a hard time developing a good “mind-muscle connection” with their upper back. After all, the upper back is located on the backside of your body. You can’t exactly see it in the mirror working!
This makes it more challenging for many trainees to “feel” their muscles working and harder to achieve strong muscular contractions.
The second reason why building up the upper back is so challenging is that the upper back is an incredibly complex region of the body! Some of the larger muscles on your backside include the lats, traps, rhomboids and spinal erectors.
You also have a few smaller muscles like the teres major, rear delts and rotator cuff. All of these muscles need to be properly trained if you want to develop a wide, thick back.
Don’t worry, I have the solution for you. In this article I will teach you 11 of the most effective upper back hypertrophy workouts of all time. Some of the best upper back hypertrophy workouts include mechanical advantage drop sets, the 6/12/25 method and heavy-light supersets.
In all of these routines I will give you different tips and tricks for how to target the different muscles and regions of your back as well as how to properly “feel” your muscles working. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information!
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…
Part 1: Heavy-Light Supersets
Supersets are one of the oldest and most effective bodybuilding training methods ever invented. Many of the bodybuilders during the “golden era of bodybuilding” in the 1940s-1950s used supersets to build their legendary physiques.
Supersets are very straightforward: you perform 2 different exercises back-to-back for the same body part. For example here is what a superset workout would look like in practice:
- Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!
Supersets are actually a much more effective way to train for hypertrophy than traditional “straight sets.” The main benefit of supersets is they prolong the total time under tension of your sets. Just think about it: a normal set for your upper back might take about 30 seconds to complete.
If you perform 2 exercises together as part of a superset then the time under tension will be 60 seconds! This means your muscles are working twice as long as usual and you are doing this without having to decrease the amount of weight you are lifting. Talk about a powerful hypertrophy training stimulus!
In my experience one of the most effective superset training protocols for the upper back is heavy / light supersets. The basic idea is to perform lower reps on your first exercise and higher reps on your second exercise.
I will talk more about why heavy / light supersets are so effective for training the upper back in a little bit. First let’s take a look at a sample training routine. Check it out:
Upper Back Heavy / Light Superset Workout
- A1: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Wide overhand grip cable pulldowns, 5 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated cable low row (v-handle), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Seated cable rope face pull (with maximum external rotation), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/2, 180 seconds rest
This workout actually consists of two seperate supersets. The first superset utilizes narrow / pronated grip chin ups and wide / overhand grip lat pulldowns. It is designed to increase the width of your back by overloading your lats and your teres major.
The second superset utilizes two different types of cable rows to increase the thickness of your upper back by targeting your traps, rhomboids and spinal erectors.
There are two main reasons why this type of heavy / light superset workout is extremely effective for increasing the size of your upper back. First of all the upper back muscles are made up of a healthy mix of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.
For maximum upper back development you have to use a wide variety of rep ranges in your training. Of course that does not mean that you have to use high and low reps every single workout. However, combining these different rep ranges with supersets is one of the best ways to do this.
The other reason this workout works so well is the high number of sets. Bodybuilding coaches such as John Meadows have made the observation that the upper back responds well to a large number of sets. I have to agree!
For this routine you are performing 16 total sets for the upper back. This may not sound like a lot to someone like John Meadows but it is sure to stimulate some serious growth in your upper back. Keep in mind that all 16 of these sets are working sets and should be taken relatively close to failure!
Part 2: Devil’s Tri-sets
Tri-sets are another incredibly effective bodybuilding training method that you can and should be using. Actually tri-sets are very similar to supersets as described above. The main difference is you will be performing 3 exercises in a row for the same body part rather than just 2.
For example here is what a tri-set looks like in the real world:
- Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #3, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!
Devil’s tri-sets are a special type of tri-set. I first learned about Devil’s tri-sets from the German strength coach Wolfgang Unsold in the early 2010’s.
To perform this training method you will perform a tri-set where you get 6 reps on each of the 3 exercises. Devil’s tri-sets gets it’s name from the 6/6/6 rep scheme that this method uses.
