The 2 Best Back Workout Tips For Maximizing Every Exercise You Do

Based on the title of this article, I can already guess exactly what you’re expecting to see here…

The Most Amazing Workouts!

You’re expecting to see back workouts. Not just any back workouts, but the “BEST” ones ever created. You’re expecting to see a breakdown of the perfect exercises to do with the perfect amount of sets and reps for each along with the most effective advanced training methods to use along with it.

Basically, you’re expecting to see the ultimate “back day” for your training program.

Sorry to disappoint… but you’re not gonna see that here.

The truth is, if you’re reading this, there’s about a 100% chance that you shouldn’t actually have a “back day” in the first place. It’s unnecessary at best, counterproductive at worst.

This of course is a reference to the stereotypical once-per-week “back day” bodybuilding nonsense you typically see in articles about building a bigger [insert some body part here]… the ones comprised of 100 sets of 100 exercises and other assorted over-hyped crap that mostly only works for steroid users.

What you probably should have instead is an “upper body day” (as part of an upper/lower split) or a “pull day” (as part of a push/pull/legs split) or some kind of “day” that allows your back to be trained intelligently with an optimal amount of frequency (about twice per week for everyone past the beginner stage), volume (around 3-8 sets for your back per workout) and intensity (ideally a combination of the 5-8 rep range and the 8-12 rep range).

You know, something like The Muscle Building Workout Routine or a program from Superior Muscle Growth.

Which is all just another way of saying that everything I’ve recommended as being the best way to train for muscle growth in general would apply just the same to back training.

The Most Effective Exercises!

So if it’s not about fancy, over-hyped, steroid-friendly back workouts, then it has to at least be about the specific back exercises being done… right?

You know, like a list of the ones that are the “best” and will work better/faster than all of the others. The ones that are much more capable of building the muscular back you want. The ones you can insert right into your aforementioned intelligently designed “upper body days” or “pull days” in place of the less effective exercises you’re currently doing.

Guess what? You’re not gonna see that here either.

You see, only a couple of aspects of your back exercise selection are of any degree of significant importance. For example, hitting your back from both the vertical plane (pull-ups, lat pull-downs) and the horizontal plane (various rows) rather than just one or the other is a good idea.

Beyond that, the rest is mostly just minor details that barely matter.

The truth is, you can build a bigger back just the same whether you’re doing pull-ups/chin-ups or using the lat pull-down machine. With all else being equal, they’ll be equally effective for muscle growth no matter what anyone else tells you.

The same goes for rows. Be it bent over barbell rows, dumbbell rows, t-bar rows, seated cable rows, chest supported rows, Hammer Strength machine rows, inverted rows or whatever else… it’s all equally effective.

No back exercise is legitimately any better or more effective than any other similar back exercise.

So while the type of exercise can matter (are you in the vertical or horizontal plane?), and stuff like the type of grip (overhand, underhand or neutral?) and line of pull (pulling to your hips, lower/mid stomach, upper stomach, chest?) can matter, the specific exercises you do are just a minor detail that’s unlikely to make any meaningful difference in your results (with all else being equal, of course).

What’s MUCH more important here is that you select exercises based on:

  • Your personal preferences (the ones you like doing the most).
  • Your injury history (the ones that are safest and most “right” for your body).
  • Your progression (the ones that you can most efficiently get stronger on over time).
  • Your ability to use proper form.

That’s what really matters.

So Then What The Hell Is This Article About?

If it’s not about the back workouts you’re doing, and it’s not about the back exercises being done in those workouts… what exactly is the point of this article?

What could possibly be left for me to tell you?

I’m so glad I pretended you asked.

My two tips for you today are all about what you’re doing WHILE training your back. And in my experience, they may be the two most important aspects of building a bigger back.

Tip 1: Actually Use Your Back

The problem most people have with training the muscles of the mid and upper back (lats, rhomboids, traps, etc.) is that they fail to actually train those muscles.

Sure, they do plenty of exercises that should train those muscles, but for one reason or another, those muscles aren’t actually being trained during those exercises.

