Your back is an essential piece of a balanced, symmetrical physique. Start building yours with IFBB Figure Pro Jessie Hilgenberg's video back workout!

As a figure competitor, it's imperative for me to train my back. During shows, I have to do quarter turns and show my back to the judges. I could have a bunch of great muscle groups, but if my back isn't up to par, my physique would be lackluster and I wouldn't place well.

Even if you're not a competitor, your back is an important part of a complete, balanced physique. It's also important to train your back because it should be strong for postural and athletic reasons. You won't be able to squat or do a plank—two essential movements—if your back is weak.

Back training often passed over because you can't see your back while you train. You can build up great muscle groups at the front of your body because you can see them in the mirror, but consistently training your lats, traps, rhomboids, and rear delts takes a lot more effort.

That's why today, we're going to focus on the back. Your back is a large muscle group, so we'll hit it hard with some great compound exercises and complement them with isolation lifts.

The main goal of this workout is to focus on your mind-muscle connection. I want you to work on visualizing every exercise. Focus on the details. It's easy to grab a heavy barbell and bust out some rows, but do yourself a favor, put the pin up a couple notches, and use less weight. Your back will thank you!

Warm-Up: Wide-Grip Lat Pull-Down

3 sets of 10 reps, limited rest between sets

Hilgen-Hint

I always start my back workouts with one warm-up exercise. I like lat pull-downs because they wake up my muscles, pre-exhaust my back a little, and remind my body to use my back muscles. I set the weight low and add weight each set to see how my body feels that day and decide which weight I'll use throughout the workout.

"I like lat pull-downs because they wake up my muscles, pre-exhaust my back a little, and remind my body to use my back muscles."

EXERCISE 1: Pull-Up

1 set to failure, 8-10 reps, 3 sets of 3-5 negative reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

I do my pull-ups at the beginning of my back workout because I have the most energy for them. If you can't do a pull-up, you can get assistance from a training partner, bands, a machine, or simply try doing negatives. Don't worry if you can't do full pull-ups. I've been working on them for a long, long time.

For negatives, pull or jump up to the top position of the exercise and then lower yourself down as slowly as you can. It's a great way to build up strength so you can become an absolute pull-up badass!

"If you can't do a pull-up, you can get assistance from a training partner, bands, a machine, or simply try doing negatives."

EXERCISE 2: Parallel-Grip Lat Pull-Down

4 sets of 10 reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

I feel a little tired after finishing my pull-ups, so I like to do pull-downs because they isolate my lats and aren't so taxing. I use a parallel bar for a different grip so I can work my lats from a different angle. I also like the parallel bar so I don't perform back-to-back exercises that work my muscles in the exact same way.

As you do this lift, pull your elbows outside of your torso and get a good squeeze in your lower lats. Focus on moving the weight with your back, not your arms.

"As you do this lift, pull your elbows outside of your torso and get a good squeeze in your lower lats."

EXERCISE 3: Underhand Seated Cable Row

4 sets of 12 reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

I use less weight than most people on this exercise so I can focus on the contraction and hold the contracted position. Don't allow your biceps to do the work. Think about using your arms as levers and allow your back to be the catalyst for the movement.

"Think about using your arms as levers and allow your back to be the catalyst for the movement."

EXERCISE 4: Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

3 sets of 15 reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

I like to throw in single-arm movements to keep things interesting and to work different muscles. Because you don't have any support other than your hand during this exercise, keep your core tight. Keep the weight low and pull your elbow as far back as you can to tie in those mid traps.

"Keep the weight low and pull your elbow as far back as you can to tie in those mid traps."

EXERCISE 5: High-Pulley Cable Face Pull

3 sets of 15 reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

Face pulls are a unique exercise you can use on your shoulder or back day. I can work just my rear delts, or I can pull back a little bit farther to incorporate my rhomboids and my upper and middle traps. Don't use much weight for this lift. Feel the contraction and hold it for a second.

High-Pulley Cable Face Pull

EXERCISE 6: Seated Cable Row

4 sets of 12 reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

I come back to seated cable rows twice in this workout. This time, I use a different attachment and grip. Pick a wider-grip attachment so your arms can clear your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to work on those mid traps. Remember not to use your biceps. Think about which muscles you want to recruit before you even start lifting.

"Squeeze your shoulder blades together to work on those mid traps."

EXERCISE 7: Incline Bench High Cable Pull-Over

3 sets of 15 reps, rest and stretch for 30 seconds between sets

Hilgen-Hint

This is a finisher exercise that will hit those lats one last time to burn them out. I choose to use the incline bench and pull all the way over because it delivers a huge stretch on the lats. I get to isolate my lats as I pull the weight down.

It can be tempting to use your triceps for this movement, so keep your wrists totally straight and your elbows locked. Focus on pulling through the lats.

Incline Bench High Cable Pull-Over

More Hilgen-Hints!

  • Train your back at least once per week, if not twice. Remember, we want to build a balanced, symmetrical physique. So if you've been skipping back day, it's time to re-focus.
  • I always use straps on my back days to take my grip, my forearms, and my biceps out of the exercises as much as possible. I also like to use hooks for rowing movements.
  • I definitely have some intense leg workouts, but my back workouts are a little more delicate because they're important and they're planned out so carefully. I often close my eyes, pull the weight back, and hold the contraction. I like to feel the muscles working.
  • A good rule on any back exercise is to keep your butt out, your lower back arched, and your chest out. It's an athletic, secure position that keeps your spine safe and your core engaged.

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