Don’t worry, you won’t be banished to Christian hell for using this superior training method. The only sin you will be guilty of is building a wider, thicker back in record time! If you are more of a fast-twitch individual or have more of a dopamine-dominant neurotransmitter profile then you will do AWESOME on this training method.
Here is a sample Devil’s tri-set routine for the upper back that you may want to try. Check it out:
Upper Back Devil’s Tri-Set Routine
- A1: Supinated shoulder-width chin ups, 5 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing barbell row, 5 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Chest supported row, 5 x 6, 2/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest
In my experience the Devil’s tri-sets training protocol works extremely well for increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. You know, the ones with the greatest potential for size and strength gains!
All too often I see bodybuilders and other physique athletes completely avoid the more moderate 5-7 rep ranges. I’m not suggesting that you should go to the gym and start “maxing out” on every exercise. However, some moderately lower sets in the 5-7 rep range can be extremely helpful in busting through training plateaus and spurring on additional growth.
One of the reasons that low-rep sets don’t build as much muscle mass is the time under tension per set is relatively low. It’s hard to really fatigue your muscle fibers if your sets lasts 20 seconds or less.
Devil’s tri-sets are so effective at building fast-twitch muscle fibers because they combine the best of both worlds: relatively heavy weights AND long time under tension. I think you will be surprised at how fatigued you get and how much muscle mass you can build with this simple upper back tri-set routine.
Part 3: Milos Sarcev Giant Sets
The basic idea is to perform a circuit of at least 4 exercises for the same body part. For example:
- Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #3, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #4, rest 10 seconds
The crazy thing about giant sets is that you can perform more than 4 exercises in a row for a single body part. IFBB professional bodybuilders Milos Sarcev and Ben Pakulski would perform as many as 10 different exercises in a row for their larger body parts such as their legs, back and chest!
Giant sets are so effective because they force your muscles to work over an incredibly long period of time. A single giant set can easily take several minutes to complete! They are also effective because they allow you to use a wide variety of exercises and overload the target muscle group in several different ways.
Here is a sample upper back giant set workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Upper Back Giant Set Routine
- A1: Bilateral supinated grip hammer strength pulldown, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Seated cable low row (rope handle), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Wide overhand grip pulldown, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Shoulder-width overhand grip pulldown, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A5: T-bar row, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
This giant set workout uses a wide variety of exercises designed to overload all of the muscles of your upper back including your lats, traps, rhomboids, spinal erectors and teres major. You will be sore in muscles you never even knew you had!
As you progress from one exercise to the next your muscles will be more and more fatigued. They will have no choice but to tap into “dormant” muscle fibers in order to help lift the weight. You can expect some serious gains from this routine. There is a reason Milos Sarcev uses giant sets with almost all of his bodybuilding training clients: they work!
Of course there are some drawbacks to giant sets. The first drawback is that they are very difficult to recover from. If you are an advanced bodybuilder who grows like a weed on high-volume training protocols then this will not be an issue for you.
However, if you have a hard time recovering from moderate-volume routines then this routine is not for you.
The other drawback to this routine is that it is very difficult to perform in a busy commercial gym. After all, trying to hog 5 different workout stations at a time is a great way to piss of the manager and get kicked out!
Despite these drawbacks giant sets are still an incredibly effective way to build a bigger upper back.
Part 4: Forced Reps Routine
And now it’s time for something completely different! Most bodybuilders respond extremely well to high-volume training protocols. However, there are always exceptions.
Some bodybuilders make zero progress on high volume training routines with lots of sets, reps and exercises. These guys quickly overtrain unless the overall training volume is kept relatively low.
Don’t worry, if you are someone who quickly overtrains on traditional higher-volume bodybuilding programs then there are plenty of other ways for you to make progress. You may want to try out a lower-volume / higher intensity type of training program.
And one of the best lower volume / higher intensity programs is Dorian Yates’ “Blood And Guts” program.
Dorian Yates used a unique training style to become the 6x Mr. Olympia champion from 1992 – 1997. He would perform 1 working set to failure or even beyond failure per exercise. His favorite post-failure training technique was forced reps.
