Looking to add some mass to your back? I’ve got you covered, here’s an incredibly simple and effective mass workout for back, plus two back workout variations to help you maximise hypertrophy no matter what equipment you have access to. Here’s everything we’ll be covering:
- Your ‘Go To’ Mass Workout for Back
- Back Workout With Machines
- Back Muscle Workout at Home
- Best Exercises for Back Hypertrophy
- What is the king of all back exercises?
- Back Workout Equipment List
- Back Workout for Mass Routine
- Back Workout Program Questions
- Section 1: Sets and Number of Exercises for Back
- How many back exercises for mass?
- Is 3 back exercises a week enough?
- How many sets of back per workout?
- Is 4 sets enough for back?
- Section 2: Training Frequency for Back
- How often back workout?
- Is 2 back days enough?
- Is back day once a week enough?
- Section 3: Load and Weight Selection for Back
- Should you lift heavy for a bigger back?
- Section 4: Targeting Specific Back Muscles, Pairing Workouts and Overcoming a Back Plateau
- Which back exercises target which muscles?
- What muscles make back thicker?
- 1) Mass workout for back and biceps
- 2) Chest and back mass workout
- Why can’t I build a bigger back?
- Next Steps
Let’s jump right into it.
Your ‘Go To’ Mass Workout for Back
Alrighty folks, Here’s what I would call your number one, ‘go to’ back workout for mass. It uses a mixture of hypertrophy rep ranges and some of the most effective back exercises around. I’d maybe even go as far as calling this the best back mass workout (but we’ll talk later about how ‘best‘ is a tricky concept)
- Barbell Bent Over Row: 2-5 sets of 5-12 reps @ 2RIR
- Pull-Ups: 2-5 sets of 5-15 reps @ 2 RIR
Yep, only two back exercises, crazy right? Here’s the thing, you don’t need loads of exercise variation for back.
In fact, here’s a training video courtesy of the guys at Renaissance Periodisation going over EXACTLY why back training doesn’t need to be complicated…
Mass Gain Back Workout Explanation
This back workout is simple but incredibly effective, and at times downright brutal! You start with the barbell bent over row for anything from 2 to 5 sets of 5-12 reps, before moving onto pull-ups for anything from 2 to 5 sets of 5-15 reps. Both exercises are classic compound back exercises that allow you to deliver a tonne of stimulus to your back in a short amount of time.
I can 100% promise you that you don’t need a bunch of fancy drop sets, metabolite work or anything else to grow a huge back. Years of experience have taught me that the back muscles respond best to simple, straight sets in the 5-15 rep range taken reasonably close to failure.
Plus, both of the exercises in this back mass workout focus on allowing you to you achieve a deep stretch in your back under load, which is a factor in hypertrophy signalling and great for really putting some mass in your back
If you’re still not convinced, head to youtube right now, search for something like ‘calisthenics back workouts’ and look at the width of those guys’ backs! They’re insane, and literally all they do is pull-ups.
“Show me someone who can perform a set of 20 strict, controlled pull-ups, and I’ll show you someone with a BIG back” – Wayne Gretzky – Alex Parry
Back Workout With Machines
Next up, here’s a true bodybuilding back workout for mass that uses machines instead of free weights. This workout takes the exact same principles and structure of the first workout we looked at, but uses machines to allow for a real focus on mind muscle connection.
- Machine Seated Rows: 2-5 sets of 8-15 reps @ 2RIR
- Machine Lat Pulldowns: 2-5 sets of 8-20 reps @ 2 RIR
Here’s one of the all time greats, Arnold Schwarzenegger, hitting some hard sets of lat pulldowns…
This machine based mass workout for back sticks to the overall strucutre of the first workout, but differs in that you’ll be using slightly higher rep schemes. From experience, I’ve found that heavy machine or cable back exercises tend to feel awkward, and it can be hard to get good positions to pull from. Instead, we slightly lower the weight and hit a few more reps.
