It's understandable that you'd watch a video like Abel Albonetti's high-volume back workout and try to keep up rep for rep, set for set, and pound for pound. If you've been lifting for as long as he has—12 years and counting—and know your strength and endurance limits, then maybe you can.
But, as Albonetti points out at the start of this video, "I've been pushing my body to the limit for years, but if you're fresh at the gym don't come in here and do my exact workout. You will end up hurting yourself."
Instead, he says, ease into it. If he calls for 5 sets of an exercise, start with 2 or 3 sets, see how it feels, then increase or decrease the sets until you feel challenged—not obliterated.
You might wonder if you can still build muscle if you're doing less volume than he is.
"You're going to see the same benefits," Albonetti says, "because your body isn't as used to working out."
Experienced lifters fondly remember when they first started weight training and it was so easy to add muscle. The longer you lift, the harder it is to do it.
No matter how long you've been at it, this workout from Abel Albonetti is going to soak your shirt and put your teeth on edge—but that's what you're after, right? So dig into it and enjoy the ride.
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Wide-Grip Lat Pull-down
As Albonetti says, customize each exercise to your ability level. "There's no need for you to do five sets of something and really just burn yourself out when you could grow by doing only 3 sets," he says.
For this first exercise, he does 5 regular sets, then one triple dropset: 6 reps at the weight he used for the first 5 sets, then 6 more reps at a lighter weight, and another 6 at a still lighter weight.
For hand placement, Albonetti says to put them wherever it feels like they help engage your lats the most. He tends to put his hands closer together than what many people would consider a wide-grip position.
Bent-Over Barbell Row
Start with 4 normal sets, then move into another triple dropset. If you're new to the gym, don't push your limits on weight. Notice when Albonetti does these, there's a little sway in his back when he come up, but he is very careful not to bend his lower back.
This exercise is normally done with barbells, but it works perfectly well with dumbbells, too. Whatever you use, take it slow and keep your back straight and parallel to the floor as you row. At the bottom of very rep, reset by putting the weight on the floor for half a second before pulling it straight up again. This short break removes the momentum from the rep and forces you to do a little more work.
Superset: Seated One-Arm Cable Pulley Row and Straight-Arm Pull-down
The one-arm cable pull provides an opportunity to work on the mind-muscle connection. Doing this exercise one arm at a time enables you to really pay attention to the muscle as it moves from contraction to lengthening with each rep. Abel further emphasizes the feel of the movement by adding a slight rotation at the back of each rep.
Finish each set of rows, then move directly to the pull-downs, emphasizing a lat stretch at the top of the movement and controlling the movement on the way down.
Superset: Seated Cable Row and Close-Grip Lat Pull-down
Albonetti calls out 4 sets of 12 reps, but he tends to go to failure. As you can see in the video, when his arms and back get torched, he pulls hard on the cable and leans way back to give himself a rest-pause under tension before trying to gut it out for a couple more reps. Just remember that he's been doing this for more than a decade and has trained himself to work this hard. If you're new to the game, don't overdo it. He uses a V-grip for both his cable rows and his pull-downs instead of the usual bar.
Albonetti ends the workout by being a nice guy and doing just a single dropset of lat pull-downs, instead of the triples he's been doing throughout the workout. Reduce the weight just one time, go to failure, and you're done!
If you like this workout, check out Albonetti's "How To Get Six-Pack Abs Using Supersets," his "Super-Pump Arm Workout," and his "Shoulder Workout That Overcomes Any Training Plateau."