How can this be, you ask? It’s usually because:

  1. Their form is terrible, and other muscle groups (most often biceps and/or lower back) are doing the work to move the weight where it needs to go. Or, it’s just good old jerky, swinging, heave-ho style full body momentum that’s moving the weight from point A to point B. Either way… the muscles that should be making this happen aren’t.
  2. They’re using too much weight, which causes the same outcome mentioned above. Plus injuries, too.
  3. There’s a lack of mind-muscle connection, and they just don’t know how to “pull with their back.”

Solving #1 and #2 = Being Less Of A Dumbass

Now #1 and #2 are things you see all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

Bent over rows that look more like deadlifts or shrugs. Lat pull-downs that somehow turn into triceps pushdowns at the bottom of every rep or damn near yank the person off the seat at the top of every rep. Seated cable rows that look more like an actual cardio rowing machine is being used. Pull-ups with varying degrees of kipping/flopping to get above the bar (sup Crossfit, you mad bro?). Shortened ranges of motion (not going all the way down, or all the way up, or both). Using a ton of momentum to pull/swing/jerk/throw the weight, and then letting gravity take full control of the negative instead of, you know, the muscles you’re supposed to be training.

Highly entertaining to watch, but completely useless for building a bigger back.

Fortunately, there are simple solutions here. #1 can be solved by being less of a dumbass and learning how to properly do each exercise with proper form.

And #2? That can also be solved by being less of a dumbass… in this case learning to leave your ego at the door (cliche as hell, but it’s the truth) and stop trying to impress people (or yourself) by using more weight than you’re actually capable of lifting with proper form.

Solving #3 = It’s All In The Elbows (And The Chest/Lower Back/Shoulders)

But #3 is a bit different. Because even when these other problems are solved, many people still can’t get themselves to actually use their back during back exercises. They pull primarily with their biceps instead.

Now it’s perfectly normal for your biceps to do quite a bit of work during various “pulling” exercises like rows and pull-ups/pull-downs. It’s impossible to avoid this. What you do want to avoid however is allowing your biceps to do MOST (if not ALL) of the work instead of your back.

This is an extremely common problem that definitely takes some practice to correct. Here’s how.

The first step is to master the position your upper body should be in during virtually every back exercise. That is, your chest should be up, your shoulders should be back, and there should be a small but tight arch in your lower back. This is the ideal “back-muscle-recruiting” position.

From there, the mental cue that seems to help people the most is to ignore what the hands are doing, and ignore what the weight itself is doing, and stop thinking about pulling the weight/bar/handles/whatever towards your body (or in the case of pull-ups/chin-ups, pulling yourself to the bar).

Instead, put all of your focus on what your elbows are doing. Think of your hands as nothing more than hooks, and imagine that you’re pulling with your elbows (something I explain in more detail here: How To Use Back Muscles During Back Exercises).

Or, a cue that some people do better with… imagine the weight is behind your elbows.

So instead of thinking of it as pulling the weight with your hands, imagine the weight is behind your elbows and you’re actually using your elbows to push the weight back behind you. Or in the case of pull-ups and lat pull-downs, imagine the weight is under your elbows and you’re using your elbows to push it down.

And like magic, your back will suddenly begin to feel like it’s actually doing something.

Tip 2: Hold And Squeeze

Concerned that your form might suck? Wondering if you’re using more weight than you should be? Unable to pull with your back and actually “feel” the right muscles working?

Allow me to introduce the ultimate problem solving tip that I feel has played a huge positive role in my own back development.

Simply put, hold and squeeze.

At the end of every single rep of every single back exercise, hold that end position for 1 second and squeeze. Squeeze hard. Squeeze the crap out of the muscles of your mid and upper back and/or lats. Think of the them, imagine them, contract them and squeeze them.

Then use those same muscles during the negative to control the weight as it returns back to the starting position.

Then repeat that same 1 second “hold and squeeze” on the next rep. And the rep after that. And the rep after that. Of all of your sets. Of all of the exercises you’re doing for your back.

