Turn Back The Clock To The Ultimate Back Workout

When it comes to building a serious back, modern machines aren't the answer. But this old-school workout from USPlabs is.

Within the modern exercise community, many classic movements that were once the foundation of the "iron-game" have disappeared. Part of the blame rests in the change of the modern facility to suit less "hard core" movements, as well as the public's preference for machine-based training.

This results in a series of problems for dedicated lifters and someone just entering the iron-game, as many approaches cannot be performed or taught in the modern gym. This has created a peculiar situation during the last 20 years. Modern supplementation has improved tremendously, though the iron-game has not kept pace.

Back to the Basics

One of the worst areas affected by this is "back" training. Building a powerful, broad, thickly muscled back is crucial for the success of athletes, strength-athletes, bodybuilders, and those simply trying to improve aesthetics and live healthier.

The modern gym, as well as "expert advice," often leads gym-goers to pull-down machines and away from the true foundation of back training, which starts with proper movement generation, posture, control of eccentric action, and must stick to basic movements at all times.

Modern Machines
Modern machines can't hold a candle to old-school back basics.

A proper back training program revolves around the following three basic exercises:

  • Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps at 80-85% of 1RM (snatch-grip is preferable in most cases, but standard overlapping grip is suitable)
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3-4 sets of 5 reps at 80-85% 1RM (including dumbbell variation as well as overlapping and reverse-grip)
  • Pull-up/Chin-up: 3-4 sets of 6+ reps (numerous variations)

Through your lifting career, back training will not detour far from these basics, which allow you to vary the movement, set-up, choice of medium and tempo. Training should include these movements on a regular basis, and given the ease of varying the exercises, concerns of adaptation are lowered.

Back Attack


The rules of contraction do not change with back development, though they are considerably more challenging than biceps training. At the apex of each repetition, the muscle group should be squeezed very hard for a 2-3 count. Naturally, this is not likely in a deadlift, though it is possible. However, with pull-ups and bent-over rows, hold the movement at the top and squeeze the muscle as hard as possible before executing the remainder of the movement.


The concentric (raising of the load) action is under control with no "cheating," which will only lower the "training effect." After applying the contraction technique, eccentrically lower the weight three times slower than raising (3:0:1).

Proper movement pattern:

Technical form is imperative. Individuals must not "bounce" the weight off the floor when performing deadlifts and must execute pull-ups with full range of motion without swinging.

  • Warm-up sets or lower intensity repetitions should not be counted.
  • Each repetition requires full muscular contraction.
  • Rest is 45 to 60 seconds, no more.

This workout fits perfectly within a standard 5-day "split" routine, assuming care is given to proper recovery, diet and supplementation. For those using this routine as "supplemental" exercise within sports training that utilizes Olympic weight lifting movements, once per week is sufficient to maintain training balance.

As with everything in life, do what you do with all your might and unlock the greatness within.

John Davies is available on his personal page on Facebook, the Facebook group Renegade TrainingTM, John's Twitter page and his daily blog at USPlabs.