Welcome to the first installment of the “8 Week Intense Workout” series. This series of articles is going to pump out some intense workouts for each major muscle group. A new article will be released every week. Today we’re going to look at building a big, strong, v-shaped back with an intense back workout.
Before you read this article it’s important that you have a good understanding of what muscles make up the back. This workout focuses on the entire upper back. The muscles we will be working are lats, traps, rhomboids, teres major and minor, rear deltoids and infraspinatus. Secondary muscles worked are biceps and forearms.
Goals of this Back Workout
As quoted by IFBB pro bodybuilder Milos Sarcev, “The last 10 Mr. Olympia titles have been about who has the best back. Ronnie Coleman has one of the best backs ever seen in bodybuilding”. The point Milos is making is that having a big, strong, v-shaped back is critical to building a perfectly proportioned physique.
This workout aims to build real width in your upper back, as well as add definition in the smaller muscles like teres, traps, rhomboids and infraspinatus. This workout also aims to get you doing wide grip pull ups. If you’re serious about developing your upper back you should be doing wide grip pull ups. I’ve heard dozens of excuses why guys don’t do them, and I’m telling you now, none of these excuses apply here. You either do them, or forget this workout.
Wide Grip Pull Ups – The holy grail
As I just mentioned, wide grip pull ups are going to be a major focus of this workout. This is simply because they are the best exercise for developing your upper back. There’s no argument about it. I know most of you reading this article may not be doing wide grip pull ups or may have trouble with them. That’s OK, you can start using an assisted machine and work your way up to bodyweight. I don’t expect you to be doing bodyweight pull ups be the second workout, but by the 4th or 5th you should be there.
There are two key principals I used when putting this workout together. These principals are variation and intensity and are vital for muscle development. Your muscles need to be stimulated using a variety of techniques, weights and reps for maximum growth.
Variation is the key to any good training regime. This back workout uses 4 individual workouts and each workout is performed twice in the 8 week period. Each workout includes a mixture of heavy training, moderate training, supersets, drop sets, different rest times and different exercises.
Intensity is the latest buzz word in the bodybuilding scene. Intensity, or more importantly varying intensity, is a key element in the way modern workout routines are designed. Intensity can be controlled by rest times, exercises used and the advanced techniques used in a routine. This back workout is short and very intense, with the maximum workout time being about 40 minutes.
Don’t Forget Your Diet
If you don’t have the diet and supplementation (see bodybuilding supplements section for more info on supplements) to back (no pun intended!) this workout up, don’t even attempt it. There is no point in destroying your back in gym if your body does not have adequate resources to repair the damage. You need to follow the basic muscle building diet and nutrition principals.
1. Eat excess calories over 6-7 meals
This is muscle building 101, if you want to get big you’ve got to eat big. Loads of complex carbs, protein and essential fats spread over 6-7 meals.
2. Post-workout nutrition
When you complete your workout your body is crying out for nutrients to replenish those lost. Glycogen levels are low and must be replaced as soon as possible. Simple carbs are needed as soon as possible after you finish your workout to induce and insulin spike and replenish glycogen. A good post workout shake would consist of simple carbs, protein and possibly creatine and glutamine.
3. Eat before you sleep
Sleeping is the longest time your body will go without getting nutrients from food or supplements. Sleeping is also when the bulk of muscle repair and rebuilding takes place. So it makes sense to give your body some fuel before you sleep.
4. Carbs for energy
Don’t neglect carbs. People often associate carbs with fat gain. Carbs are essential to give your body the energy it needs to work hard in the gym. With a workout like this, you’re going to need all the energy you can get! Never hit the gym on an empty stomach, if you do that with this workout you’re probably going to pass out!
Overtraining can really limit your muscle gains. Remember, the less is more principal. Shorter, intense workouts with long rest periods will give you the best gains. This workout should be done once a week and should not be within 48 hours of your biceps training. This means you should not train your biceps the day before or after this workout, ideally you wouldn’t train them for at least 2 days before. Your biceps are used in every one of the exercises in this workout and if they’re not 100% up to the task you’re limiting your back’s growth potential.
Workout 1 – Weeks 1 and 5
We’re going to kick this workout off with some pull ups. If you have trouble with these, I want you to do as many as you can with your bodyweight then straight to the assisted machine to finish off the set. Don’t make the assisted machine too easy, you should barely be able to make your last rep of the set.
Next up we’re onto the first superset of the workout, lat pull downs and seated row. These exercises go together like Ronnie Colman and Mr. Olympia trophies! With both these exercises form is extremely important! I cannot stress this enough. It’s easy to let your form go out the window and start swinging the weights back, come on, we’ve all been there!
Lat pull down – sit straight up (don’t lean back at all!) and pull the weight on a 2-1-2 count. Count of 2 to pull the weight down, pause for a count of 1, then a count of 2 to lower the weight back up. If you’re doing them right, you won’t be able to use as much weight as usual but your lats will be burning after 10 reps.
Seated cable row – same deal as the lat pull down, 2-1-2 count. Sit with your back straight up and pull the bar into your stomach. Make sure your squeeze your shoulder blades together for the 1 count.
For the superset (and all supersets in this workout) you don’t get any rest in-between! That’s why it’s called a superset. Even 5 seconds is too much.