You’re still aiming for a controlled eccentric and a deep stretch under load on each rep, and you should really focus on feeling your lats do the work in those pulldowns.
Back Muscle Workout at Home
A lot of people really struggle to get a good back workout at home. Don’t worry though, I’ve you covered.
This mass building home back workout takes the exact same structure from the first workout and adapts it so that you can perform everything at home. The only equipment you’ll need is a simple pull up bar, or a TRX (both are super cheap online)
- TRX Feet Up Rows: 2-5 sets of 8-15 reps @ 2RIR
- Pull-Ups: 2-5 sets of 5-15 reps @ 2 RIR
I’ve even added some back exercise variations you can use at home down below, just in case you don’t have any kit whatsoever.
Bodyweight Back Workout Exercise Options
If you have absolutely no equipment and you’re super broke, you can still get a decent back workout in. I’ll be honest, it’s not gonna be the best back workout in the world, but you should still be able to add some size.
Table Rows instead of TRX Rows: These have you lying underneath a dining table and performing an inverted row movement. Focus on getting a slow eccentric and good stretch at the bottom, letting your shoulder blades retract.
L-Shaped (Feet Forward) Pull-Ups instead of regular pull-ups: These take a bit of setting up and getting used to, but when done correctly you can get a decent lat stretch. In fact I’ve used something similar in my own training for a few months.
Best Exercises for Back Hypertrophy
Here’s a quick list of some of the best back mass building exercises. Remember, the trick to ensuring maximum hypertrophy with these is to experiment and find the exercises which are best for YOU; that means they give you the best pump and disruption.
- Barbell Bent Over Row
- Barbell Incline Row
- Seal Row
- Dumbbell Bent Over Row
- Dumbbell Incline Row
- Machine Seated Row
- Pull-Ups (Palms away)
- Chin-Ups (Palms towards)
- Machine assisted Pull ups
- Machine assisted chin-ups
- Lat Pulldowns
Plus, you can also vary your grip width (narrow, regular or wide) with a lot of these exercises. Play around and find which feels best for you.
What is the king of all back exercises?
I get asked this question a lot, and here’s the truth, there’s no such thing as the king of all back exercises. All of the back exercises I’ve listed up above are great for adding mass to your back. It all comes down to which exercises work best for YOU, meaning the exercises that give you the best pump and the best localised disruption in the muscle during and after the session.
Pick 1-2 horizontal (rowing) exercises, and 1-2 vertical (pulling down) type exercises and work them hard, progressing in reps and/or weight over time.
Do that for multiple months, and I’ll bet my life as a coach that you’ll build a thick, wide back.
Back Workout Equipment List
Here’s some of the basic equipment you can use for your back workouts:
- Pull-up Bar or Attachment
- Weighted Vest
- Resistance Bands (Less Ideal)
Back workout gym machines
Here are some of the most common leg workout machines you’ll find in the gym:
- Machine Seated Row (Cable or Plate-Loaded)
- Machine Pulldown (Cable or Plate-Loaded)
- Assisted Pull-Up Machine
Back Workout for Mass Routine
Okay so now that you’ve got a few mass gain workouts for back that you can use, here’s how you might put them together into back workout plan or routine so that your training week has a more organised structure. Here’s a quick example of what your back routine could look like:
Tuesday: Back Workout 1
- Barbell Bent Over Row
Friday: Back Workout 2
- Assisted Machine Chin-Ups
- Machine Seated Rows
Weekly Progression On Your Back Workout Plan
Here’s a simple table showing you how you can progress your back workouts throughout your training plan. Notice how there’s an extra set in week 2, and then another extra set in week 3? You would only add these sets if…
a) You were not getting a good pump from the current sets
b) You were fully recovered going into your next workout
So weekly progression in your back hypertrophy workouts is autoregulated, which is a fancy way of saying, it all depends on how you individually respond to the number of sets.
You do more if you NEED more, but not just for the sake of it.
Back Workout Program Questions
Section 1: Sets and Number of Exercises for Back
How many back exercises for mass?
