Matt Kroc's 'Kroc Row' Back Workout

So you’re a bodybuilder, not a powerlifter? Who cares! Matt Kroc knows both. Get bigger and stronger doing his five-move back workout. Just try not to get crushed.

I was small and skinny throughout childhood. I didn't really have the genetics for lifting, but I always loved doing it. I always wanted to be big and strong. My first set of "weights" was a bent bar I found out in the woods, which I used to lift milk jugs full of sand.

Those days are long behind me. Now, I'm a powerlifting world record holder. In 2009 I earned that title in the 220-pound division by squatting 1,003 pounds, benching 738, and deadlifting 810 for a total of 2,551 pounds.

Although I take pride in my achievements, the road hasn't been easy. I've had a lot of injuries over the years, but I'm good at overcoming them. I also overcame a bout with testicular cancer back in 2004. I believe adversity makes us stronger. I'm fortunate to have gone through the things I have. They made me who I am today.

I thrive on the challenge. The harder it is for me to accomplish something, the more rewarded I feel. I had coaches in high school who told me flat-out that I sucked. I just filed those things away and used them as motivation. I think about them even now. If you tell me I can't do something, I'm going to do everything in my power to prove you wrong.

Kroc Row Video

Watch The Video - 13:01




The Kroc row is one of the things I'm most known for, and I built this workout around that movement. If you add it to your program, you'll build upper back size, increase your deadlift, and get crazy strong.

This workout is for anybody from the beginner to the pro-level athlete who is looking to gain size and strength to their upper back. People think that this workout is too much for a beginner, but beginners don't have the strength to tax their body like an elite lifter. The amount of weight you use is going to depend on your level.

Here are the movements you'll do:

EXERCISE 1 // Deadlifts
Warm up: 4 sets of 3-6 reps
Working sets: 2 sets of 3 reps
Rest: 2-3 minutes after each set

Kroc Knowledge:
Deadlifts are good overall back exercises. They're going to build everything from your spinal erectors to your traps as well as help you build thickness. They're also the base of any good back program.

Focus on technique. Place your hands on the bar straight down from your shoulders. When you pull the weight off the floor, keep your hips down, head up, and explode upward. Move the bar with speed. The bar should move in a straight line when it leaves the floor. Use an over-and-under grip. Fully pause the weight on the floor—no bouncing.

Have a training partner watch you from the side: If you have to pull the bar out and around your knees, you're setting up too close to the bar. If the bar swings in as you lift, you're setting up too far away from the bar. We're not going for pump; we're focusing on moving the weight explosively and making the muscles do the work.

As the sets get heavier, it gets more intense. I've learned how calm myself while I'm resting. Then I turn it on with a flip of a switch. You should develop your own way of finding your intensity.

EXERCISE 2 // Kroc Row
Warm up: 3 sets of 10 reps/arm
Working sets: 1 set of 6 reps/arm
Rest: 2-3 minutes after each set. On working set, rest 2-3 minutes between arms

Kroc Knowledge:
Kroc rows are basically heavy, high-rep dumbbell rows. It's about moving a lot of weight a lot of times. I think it's an underutilized exercise.

I've always had pretty decent grip strength, and I used a lot of dumbbell rows in my program. But there was a period of time when I let them go. When I went to college, the gym didn't have big enough dumbbells to do rows, so I stopped doing them. When I was getting ready for nationals that year, I started dropping my deadlifts.

I remembered that I hadn't been doing dumbbell rows. I realized what a significant role they played, so I put them back into my program. Because I was limited in the weight I was using—the heaviest dumbbell was 155—I just started doing more and more reps. I realized the more reps I did and the more weight I could use, the better my grip strength was and the better I could deadlift. My issues with my deadlift went away.

Obviously, I'm going to do more weight than most of you out there. Remember, it's not really about the weight on the bar; it's about the relation to your strength. Work up to a weight that's going to challenge you.

When doing a Kroc row, allow your lat to stretch out completely at the bottom of the movement. At the top, force your shoulder blades together. Focus on contraction.

EXERCISE 3 // Pull-Ups
Warm up: Lat pull-down, 2-3 sets of 10 reps
Working sets: As many sets as necessary to reach 100 reps
Rest: 2-3 minutes between sets

Kroc Knowledge:
I got this idea about how I do my chins from an old Arnold Schwarzenegger training article. The idea of doing 100 reps intrigued me, and I liked the pump I got from it. I use it to this day.

You don't see many big guys doing pull-ups. That's because most aren't able to. The bigger and heavier you get, the more your absolute strength will increase. But, your relative strength—or your strength in proportion to your body weight—will decrease.

So on a pound-for-pound basis, the smaller guy is always going to be better at pull-ups. That's why you see only smaller guys doing then. Fortunately, I've done a lot of pull ups, and I'm still able to do them. Pull-ups are very beneficial. Even the big guys should implement them.

EXERCISE 4 // T-Bar Row
Warm up: 2-3 sets of 10 reps
Working sets: 2 sets of 10 reps
Rest: 2-3 minutes between sets

Kroc Knowledge:
The T-bar row is one of my old favorites. When I do this movement, I'm trying to target my lower outer lats. The close grip, angle of the movement, and position of the elbow all lend to that. I focus on flexing my lower lats. When I'm coming up to the top of the motion, I squeeze them.

The weight I'm lifting might seem like a lot of weight to someone else. But when you've been competing in powerlifting as long as I have, 8-10 plates isn't that much.

EXERCISE 5 // Barbell Shrug
Warm up: 3 sets of 10 reps
Working sets: 2 sets of 10 reps
Rest: 2-3 minutes between sets

Kroc Knowledge:
Heavy shrugs have helped my traps more than anything. You can do shrugs during your shoulder or back training. I've done them both ways. Right now, it fits in well with my back training. Traps have always been one of my stronger points, so I feel comfortable with a lot of weight.

When performing shrugs, don't worry about pausing at the top or rolling the shoulders. Just go straight up and down.


"Kroc Row" Back Workout
  • Barbell Deadlift Barbell Deadlift

    Barbell Deadlift

    4 warm-up sets of 3-6 reps, 2 working sets of 3 reps
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row One-Arm Dumbbell Row

    Kroc Row

    3 warm up sets of 10 reps/arm, 1 working set of 6 reps/arm
  • Pullups Pullups

    Pullups

    2-3 sets warm-up sets of 10 reps on Lat Pulldown, As many working sets as necessary to reach 100 reps
  • Lying T-Bar Row Lying T-Bar Row

    Lying T-Bar Row

    2-3 warm-up sets of 10 reps, 2 working sets of 10 reps
  • Barbell Shrug Barbell Shrug

    Barbell Shrug

    3 warm-up sets of 10 reps, 2 working sets of 10 reps


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