Winter Muscle: The Best Back Exercises
For most bodybuilders and gym enthusiasts, winter means bulking season. It’s the best time to add mass ahead of next summer, upping calories and hitting the gym hard.
However, even the best protein shakes, meal plans and training regimes won’t help you reach your maximum mass gaining potential. In order to get the best size gains from your workouts, you need to focus on hitting groups of muscles at once.
Of the many muscle groups on the human body, the back is easily one of the bodybuilder’s most important. Your shoulders, lats and upper back will widen out your entire physique and help add visible mass to your entire upper torso. After all, how many people do you see with big backs but small chests? Not many.
So, in order to get the most from your winter bulk, make sure you incorporate back exercises. Here, we’ve picked five of the best back exercises to quickly pack mass onto your frame and build you an enviable set of wings.
This isn’t the first time we’ve ever mentioned deadlifts and it won’t be the last. The much-praised lift is one not to take lightly, as they can cause injury if you don’t do them properly. However, when performed right, the deadlift is one of the single best mass building exercises for your back and the rest of your body.
Deadlifts recruit a huge amount of muscles, promote central nervous system stress, and therefore hormone release, and also build up underutilised areas of the back, such as your spinal erectors.
Recommended reps: For mass, aim to perform 5 x 5 reps at around 75-80% of your one rep max. Make sure you take time to rest in between sets.
Variations: The standard deadlift focuses on the back, but also trains your legs and forearms. Many variations, such as the stiff leg deadlift and deficit deadlift focus more on the legs. As such, the best way to hit your back is to stick to normal lifts – but don’t be afraid to swap to a sumo stance if it’s more comfortable.
Pull ups in general are terrific for building mass, but if you’re looking to boost your winter bulk you’ll want to add resistance. One of the best ways to do so is to strap on a dipping belt, add a plate and start pulling.
Recommended reps: Perform 3 x 5 at as heavy a weight as you can manage.
Variations: You can adjust your pull-ups by intentionally slowing the lowering portion of the lift, which will help promote muscle hypertrophy.
You can also switch your grip to palms facing towards you in a ‘chin-up’ style to focus on your upper back and biceps.
Kroc rows are a row variation named after Matt Kroc, a powerlifter who has an enormous physique that any bodybuilder would be happy with. They are essentially heavy dumbbell rows, which both improve your grip for deadlifts and build size and strength in your upper back.
Unlike standard dumbbell rows, which are fairly precise movements where you sweep the dumbbell back in an arc, the Kroc row is a gritty exercise of you versus the dumbbell, hefting it up for reps. Brace one knee and one hand on a bench, rest the dumbbell on the floor and then start your reps. The goal is to go heavy and hard – hitting lots of reps.
Recommended reps: Perform 6-10 heavy reps on each arm as a warm up. Then go straight for 20 very heavy reps on each arm, until you either hit the amount or exhaustion hits you.
Variations: Kroc rows are already a variant of a standard row – however, if you’re struggling with the heavy weight, standard dumbbell rows can be swapped in, meaning you can perform a higher rep range with less intensity.
Rows and deadlifts are probably a few of the first movements you think of when it comes to the best back exercises – but most people won’t even consider the power clean. This Olympic-style lift works the entire posterior chain and also hones your traps and shoulders.
Like deadlifts, the multiple muscle groups recruited in the lift lead to a greater hormone response, which aids muscle growth.
Recommended reps: 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps will help promote explosive power and build up type II muscle fibres.
Variations: The power clean leads into the Olympic lift, the clean and jerk. Once you’ve got your power clean down, you can practice some clean and jerks to add explosive power and flexibility to your routine.
Alternatively, you can slow the movement down and perform a full clean and press, which is more of a strict military press than a ‘jerk’ – helping activate your traps and shoulders.
One of the most basic exercises imaginable, the standard shrug is actually one of the best ways to build a terrific set of traps, which enhance your back’s overall appearance. Performing heavy shrugs will help blast your traps and power up your physique.Recommended reps: 5 x 10 Barbell Shrugs
Variations: For some people, behind the back shrugs can help isolate the traps. You’ll need to decrease your standard shrug weight here and treat the lift like a reverse upright row in order to avoid injury.
Sample Back Routine
On any given day, adding these exercises together with more standard back lifts will result in a back day other gym-goers will want to copy.
- 5-minute rowing machine routine at a gentle pace
- 5 x 5 Deadlift
- 3 x 6-8 Weighted Pull Ups
- 5 x 10 Barbell Shrugs
- 3 x 8 Power Cleans
- 2 Sets of Warm-up Kroc Rows followed by 1 set on each arm to 20 reps or failure.
Like any mass routine, you’ll want to make sure you’re consuming plenty of calories throughout your winter bulk in order to succeed. The intensity you’ll be hitting the gym with demands to be fuelled, so be sure to check out our muscle building protein page to learn more about the body’s mass-gaining needs.
These exercises are only suitable for persons in good physical condition. Please consult a fitness expert before engaging in these exercises. You engage in these exercises at your own risk. GSK does not accept liability for any personal injury, loss or damage you may suffer as a result of engaging in any of these exercises.