Typically anything from 2 to 3 back exercises per workout is a good number of exercises to use. Personally I tend to use 2 back exercises in any single workout, one vertical pull and one horizontal pull. Across a training week I’ll typically use 3-4 different back exercises.
Is 3 back exercises a week enough?
Yes, 3 back exercises a week is absolutely enough to build mass in your back. Getting quality back hypertrophy mainly comes down to making sure you perform enough sets of each exercise to get a good pump and some soreness the following day.
How many sets of back per workout?
Typically anything from 3 to 10 sets of back per workout is a good number of sets in order to build mass. Anything less than 3 sets and you’re unlikely to get enough stimulus, anything more than 10 sets and you’re likely going past the point of diminishing returns. The exact number of sets you should perform will depend on your sensitivity to training and training level.
Is 4 sets enough for back?
This is pretty variable. 4 sets is enough for back for some people, whilst for others it might not be enough sets to stimulate growth. You need to consider YOUR own personal training level and your sensitivity to training. A good rule of thumb is, aim to do enough sets that you get a decent pump in your back muscles, plus a some disruption/soreness the next day.
Section 2: Training Frequency for Back
How often back workout?
You can do a back workout as often as 1 to 3 times per week. This range tends to provide the best muscle gain results for back. If you only train once per week, you’ll likely need to do more sets in that session, whereas if you train three times per week you’ll need to do less sets in each session.
Is 2 back days enough?
Absolutely, 2 back days per week is enough for most people to add plenty of mass to their back. I’ve actually personally found that 2 back days per week offers me the best balance between volume and recovery.
Is back day once a week enough?
Doing a back day once a week is totally fine, and should get you decent results. With that said, a single session per week might not be enough total training volume for some people, as the back can often take a lot of training, especially if you’re a bit smaller, weaker or slower-twitch (you tend to have good endurance but not be very explosive)
Section 3: Load and Weight Selection for Back
Should you lift heavy for a bigger back?
You do not have to lift heavy for a bigger back, that’s just an old bodybuilding myth. Hypertrophy research conclusively shows that anything from heavier sets of 5 reps up to much lighter sets of 30 reps lead to similar muscle gain outcomes. My advice when you’re looking to gain back mass is to use the weights and rep ranges that give you the best pump and disruption.
For me personally, and for my athletes, I’ve found that most of our training falls in the 8-15 rep range for back.
Section 4: Targeting Specific Back Muscles, Pairing Workouts and Overcoming a Back Plateau
Which back exercises target which muscles?
Horizontal pulling exercises like barbell and dumbbell rows target your mid back, so muscles like your erectors, rhomboids, lower traps and to some extent your rear delts and lats. Vertical pulling exercises target your lats, and to some extent your rhomboids.
What muscles make back thicker?
Generally speaking, horizontal pulling exercises like rows make your back thicker, whilst vertical pulling exercises like pull-ups make your back wider.
What to workout with back?
There are loads of muscle groups that you can workout with back, two of my favourites are chest and biceps.
1) Mass workout for back and biceps
For a good mass workout for back and biceps simply add 1-2 bicep exercises to the end of your back workout, performing 2-5 sets of each bicep exercise.
2) Chest and back mass workout
Chest and back mass workouts can be structured as agonist-antagonist supersets. So a good workout might look like:
- Bench Press superset with Barbell Rows: 2-4 supersets
- Pull-Ups superset with Deficit Press Ups: 2-4 supersets
Why can’t I build a bigger back?
If you’re like most people, the main reason you can’t build a bigger back is because you’re not performing enough high quality training volume. Here are my three big suggestions:
1) If you’re only training back once per week, you probably need to train it twice.
2) Add an extra couple of hard working sets per week and see how you’re body responds to each workout
3) Make sure that each rep includes a slow, controlled eccentrci and a deep stretch in the target muscle.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Give one of these hypertrophy leg workouts a try, or consider having a look at custom programme options if you want something a bit more personalised.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.