Now we move onto bent over barbell row. With this exercise we want to target all those small muscles in your upper back. So keep your back straight and use a wide overhand (palm down) grip. Pull the bar up to your middle chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
|Exercise||Sets and Reps|
|Wide grip pull ups||4 sets for MAX reps|
Lat pull down / seated cable row
|4 sets, 10 reps each exercise|
|Bent over barbell row||4 sets fo 10 reps|
Workout 2 – Weeks 2 and 6
Good news for you, no bodyweight pull ups this week! However, we are still going to be doing assisted pull-ups and we’re going to superset them with some close grip pull downs for variety. We are going to up the reps on the pull ups now, to 15. So set the assisted machine to a weight that allows you to just complete 15 reps.
The pull ups in this session need to be ultra strict, ultra slow and ultra long range of motion (and you thought you were getting out easy by not doing bodyweight pull ups!). We want to force as much blood as possible into the lats and hold it there for a long period of time. I must emphasize here, you want the longest range of motion possible. This means you should literally be hanging at the beginning of each rep. I want you to use the 2-1-2 count on this exercise as well.
So once you’ve completed a set of 15 assisted pull ups, finish off the superset with 10 close grip pull downs. I’m not going to lie to you, the close grip pull downs will be painful! Complete a total of 4 supersets.
Now we’re onto one of my favorite back blasting techniques, ascending and descending drop sets on the seated cable row machine. Choose a weight that you can semi-comfortably do 10 reps with.
The first set is going to be descending. So you start with that weight you just chose, do 10 reps, take off 20% of the weight and do another 10 reps, then take off another 20% of the weight and do another 10 reps for a total of 30 reps. This a basic drop set.
For the next set, we’re going to do the opposite. So you start with the lightest weight and move up. And for the last set back to the same as the first, starting with the heaviest weight.
To finish off this workout we’re going to target the upper back again with 3 sets of smith machine bodyweight pull ups. You should pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar. If you can still manage it, try to hold yourself up for a count of 1 for each rep.
|Exercise||Sets and Reps|
Assisted pull ups/lat pull downs (strict)
|15/10 x 4 sets|
|Seated row drop set||
Set 1: Ascending
Set 2: Descending
Set 3: Ascending
|Smith machine bodyweight row||8, 6, 6, 4|
|One arm cable row||3 sets fo 10 reps|
Workout 3 – Weeks 3 and 7
Back to bodyweight pull ups again this week. You should notice your strength difference from week 1. Again, if you can’t finish the sets of these with your bodyweight finish off the set on the assisted machine.
Next up we’re going to do a stock standard lat pull down drop set. Start with a weight you can manage for 10 reps and take one plate off the stack after each set. No rest in-between sets! Not even a few seconds, adjust the stack and straight back into it.
This is the first time we are using bent over rows in this workout. I want you to use strict for, heavy weights and low reps. Although this is a heavy set, if your form slips drop the weight. Form beat weight hands down.
Finally we finish this session off with one arm cable rows. Weight is not important here, we’re looking for perfect form and slow, long repetitions. Your arm should be fully extended at the start of the movement and the handle level with your hips at the top of the movement. Squeeze your shoulder blades hard at the top of the movement. Again, we want to keep to the 2-1-2 tempo.
|Exercise||Sets and Reps|
|Wide grip pull ups||MAX, 10, 8, 8|
|Lat pull down drop sets (strict)||3 drop sets of 10, 10, 10|
|Bent over row (heavy)||8, 6, 6, 4|
|One arm cable row||4 sets 15 reps|
Workout 4 – Weeks 4 and 8
Are you ready for this? We’re going to kick off this workout with a tri-set. The tri-set will consist of assisted pull ups, ultra strict lat pull downs and seated rows. No rest in-between at all. You will be doing 4 tri-sets in total.
After the tri-sets, you’re going to be pretty fatigued. This is why the next exercise is straight arm lat pall down. Don’t worry about heavy weights with this one, just focus on keeping your arms straight and not allowing the bar to go over shoulder height.
Our final exercise for this session will be smith machine bodyweight rows. Again, use a wide grip and pause for a 1 count at the top of the movement.
|Exercise||Sets and Reps|
Assisted pull ups/lat pull down/seated row
|10 reps on each exercise|
|Straight arm lat pull down||3 sets of 12 reps|
|Smith machine bodyweight row||3 sets of MAX reps|
Your Ego Stays Home!
Why do you go the gym? To lift the heaviest weight possible, or to build muscle? Remember this every time you’re in the gym because this affects all your training. Correct technique combined with increased resistance builds muscle. It’s not just a matter of lifting as much as possible. The main exercise I want to emphasize this in is the lat pull down. In this workout, lat pull downs are not meant to be used with heavy weights. The role of lat pull downs is to push more blood into the lats and hold it there for longer. So in this workout pull downs should be done with ultra strict form and very slowly. This means keeping your upper body upright (don’t lean back at all!) and pulling the bar down with a 2-1-2 count. Count of 2 to pull the weight down, pause for a count of 1, then a count of 2 to lower the weight back up. If you’re doing this correctly, your lats will be screaming after 10 reps!
Hit The Gym!
Alright, the time for talking is over and it’s time to hit the gym. Remember, you must follow what I have written here exactly. No cheating! You only get out what you put in. If you give this back workout 100%, keep your diet and supplementation up and get plenty of rest you should feel and see the difference in your back. The next installment of the 8 Week Intense Workouts series will be shoulders.
More workouts over at the workout section on this site.
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