Wide lats, thick traps, and a railroad-like lumbar are desires of most lifters. The problem is that only a few know how to get there. They toil with the pull-down, machine row, and other contraptions to make their dreams come true, only to find that they fall short of any semblance of progress.
Let’s break down what it takes to build an impressive back from top to bottom and finally get the results you’re after. Grasping what goes into a comprehensive back building plan can take some time, but it’ll be well worth it.
Why Build A Bigger Back?
What is your ultimate goal for building your back? Maybe you’re a beginner and have dreams of building an impressive physique or your back could be a weak point and you want an impressive, balanced body to show off at the beach.
Whatever your goal, you need to have an effective, no-fluff routine at your disposal.
Check Out: 27 Best Backs in Bodybuilding History
The Posterior Chain and Balance
Another thing to consider is the possible neglect of your posterior chain, which includes your back as well as your glutes and hamstrings. Most lifters focus on the mirror muscles — chest, biceps, and quads while ignoring those they can’t directly see in the mirror.
Many lifters kill their chest set after set on the bench press, pec deck machine, and cables. On the other hand, they only limit their back workouts to a few sets on the lat pull-down machine and cable rows.
It does not matter what your goal may be, you need to train your back with as much — if not more — intensity and focus as your chest or arms or whatever your favorite muscle group might be.
Balancing your physique and strength from front to back is essential not only for aesthetics but also for overall health and function.
Prioritizing Back Training
The next step after deciding on your reasons for wanting a bigger back is to streamline your back training regimen. Do you train your back with another body part or on its own dedicated day?
You’ll need to formulate a comprehensive plan of action and execute it with complete dedication because an effective back workout can be as exhausting as a brutal leg workout.
How To Program Back Training
Now, let’s delve into the mechanics of programming your new back workout routine. Later we’ll look at a few example routines for your specific goals.
Be sure to include both vertical and horizontal movements in your program. Some of the more common vertical exercises include different versions of pull-ups and pull-downs to develop width in both the upper and lower lats. Horizontal moves can include all types of rows using barbells, cables, and machines to add thickness.
Many lifters train their backs once per week. However, if you consider your back to be a lagging muscle group or want to improve your V-Taper, separation, or definition, you should consider training it twice a week.
More frequent sessions can translate to more opportunities for growth. For example, if you train your back once per week, that equals 52 workouts per year. Train it twice per week, and you instantly give it twice the opportunity for growth — 104 times per year.
No matter your genetics or predisposition for stronger versus weaker areas, your back can handle a lot of training volume. Additionally, it’s made up of many muscles and can be trained from different angles to ensure overall growth. 
If your back is lagging compared to other muscle groups, you do not have to confine your back workouts to the same number of sets as your stronger muscle groups. If you are already following a low to moderate volume workout, shock your muscles into growing by switching things up and hitting your back with 20-25 sets in every training session.
If your goal is building muscle then be sure to stay in the hypertrophic (muscle-building) rep range of eight to 12. For strength go for four to eight reps. Of course, you can always experiment with higher and lower rep ranges for any goal, but use these numbers as a starting point. 
Some lifters who consider their backs a weak point may need high rep ranges for two reasons — one, you may be the type who always goes heavy, and two, higher reps enable you to connect with the targeted muscle much more than a heavier, lower rep set.
Similar to rep ranges, rest might be another factor worth changing. Many back movements such as rows and deadlifts are traditionally done with heavy weight and low reps requiring longer rest periods for you to feel your best in each set. For strength-related training shoot for at least two minutes between each set.
For growth, the goal will be to recruit more muscle fibers for stimulation and fatigue those fibers. To achieve this you’ll need to adopt shorter rest periods. Go with a minute or less of rest if more muscle is the objective.
Rules For Form and Function
One last thing before we get to the meat of back training. It bears mentioning that you may need to shore up your form on back training. Many lifters will assume that all you need to do is pull. But there’s more to it than that.
Simply put, if you’re a beginner or not satisfied with your back progress, you’ll need to lower the amount of weight and relearn how to pull properly, and target those muscles more effectively.