Dorian would complete 5-8 reps on his own and then have a training partner assist him through the concentric range 1-3 additional repetitions. These forced reps allowed Dorian to absolutely annihilate his fast-twitch muscle fibers and place a large amount of eccentric stress on his muscles.
Of course if there is one body part Dorian was most famous for it was his upper back.
Here is a modified version of the exact upper back routine that Dorian used in the prime of his bodybuilding career. Check it out:
Modified Dorian Yates Forced Reps Upper Back Workout
- A1: Pullover machine, 1 x 6-8***, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Hammer strength bilateral pull down, supinated grip, 1 x 6-8***, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
- C1: Conventional deadlift from floor, 1 x 6-8, 4/1/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Seated 1-arm machine row, 1 x 8-10***, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
- E1: Bent over rear-delt DB flyes, 1 x 10-12***, 1/0/1/0, rest as needed
- F1: 90 degree back extension, BB on back, 1 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, rest as needed
***Perform 2 additional reps with the help of a spotter. For example, let’s say your goal for the set is 8 reps. You will complete 8 reps on your own where the 8th rep is a real grinder.
This training routine is definitely not for people who are afraid to push themselves in the gym. This Dorian Yates style back workout is all about intensity!
You are performing only 1 working set per exercise to failure. On the exercises where it is safe you are also performing 1-3 additional forced reps at the end of your set with the help of a spotter.
Of course that does not mean that you are performing only 1 set per exercise. You can perform as many warm-up sets as you need to in order to get to your heaviest weights for your 1 working set. Just make sure that the warm up sets don’t drain too much of your energy.
The basic idea is to create a large growth stimulus with that 1 working set. If you screw up that 1 set and don’t push yourself hard enough then you are not going to get the results that you want.
Low volume / high intensity routines are not for everyone. In my experience they work well for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders with extreme personalities. You have to really like enjoy training to failure and trying to beat the logbook every time you are in the gym.
If this describes you then go ahead and give this Dorian Yates style upper back hypertrophy workout a shot. Just make sure you give everything you’ve got on your working sets!
Part 5: A Brutal John Meadows Superset Workout
John Meadows is one of my favorite coaches in the fitness industry today. I don’t agree with everything he has to say about training. However, I have to respect someone who has an open mind and is constantly experimenting with new ways to build muscle mass in the gym.
Over the years John has come up with some very creative exercises and exercise combinations to overload lagging muscle groups. One of these exercise combinations that really stands out to me is wide overhand grip pull ups and rack deadlifts.
The basic idea is to perform a superset between these two exercises. You would perform a set of wide overhand grip pullups, rest 10 second and then perform a set of rack deadlifts from around mid-shin height.
This superset does a wonderful job of overloading the lats. Your lats actually work much harder than normal on the rack deadlifts because they were pre-fatigued with the pull ups.
Here is a John Meadows inspired back hypertrophy routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
John Meadows Style Back Hypertrophy Routine
- A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 5 x 5-7, 3/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Rack pull (mid-shin height), 5 x 8-10, 2/1/X/1, 180 seconds rest
- B1: One-arm barbell row, 3 x 12-15, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: One-arm dumbbell dead stop row (see video), 3 x 12-15, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Hanging lat stretch, 1 x 60-120 seconds, rest as needed
One of the downsides of this routine is you need to have a pretty strong strength base to perform this routine. In fact you should be able to perform at least 8 full range of motion wide overhand grip pull ups before you attempt it.
Keep in mind that a full range of motion overhand-grip pull up means that your upper chest touches the bar in the top position!
I am willing to bet most of you reading this are not quite there yet. In that case you may want to substitute the pull ups with some wide overhand grip lat pulldowns. Don’t worry, the routine will still be very effective with this exercise substitution.
If there is one area where I STRONGLY disagree with John Meadows it is on the importance of a training logbook. I strongly recommend that you record all of your workouts in a training logbook and try to beat your numbers each time you repeat this workout.
