In the words of the strongest man of all-time, Bill Kazmaier, “Strong back equals strong man.” True enough but what if you just want to train for a “big back?” Typically, guys train for one of the other, adhering to a few weeks of 5x5 to build strength before diving into higher-rep work to fill out a bit. Strength then size. But training for a powerful, sinewy back doesn’t have to be as specialized as that.
A recent study out of Japan showed that when a back-off set of 20 reps was added to a 5x5 program, muscle hypertrophy gains were eight percent greater than with a stand-alone 5x5 regimen, and increases in strength gains were also noted. Another recent study showed that muscle hypertrophy gains from a powerlifting and bodybuilding regimen were virtually identical.
That’s right: you stand to gain size whether you’re training with 65–80 percent of your one-rep max (1RM) at 6-15 reps or fewer reps at 90 percent of your 1RM. The addition of the 20-rep set provides much-needed volume to break down additional muscle fibers and trigger additional growth.
The best physiques — the ones that have truly maximized hypertrophy — train with a holistic approach that maximize the pump and use progressive overload to get stronger.
This workout is a quintessential, hybrid approach to no-nonsense back training that includes heavy compound lifts and lighter isolation work.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
5/10 (each arm)
Use a weight that is the equivalent of your six-rep max (6RM); for most lifters this will be in the ball park of 85 percent of a one-rep max. Use a conventional stance and use the same weight on all sets. Take a rest interval of one minute between sets 1 and 2, two minutes between sets 2 and 3, three minutes between sets 3 and 4, and four minutes between sets 4 and 5. Wait three minutes before beginning one-arm dumbbell rows.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Wear straps as needed — grip should not be the limiting factor. Do these with one knee on a bench. Get a contraction at the top and full stretch at the bottom. Take a rest of one minute between sets 1 and 2, 90 seconds between sets 2 and 3, 120 seconds between sets 3 and 4, and finally three minutes between sets 4 and 5. Wait two minutes before beginning straight-arm pull downs. Use a weight that is the equivalent of your 12-repetition max. It’s your goal to use the same weight all five sets.
Keep arms straight and keep tension purposefully on the lats -- absolutely no cheating! If form deteriorates, lower the weight, and rest one minute between sets. Your goal is to be able to use the same weight for all five sets.
This is 180 degrees from the newest fad workout; this is a no-frills synergistic blend of science and anecdotes that will help take your back development to the next level!
Pay very close attention to the rest intervals; their adherence is the cornerstone to this workout.
Time to hit the pig iron!