- Grasp a bar or handle while thinking of your hands as hooks.
- Pull with your elbows and not your biceps.
- As you pull, imagine ropes or cables tied to the backs of your elbows. These imaginary ropes/cables will help pull your arms back, taking your biceps out of the movement.
- As you pull back, squeeze your shoulder blades and lats.
- Return to the starting position with a slow and controlled movement.
- Avoid straightening your arms at the bottom. Keep the tension on your lats the entire time. Many times straightening your arms will release the tension on your back and shoulder girdle and can hyperextend your shoulder joint, increasing your odds of an injury.
Sample Bigger Back Routines
Now, let’s get down to business. The sample routines here are divided up into muscle growth, strength, abbreviated for time constraints, and beginners. Feel free to try one for at least four weeks and then switch it up or you can rotate these around for variety.
Back workout for Building Muscle Mass
The following workout is for muscle growth. Yes, you’ll get stronger too but the priority will be to get a bigger, well-rounded, shapely back. Remember to adhere to the rest times and always be trying to perfect your form.
- Dumbbell pull-over or Straight-arm lat pull-down — 3 x 12
- Wide-grip pull-up — 30 or 40 reps (do as many sets as it takes)
- Chest-supported T-bar row — 3 x 12
- Close-grip pull-down — 3 x 10-15
- Single-arm dumbbell row — 3 x 8-10
*Rest 60 seconds between sets
Back workout for Building Strength
If strength is your goal the following workout is designed to do just that. As with the workout for more mass, this workout will also grow your back, but strength is stressed the most. Again, always remember that just because you’re lifting heavier isn’t a green light to loosen up your form.
- Neutral-grip pull-up — 3 x 5-8
- Barbell or hex bar deadlift — 5 x 5
- Bent-over Pendlay row — 3 x 6
- Wide-grip pull down — 2 x 12-15
*Rest 2 minutes between sets
Also Read: Best Old-School Back Workouts
Abbreviated Back Workout
If you’re pressed for time then this abbreviated workout will have you in and out of the gym in 20 minutes or less. It may seem a bit Spartan, but rest assured that it will get the job done.
- Superset: Straight-arm pull-down with wide-grip pull-down — 3 x 10-15
- Superset: Dumbbell pull-over with two-arm dumbbell row — 3 x 8-10
- Machine row — 2-3 x 10-15
*Rest 60 seconds between supersets and sets
Beginner Back Workout
If you’re a beginner then you’ll need to practice the basics first. Prioritize form and function and don’t increase your loads until you’ve perfected each exercise. The better you do in the beginning will determine your progress in the future.
- Chin-up — 30 or 40 reps (do as many sets as it takes)
- Bent-over barbell row — 3 x 8-12
- Close-grip pulley row — 3 x 10-15
*Rest 60 seconds between sets
More Back Workouts:
- Best Old-School Back Workouts
- The Best Workouts For Bigger, Stronger Back
- The 7 Best Lower Back Exercises + Workout
- Build Bigger, More Muscular Back in Less Time
- 4-Day Upper Lower Split For Hypertrophy and Strength
- Calisthenics Back Workout for Size and Strength
Whether you’re after size, strength, or are a beginner, rest assured there’s a workout for you to achieve just those things. All it’s going to take is a renewed focus and functional execution and you’ll be filling out those t-shirts in no time.
Take your back training seriously, prioritize it, and pay painstaking attention to detail. Apply the same focus and intensity as you would your chest and arms and you’ll start seeing real, solid results in size and strength.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, et al. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(1):94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764.
- McKendry, J., Pérez-López, A., McLeod, M., Luo, D., Dent, J.R., Smeuninx, B., Yu, J., Taylor, A.E., Philp, A. and Breen, L. (2016), Short inter-set rest blunts resistance exercise-induced increases in myofibrillar protein synthesis and intracellular signaling in young males. Exp Physiol, 101: 866-882. https://doi.org/10.1113/EP085647.