Advanced Back Training – 5 Alternative Upper Back Exercises
You’ve heard the terms before: barn-door back, lats like wings, big and wide. The back sure gets its due when it comes to nicknames and bragging rights, but how many of us really focus on training our back with any forethought?
Sure, you perform the requisite pull-ups/pulldowns, rows, deadlifts and throw in a few machine exercises to round things out nicely, but what about getting a little more creative? You will do crazy things for chest or arms so why not back?
Heaving the heavy iron and toiling away at said exercises is great. They build big, strong, thick muscle but what if you’re burnt out or need some change?
Let’s put on our thinking caps and look at a few unsung heroes of back-building. Below are 5 back exercises guaranteed to shake up your current routine and pile a few more pounds of muscle onto your frame. All that is required is an open mind and a little practice.
5 Upper Back Exercises for Advanced Gains
#1 – Landmine Row
The landmine device is a piece of equipment that is quickly becoming a staple in most gyms. It’s simply a floor plate with a sleeve for a 45-pound bar. This allows the bar movement and remains somewhat stable during lifts.
Think if it as one end of a bar shoved in the corner of your gym. Most will perform t-bar rows or one-arm shoulder presses. There’s no reason not to use this versatile piece of equipment for unilateral (single-limb) training. It will establish a better strength balance in your back.
The how: There are several ways you can set up this unique exercise. Load the bar with a moderate amount of weight and stand on one side facing away from the landmine. Bend your upper body over at the hips (do not round your back) and grab the barbell up near the collar.
Perform rows by pulling the weight up alongside your midsection and squeeze. Lower the weight under control and avoid heaving the weight back up. You can also stand perpendicular to the bar and grip the very end of the bar and row in the same manner as described before.
#2 – Snatch-Grip Row
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge proponent of the wide-grip, bent-over row. Since it would require the elbows to flare out to the sides it focused more stress on the upper back. Developing the upper back gives you that sought-after V-taper everyone wants.
This isn’t your standard bent-over row where you stand with your upper body at 45 degrees from the floor. With a snatch grip (your grip located almost to the weight plates) you will have no choice but to focus more on the back pulling instead of biceps.
The how: Stand facing a barbell and bend over at your hips (again, do not round your back). Your upper body should be as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Grip the barbell as wide as you comfortably can (close to the collars) with an overhand grip.
With your back in a stable position and your knees slightly bent, pull the weight up to your midsection while focusing on your back pulling the weight up. Once at the top return the weight to the bottom position for a deep stretch. Be sure not to swing the weight up as you will risk serious injury.
#3 – Staggered-Grip Pull-Up
There is no other back exercise as effective or impressive than the pull-up. Some may argue that deadlifts are king. Everyone can deadlift, but not everyone can do a series of pull-ups.
Wide-grip, narrow-grip, reverse-grip or parallel-grip the pull-up is as challenging as it is a true showcase of bodyweight strength. If you find yourself on the pull-up side of the spectrum and need a new challenge try performing then with a staggered grip.
The how: At first you will want to start with a shoulder-width grip. Grip the bar with an overhand grip with one hand and an underhand grip with the other. Slowly and under control pull yourself up to the bar leading with your chest.
Be sure to pull more with your elbows and use your hands only as hooks. Squeeze at the top and return to the start. After one set is completed, rest and repeat switching the over/underhand grip for each hand. Keep alternating grips for all sets.
#4 – One-Arm Barbell Row
If you want to add thickness and overall muscle mass to your back, then rows are your best bet (maybe next to deadlifts). Barbell, T-bar, and dumbbell rows top the list for variations. Since you are somewhat limited to two planes of motion while building back (vertical pull: such as pulldowns and pull-ups and horizontal pull: such as rows) then some creativity is in order.
Enter the one-arm barbell row. This variation will force you to slow down the rate of pull to balance the weight. This will require you to perform the movement slow and controlled while focusing more on stimulating muscle versus using momentum.
The how: Get into the one-arm row position – knee and hand on a bench with your other foot on the floor and your body roughly parallel with the floor. Grasp a barbell in the center of the handle and row it up slowly and under control toward your waist. Focus on your back while you pull and then return to the starting position for a stretch.
Again, the key here is to raise and lower the weight slowly an under complete control. Keeping the barbell balanced will prohibit you from throwing the weight around and use momentum. This will give you one, unique pump.
#5 – Banded Barbell Row
As stated earlier, rows are an integral part of the bread and butter back exercises. So now, let’s combine rows with some band work for a crazy and intense pump. Band work is another technique that has taken off lately.
Using a phenomenon known as linear variable resistance (LVR) bands make even the lightest weight seem extremely challenging. By making the weight seem heavier as you lift the bands provide an increased resistance throughout the range of motion.
The how: Set-up a barbell with moderate weight (lighter than you’re used to). Affix a band on each end of the bar near the plates. The band should be strong enough to elicit a significant amount of tension. Next, step on the very center of the band with both feet. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip just wider than your shoulders.
While maintaining a near parallel position with the floor row the bar up to your midsection. Feel the tension increase as you lift and try to squeeze the weight up. At all costs, avoid swinging or heaving the weight up. You want to take advantage of the bands so textbook form is a necessity.