No, you don’t need add tons of weight to the bar every workout. I recommend you try to add 1-2% to each exercise each time you repeat this workout. That can be as simple as adding 1-2% in weight or shooting for 1 more rep on each exercise.
If you are not improving by at least 1-2% each time you repeat this workout then something is wrong. Perhaps this routine has too much volume for you. Or perhaps you need to change your training frequency. If you are a really advanced bodybuilder then maybe you need to rotate through 2-4 different back workouts before you repeat this one.
The bottom line is the logbook is the single best tool to figure out if you are progressing in the gym. Make sure you use one!
Part 6: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
Mechanical advantage drop sets are easily one of the most underrated hypertrophy training methods in the world. They are very similar to other bodybuilding training methods such as supersets, tri-sets and giant sets.
To perform a mechanical advantage drop set you are going to perform 2-4 different exercises in a row for the same body part. As usual you are going to rest about 10 seconds in between each of these exercises. The big difference is instead of using 2-4 completely different exercises you are going to use 2-4 different variations of the same exercise.
You want to start off the extended set with the exercise variation where you are weakest and finish with the exercise variation where you are strongest. For example:
- Exercise #1: Weakest mechanical position
- Exercise #2: 2nd weakest mechanical position
- Exercise #3: Strongest mechanical position
There is a very important reason why you want to sequence your exercises this way. As you move from one exercise to the next you are going to keep the total weight you are lifting the same!
For example if you are rotating through three different types of squats for your legs then you would keep the total weight on the bar the same as you progressed from one exercise variation to the next.
I want to make sure this all makes sense so here is Christian Thibadeau giving an excellent overview of mechanical advantage drop sets:
Mechanical advantage drop sets can be performed for nearly every body part. One of the best ways to design an upper back hypertrophy workout is to perform a giant set with four different types of lat pulldowns.
You would start with wide overhand grip lat pulldowns as your first exercise and progress to narrow / supinated grip lat pulldowns for your 4th exercise. You are stronger as you move from one variation to the next so there is no need to change the amount of weight you are lifting.
Here is how you would structure a full upper back workout using this method. Check it out:
Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Workout
- A1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldown, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Shoulder-width overhand grip lat pulldown, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest\
- A3: Shoulder-width supinated grip lat pulldown, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Close-grip supinated grip lat pulldown, 3 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: One-arm cable low row, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: One-arm hammer strength row, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
**AMRAP stands for as many reps as possible. Use the same weight you used on the “A1” exercise and perform as many reps as you can in good form.
There are many things to love about mechanical advantage drop sets. However, in my experience their biggest advantage is that they can be performed in a regular commercial gym. When you perform mechanical advantage drop sets you only have to hog one exercise station at a time.
For this workout you only need a lat pulldown machine. This means there is a 0% chance of anyone complaining to you for hogging multiple exercise stations at the same time. Other bodybuilding training methods such as Milos Sarcev style giant sets are much more difficult or even impossible to perform in a regular commercial gym.
I know many of you will overlook mechanical advantage drop sets when designing your next upper back hypertrophy routine. Don’t make this mistake! They are easily one of the most effective hypertrophy training methods you can use.
I’m talking from personal experience here. Many of my bodybuilding clients have gotten awesome results from mechanical advantage drop sets.
Part 7: Rest-pause training
If you respond well to lower-volume bodybuilding style workouts then there are two high-intensity training techniques that you need to be aware of:
- Forced reps
- Rest-pause sets
Forced reps were a favorite of Dorian Yates. The basic idea is a training partner helps you to complete 1-3 additional repetitions after you reach concentric muscular failure. Forced reps work extremely well for hypertrophy and strength gains as many bodybuilders have figured out.
The other high-intensity training technique that you should be aware of is rest-pause sets. Rest-pause sets are a post-failure training method invented and popularized by the amateur bodybuilder Dante Trudel.
To perform a rest-pause set you are going to train to failure three seperate times on an exercise with only 20-30 seconds rest in between each attempt. For example here is what a rest-pause set might look like in practice:
- Train to failure in the 7-12 rep range, rest while taking in 10-15 deep breaths
- Train to failure a second time with the same weight, rest while taking in 10-15 deep breaths
- Train to failure a third time, done!
