A not-so-secret secret among ladies who lift is that a strong, defined back is, well, sexy. Building up your lats and capping them with round, full shoulders adds to a curvy and defined athletic figure, making your waist appear narrower and balancing out the muscle in your legs.
"People have this misconception that if you lift like a guy, you're going to look like a guy," says Cassandra Martin, an Instagram fitness sensation and Gym Shark-sponsored athlete. "It's all in the way you carry yourself. I think the way bodybuilders look is a beautiful shape anyone can achieve."
Martin's current physique reflects time spent hitting the gym 5-6 days a week to work on PRs.
"As I got stronger, I grew more obsessed with lifting a lot of weight," she explains. "And when my body started to change, it was always for the better."
She also likes to post progress pics in hopes of inspiring others.
For her back workout, Martin likes to lift heavy with lots of volume. The seven lat-dominant exercises in this workout help build muscle in her back while increasing her total-body strength. She recommends doing this workout once a week to give your muscles plenty of time to recover and grow.
Superset: Pull-Up and Wide-Grip Lat Pull-Down
Start this heavy, high-volume workout off with a superset. Wide-grip pull-ups pair with wide-grip lat pull-downs for 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
"I really like to use straps when I do wide grip pull-ups," explains Martin. "It helps put tension on my back and take the tension off of my forearms."
If you can't do 8-10 pull-ups by yourself, use an assisted pull-up machine to help you, or grab a partner and have them help you during the lifts.
When doing lat pull-downs, emphasize feeling the squeeze in your lats. Leaning back a little bit targets the middle part of your back. Martin used the D-bar for her pull-downs, but you can use any bar you want.
This classic exercise comes in several variations, but they all start with a hinge at the hip, keeping your back straight, core engaged, and neck neutral. Grip preferences differ.
"I like to use an overhand grip," says Martin. "It helps me bring my elbows in and focus on the squeeze."
Use a slow, controlled movement to squeeze up the weight, keeping momentum to a bare minimum. Maintain the bent-over position and engage your core throughout the exercise.
Get into position by bending your body at a 45-degree angle so you can align yourself properly with the bar. As with the bent-over row, keep your back straight and core tight to protect your spine.
With its fixed pivot point, the T-bar row gives you better leverage to maximize your lifting potential, something Martin takes full advantage of.
"I like to use a lot of weight for this exercise," she explains.
If you choose to follow her lead and load up the plates, use a spotter.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
These are great for isolating each side and working on back detail. As Martin explains, you can perform rows on the bench or next to the rack—whichever is more comfortable for you.
"I like to put the dumbbell on the floor and put my other hand on the rack for stability so I get the deepest stretch and squeeze possible in my muscles," she says.
Again, focus on pulling up the weight using your back muscles, not just trying to lift it with your arms. Complete 4 sets of 8-10 reps per side.
Seated Cable Row
Basic and straightforward, old-school seated cable rows are a staple of any good back routine.
"I like to use a narrow grip on this exercise," says Martin. "I prefer placing my hands lower and pulling the handles toward my belly button."
Sit upright with your knees slightly bent and your feet on the platform. Keep your upper body stationary as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and draw back the handles, maintaining a neutral spine. Pause briefly before returning to the starting position.
Using the wide-grip handle for this exercise places the emphasis on the lats. Martin bends at the hips to a 45-degree angle, giving her the extra room to stretch her shoulders up through their entire range of motion on every repetition.
As you pull the weight down, keep your chest forward and your head up. This will keep you from rounding through your shoulders and using your upper traps to pull down the weight.
This is a lot of volume, so dig deep and finish strong on this last heavy back exercise.