The «back region» consist of several muscles as you can see from the 2 pictures below it is quite complex. Most people can relate to the simplified version. As a result from looking at the pictures you could question yourself if only doing some isolated lat pulldowns and bent over rows is enough to target the majority of muscles. A typical starting conversation at the gym could look like this:
Person A: “What are you training today?”
Person B: “Today its back”
Person A: “What do you do for back?”
Person B: “Back raise, lat pulldown and seated rows”
I think you get my point by comparing the conversation to the 2 pictures below. Too many times I have asked the questions hoping at least deadlift or some other heavy compound movement was included, but to my disappointment “Malibu-Ken” still believes he can build a great back with 2-3 isolations moves. If you want to build serious mass to you back you need to focus on big heavy compound movements. This applies for back probably more than any other. In order to do so effectively you can alternate 2 back sessions; one week you focus on deadlift (purpose being it is a powerlift), the other week you do a variation. If you decide 2 have to back session in a week, I advise you to cut back a bit on the volume for the alternate day and make sure you have at least 2 days between the sessions.
I have applied alternate sessions for back for several years with great success. The alternate day will change over time and I will swap in and out exercise in order to tweak things a little. Currently, I am doing rack pulls together with power shrugs. Another version would be to do SLDL (stiff legged deadlift) together with bent-over rows. By bent-over rows I mean where your back is parallel to the floor and not the type where you arch your back in a 60 degree angle and let the weights rest on your quads while you pull them up and down. That’s how weak people do barbell rows and they will always stay weak that way!
When entering an off-season and your main goal is to achieve some more mass in the back region there are several regiments you can follow. Nevertheless, the key is periodization where you ramp up weight over time and reduce reps accordingly. The off-season is also a time where you normally will lower the weights to some degree and try to get a strong as possible at a given rep range. Normally the rep target will be 5. Sets of 5s is the key to get bigger and stronger at the same time. Sets of 5s allows you to ramp up weights and thus adding more volume over time than sets of 15 would do.
Focusing on the back I came across a regiment outlined by Marty Gallagher in his book “The Purposeful Primitive” and it is called Progressive Pulls. Progressive Pulls consists of several compound pulling movements that target the back, normally 5 exercises done for 2-3 sets each and where you will cycle the rep range and ramp up the weights. A cycle could last from 6 weeks and up to as many as you want. In his example you start with doing 2-3 sets of 10 reps the first two weeks, then 2-3 sets of 8 reps and the final two weeks you do 5 reps. For advanced lifters you can reduce the rep range and end up with doing triples and even doubles in the final weeks of the cycle. The first week will always be an assessment week, where you try to figure out your initial poundage and then you add 2,5kg per week (5 kg for the deadlift). The key is to start off light enough to allow you for increase over the next weeks.
An example of exercise making up the progressive pulls could be:
- Power Clean
- High Pulls
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift
- Bent-Over Rows
A different approach that you can do as a replacement or as an alternation in a different week is:
- Power Clean
- Rack Pulls or RDL
- Power Shrugs
- Bent-Over Rows
The last one allows you to move heavier weights due to the reduced range of motion (ROM) on some of the lifts. Normally this is something you can convert to after doing the first example for 1 or 2 cycles.
So, there you have it. Include this in your training regimen and make sure you support it with proper diet and adequate rest. I know this will be a struggle for some people, but I will revert to one of my favorite quotes:
Significant change requires significant struggle!