Rest-pause sets give you an unbelievable blend of size and strength gains. Most trainees find that they can gain strength very quickly on rest-pause sets even though they are training in higher rep ranges. This is a good thing if you want to make progress over the long term.
It’s like Justin Harris likes to say: if you are getting stronger over time in bodybuilding rep ranges then you are going to grow – it’s as simple as that!
Here is a sample rest-pause style upper back workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Rest-Pause Style Upper Back Workout
- A1: Rack chins, 1 x 10-12**, 3/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Dante rows, 1 x 15-20**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- C1: Hanging lat stretch, 1 x 60-120 seconds, rest as needed
- D1: Barbell dead stop row, 2 x 12-15, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
**Performed as a rest-pause set. Train to failure in the 10-12 rep range, rest while taking 12-15 deep breaths, go to failure again with the same weight, rest while taking 12-15 deep breaths, go to failure again with the same weight, DONE!
Dusty’s back was actually one of his weaker body parts when he first started working with Dante Trudel. Now it is far and away his best body part. This is true for many other long-time DC Trainees or for anyone who has used rest-pause sets for a long time.
Dante Trudel has a saying: you can always tell a DC trainee by the size of his back.” If you are having a hard time getting your upper back to grow then I highly recommend you give this lower-volume rest-pause upper back workout a shot. What the hell do you have to lose?
Part 8: 6-12-25 Trisets
I first learned about the 6/12/25 method from the writings of Charles Poliquin many years ago. It has sense become one of my “go-to” training methods to use whenever I am working with a bodybuilder who is stuck at a hypertrophy training plateau. It almost always produces rapid size gains in intermediate and advanced bodybuilder.
At it’s core the 6/12/25 method is a special type of tri-set. You are going to perform 6 reps on your first exercise, 12 reps on your second exercise and 25 reps on your third exercise. For example:
- Perform exercise #1 x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2 x 12 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #3 x 25 reps, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!
In my experience 6/12/25 tri-sets work incredibly well for increasing the size of your upper back. You are performing low, medium and high reps as part of an extended set which allows you to target both the fast-twitch and the slow-twitch muscle fibers of the upper back.
This is great news because muscle groups such as the lats tend to have a wide range of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. This method will also give you one of the best pumps that you have ever had in your entire life!
No, having a skin-splitting pump is not the end-all be-all of building muscle mass. However, it is a sign that you are thoroughly fatiguing the target muscle groups.
Here is a sample 6/12/25 upper back routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
6/12/25 Method Upper Back Workout
- A1: Medium overhand grip pull 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: Seated cable rope face pulls (with max external rotation), 4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
This routine will work AWESOME as written for most of you reading this article. If you want to design your own 6/12/25 method routine then I have a few suggestions for you. The most important thing is to pick the right exercises for each of the target rep ranges.
I recommend that you pick an exercise that you can safely perform with very strict form for the 6-rep set. All types of pullups, chin ups and deadlifts work really well here. You can also use various rowing movements for the 6-rep set as long as you can perform it without using much momentum. Something like the seal row would work great here.
For the 12-rep set I actually recommend you pick an exercise where you can use a little bit of momentum or “body English” to get the weight moving. Exercises like lat pulldowns, t-bar rows and barbell dead stop rows work awesome here. Just make sure that you can stick to the 3/0/X/0 tempo for the second exercise. That means a true 3-second lowering phase!
For the third exercise I recommend you pick an easier movement where you can knock out 25 reps without having to worry too much about balancing the weight. Exercises such as seated cable rows and machine rows work awesome here.
Part 9: The Matt Kroc Back Attack
Matt Kroc was one of my absolute favourite powerlifters. I remember pouring through his training logs on Elitefts when I first started lifting weights in 2007. Matt was an incredibly strong powerlifter. He eventually broke the all-time powerlifting world record total in the 220 pound weight class.
However, the thing that really shocked me about Matt was his physique. Many of the top powerlifters in the late 2000’s were rather fat. Some of them barely even looked like they lifted weights!
