Because I train at home, I'm always looking for creative ways to train while utilizing the least space, equipment, and budget. It would be easy to look at my lack of cable stacks or rowing machines as a problem, but it's not. I can train effectively for strength, size, and conditioning using only my power rack and a few key accessories.
You can crush my go-to home back workout with minimal equipment for maximum gains. To perform it exactly like I do, you'll need a barbell, some dumbbells, a pull-up bar, a bench, and perhaps some rings or a TRX. But you can definitely make substitutions as necessary to make it work for your situation, and I've included some easy ways to customize it.
Of course, you can do this routine in the gym as well. Just don't be surprised if it makes you reconsider the way you've been training your back!
Inverted Row (Performed with TRX or rings)3 sets of 10 reps, 3-sec. hold at top, rest no more than 30 sec.
Triset Finisher: Use same weight for all three moves
Dumbbell low row (Shown with barbell)3 sets of 10 reps using neutral grip
Dumbbell high row (Shown with barbell)3 sets of 10 reps using overhand grip
How to Make This Workout Work for You
You can do this routine twice a week, or just weekly if needed. One of the beauties of it is that by simply changing the weight or rep range, you can turn it into a conditioning routine or a strength routine. You could double the reps, or simply add weight and do weighted pull-ups. It's completely customizable.
If you have rings or a TRX instead of dumbbells, for instance, by all means swap them out. In that case, you could also stick your barbell in the corner, landmine-style, and do your single-arm rows that way—but definitely put a towel down in the corner to protect the wall!
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Really, the only detail that will make or break this workout is the rest periods. I designed it as a one-person workout with minimal rest. If you have a gym partner, which I always recommend, you will really have to push the tempo. Since there are so many supersets, you can trade off as you move through the sets.
While I rarely time rest periods in my workouts, there should be a sense of urgency. Try to limit rest to under 30 seconds between exercises and 2 minutes when switching exercises.
Curtis' Technique Cues
Barbell bent-over row
That programming is no typo! I love hitting both of the grips when doing bent-over barbell rows. While many people are confused about this and ask me the difference, I feel they are so unique that it's almost like two different exercises. I intentionally split them up and always do them both.
Barbell bent-over row
To me, the wide pronated grip lets me get low to the ground and pull high to the chest. This allows me to better isolate my upper back and use the ground as a guide for each rep, assuring that I'm not standing up as I get tired. I reset after each rep and go from the ground, similar to a Pendlay row or a deadlift.
The narrower, supinated grip on the other barbell rows allows me to stay low, using lots of biceps, and targets the middle and lower back. When I do these, I keep them low and follow the thighs.
Pull-up and L-sit pull-up
I've always been a fan of pull-ups, or as we are forced to call them now, "strict" pull-ups. Incorporating the L-sit not only allows for some extra core activation, but also demands extra strictness. To do these, you simply have to control both your body and your breathing.
Yes, they're really hard at first, but if you focus on form and control, they'll make you a stronger, better lifter overall.
Inverted row with pause
A pause of about three seconds is a valuable addition to many movements, but I especially love using it with pulling or rowing exercises. Not only do you get an extra strength benefit from this squeeze, but it also dramatically increases both the burn you feel and the endurance you build. Don't cheat it. Really squeeze those shoulder blades together.
I love adding a finisher to all of my workouts. In my opinion, a good finisher should accomplish five things.
- It should target the same general area you have already warmed up and been working during your lifts.
- It should include movements that are relatively safe and low in weight, to reduce the risk of injury.
- It should keep your heart rate up while staying controlled and encouraging good form.
- It should target some of the little muscles you might have missed while focusing on your strength work.
- It should leave you completely exhausted, satisfied, and walking out with a larger-than-life pump.
Dumbbell reverse fly
As long as your version of this finisher meets those qualifications, go for it. You can definitely do the finisher on rings or a TRX, for instance. But whatever you do, don't skip this part! Finish your back, then walk away confident you've left it all in the gym—even if that gym is just a garage.