Matt on the other hand had a physique that rivaled that of many national-level bodybuilders. He had a very proportionate physique but his back was by far his most developed body part. Matt had a thick pair of spinal erectors and lats that shot out so far it looked like he could just flap his lats and fly away!
How did Matt develop such an incredible upper back while training like a powerlifter? In my opinion it came down to Matt’s exercise selection. Matt relied on some unique exercises such as partial range of motion pull ups and “Kroc rows” to develop his incredible upper back. Of course there were also plenty of deadlifts thrown in for good measure.
Here is a Matt Kroc style upper back workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Matt Kroc Style Upper Back Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 5, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Wide overhand grip pull up (partials), 5 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Kroc row (straps), 1 x 20-30, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
I really want to bring your attention to the last exercise in this routine: the Kroc row. The Kroc row is probably one of the most under-rated upper back exercise in the entire world. This is THE exercise that Matt relied on to develop his backside more so than any other.
The Kroc row has a very interesting history. Matt first started performing heavy 1-arm dumbbell rows as a way to improve his upper back strength for powerlifting. Over time he found that getting stronger on 1-arm dumbbell rows was the key to improving his deadlift.
Matt started performing these rows with heavier and heavier weights and eventually Jim Wendler gave them the nickname “Kroc rows.”
In my opinion his exercise works for 2 reasons:
- You get an incredible loaded stretch in the bottom position
- You eccentrically overload your upper back on the way down
You really want to stretch out your upper back as much as possible in the bottom position. This stretch is the key to the whole exercise. I want you to think about pushing your hips and your middle-back region up towards the ceiling as you drop your working arm and shoulder down towards the ground.
Research has shown that these extreme stretching movements are incredibly helpful for stimulating muscular growth. I want you to initiate the movement on the way up almost like a deadlift.
You want to use your spinal erectors to gain some momentum with the dumbbell before using your lats and scapular retractors to pull your elbow back. If you do this correctly then you will be able to use a MUCH heavier weight than normal which allows you to eccentrically overload your upper back muscles on the way down.
I recommend you perform 1 all-out set of 20-30 reps per arm with lifting straps. If you perform less than 20 reps per set then you won’t get as much out of the movement.
If you want to learn more about Kroc rows then check out the following article:
Everything you could ever want to know about this superior exercise can be found there.
Part 10: A Brutal Drop Set Routine
Drop sets are one of the oldest high-intensity bodybuilding training methods. The basic idea behind a drop set is to train to failure or near-failure, then lower the amount of weight on the bar and continue busting out repetitions.
Drop sets are so effective because they prolong the total time under tension of the set and force your muscles to work much harder than normal.
Once again here is Christian Thibadeau giving a perfect overview of how to build muscle mass with drop sets:
These types of post-failure training methods are very effective for recruiting and fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers. You know, the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for growth.
There are many different ways to design a drop set workout. In my experience one of the best drop set protocols for training the upper back is the 12/6/6 drop set. The idea is simple: you are going to pick a weight you can lift for about 12 reps and then perform 12 hard reps with good form. A
fter your last rep you drop the weight by about 10-20% and perform another hard reps. You then drop the weight a second time and perform 6 more reps with the reduced weight.
Here is a sample 12/6/6 drop set workout for your upper back. Check it out:
12/6/6 Drop Set Workout
- A1: Wide neutral grip lat pulldowns, 4 x 12/6/6***, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B1: Meadows row, 4 x 12-15, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
***Performed as a 12/6/6 drop set. Perform 12 reps, drop the weight, perform 6 reps, drop the weight, perform 6 reps, done!
Don’t let this routine fool you: it is actually a high-volume upper back workout! You are performing 12 total sets of lat pulldowns (counting each drop set as 3 sets) and 4 total sets of Meadows rows. That’s 16 total sets just for your upper back!
This is not one of those routines where you perform several heavy warm up sets leading up to your 1 working set per exercise. Instead I want you to perform 4 seperate drop sets on the lat pulldown machine. If you are really training hard then you will probably have to decrease the total weight from one set to the next.
For example here is what an intermediate level bodybuilder’s sets might look like:
- Set #1: 240 pounds x 12 reps —> 210 pounds x 6 reps —> 180 pounds x 6 reps
- Set #2: 230 pounds x 11 reps —> 200 pounds x 7 reps —> 170 pounds x 7 reps
- Set #3: 210 pounds x 14 reps —> 180 pounds x 8 reps —> 160 pounds x 6 reps
- Set #4: 210 pounds x 12 reps —> 180 pounds x 6 reps —> 160 pounds x 5 reps
You might not get exactly 12 reps on your first attempt or 6 reps on your 2nd / 3rd attempts. That is perfectly OK. Just use these rep ranges as targets. The important thing is that you are really pushing yourself on all of these sets.
This routine can be performed anywhere from 1-2 times per week depending on your recovery ability. You can also perform these upper back exercises as part of a Chest / Back workout or as part of a more complete upper body workout.
Part 11: Yielding Isometrics
Yielding isometrics are an awesome way to train for muscular hypertrophy. It’s too bad that most people have never even heard of them! I first learned about yielding isometrics through Christian Thibadeau’s unbelievable book “Theory And Application Of Modern Strength And Power Methods.”
Christian is an unbelievable coach but he is not the best marketer. I think he would have sold more copies of his book if he called it “Cutting Edge Training Methods To Get Jacked And Strong As Hell!!!” Then again what do I know about marketing? I mean who names their website Revolutionary Program Design? But I digress…
There are 2 main types of isometric contractions:
- Overcoming isometrics
- Yielding isometrics
Overcoming isometrics involve applying force against an immovable object. For example if you try to lift up Thor’s hammer Mjollnir then you are performing an overcoming isometric contraction. The hammer will not move regardless of how hard you pull. Why? You are not worthy!!
Yielding isometrics are a little different. Instead of applying force to a fixed object you are going to try and prevent a weight from moving you. For example if you try to hold a gallon of milk out at arm’s length for as long as you can then you are performing a yielding isometric contraction.
Yielding isometrics are an effective tool for building muscular hypertrophy. The isometrics place a large amount of eccentric stress on your muscles and increase the production of various anabolic hormones including IGF-1 and mechanical growth factor.
In my experience one of the best ways to use yielding isometrics is as part of a post-failure scheme on pull ups. You would perform as many reps as you can on pull ups. Then on your last rep you will perform 3 seperate 8-second isometric pauses on the way down.
You could pause for 8 seconds near the top of the movement, at the mid-range and near the bottom of the movement.
Here is a sample routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Yielding Isometrics Pull Up Routine
- A1: Close supinated grip chin ups, 5 x 6-8***, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Smith machine dead stop row, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
***On the eccentric phase of your FINAL REPETITION perform three yielding isometric contractions for 8 seconds each each.
Yielding isometrics are a reasonably advanced training method. If you are not used to controlling the lowering phase of your exercises then you will have a hard time performing this routine. The isometric pauses are much harder than they sound!
If you perform them correctly then you may find your muscles are shaking as if you had a bad case of Parkinson’s disease! Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal.
Your muscles are just going into a state of “tetany” where all of the available muscle fibers are contracting as quickly as possible. This is definitely a good thing if your goals include building muscle mass and strength.
If you are interested in learning more about yielding isometric contractions then I highly recommend the following article:
I cover all kinds of isometric training methods that you can use to build a bigger, stronger you.
Building a huge upper back is very difficult. You have to be very creative and have a very high pain tolerance. I can’t help you with increasing your pain tolerance in the gym. That is just something that you are going to have to figure out on your own. However, I can help you with all things program design.
You now have 11 incredibly effective training routines that you can start using today to increase the size of your upper back. I can’t promise you that all of these routines will work for you. After all, we are all different. There is no single routine that will work for everyone.
However, I am confident that many of these routines will work AWESOME for you if you are willing to put in the work in the gym.
“Create a vision of who you want to be, and then live into that picture as if it were already true.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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