If you’ve rarely (if ever) experienced any sort of “pump” in your back during your workouts or any soreness in those muscles the following day, don’t be surprised if that suddenly changes.

Oh, and if you find that you’re unable to hold that end position and squeeze for that second, guess what? You’re probably using too much weight.

So How Do You Build A Bigger Back?

It’s a two step process really:

  1. Make sure you’ve chosen (or created) an intelligently designed overall workout routine. This means one that allows everything (including your back) to be trained with an ideal amount of frequency, volume and intensity, is comprised of the exercises that are most ideal for you, and is focused on creating progressive overload. And of course, make sure you combine it with a diet that’s designed to support it.
  2. Make sure you’re actually using your back while training your back (if you’re not, nothing in the previous step will help), and implement that “hold and squeeze” tip.

And then watch your back improve.

Need Help With Your Diet And Workout?

Don't waste another minute of your time searching for what to do. I've already done the research for you and created step-by-step plans that work. Select your goal below...

  • I Want To Build Muscle
    If you want to build lean muscle without gaining excess body fat, spending all of your time in the gym, using a diet or workout that isn't customized to you, or doing myth-based nonsense that only works for people with amazing genetics, check out: Superior Muscle Growth
  • I Want To Lose Fat
    If you want to lose body fat without losing muscle, feeling hungry all the time, using stupid restrictive diets, doing 100 hours of cardio, or struggling with plateaus, metabolic slowdown, and everything else that sucks about getting lean, check out: Superior Fat Loss

Get Your Perfect Workout

It takes less than 60 seconds...
Take The Quiz
About Jay
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers, and diet professionals at every level.

93 thoughts on “The 2 Best Back Workout Tips For Maximizing Every Exercise You Do”


  1. I seriously love your articles, Jay! Besides sharing excellent knowledge that would benefit anyone who put it to use, you never fail to make the reading entertaining! Thanks!

    “sup Crossfit, you mad bro?” lolololol!

  2. Hey there Jay.

    About your beginner full body workout 3 times a day.
    Could you possibly explain why the chest gets so little volume during the B A B week?
    I thought the idea of the program was that all body parts were worked 3 times per week. On B A B weeks, you have deadlift for the legs, pull-ups for the back and overhead press for the shoulders. No Chest. Why is this and how is this optimal, when you get only one day in those seven days to stimulate the chest?


    • First, you need to realize the program alternates an A and B workout which alternates between bench press and overhead press as the compound ‘push’ movements. So, while that ‘BAB’ week might appear as though it’s just one A workout in 7 days, that’s not actually the case. Instead of looking at that 7 day span, look at how many days there are between A workouts. It always gets done every 4th or 5th day EVERY week (not every 7th).

      Second, you also need to keep in mind that the various volume recommendations I’ve given apply mostly to people past the beginner stage. The only true guidelines beginners should pay attention to is doing 3 full body workouts per week filled primarily (or better yet, entirely) with just a handful of big compound movements (bench, squat, deadlift, row, pull-up, overhead press) and the #1 focus being on consistent progression.

      • I just wanted to comment on the Jay’s beginner full body split workout. When I was in the Navy I’d lift weights all the time and cardio everyday. I’d listen to my buddies on lifting, volume, frequency, etc. I had issues, minimal results compounded with back torture that ended in injury. Now, upon doc’s orders I started to workouts again. I wanted to do this right and not waste any of my time and energy. I did my research and research. I found this website and I started the fat beginner full body split (ABA,BAB). I started in July 2013 and now its March 2014. Following Jay’s advice,tips from workout to nutrients have made noticeable results compared to my Navy days of little to no results. Don’t worry about what muscle is not getting enough or not. Just stick with it every week, then one day you will see results. I keep a log of what I am doing and use my numbers as results and goals. Stay focused and you will get there in time.

  3. Another great article Jay! I was performing this exercise last night and found myself pulling less with my back and more with everything else (momentum and ego) and I barely feel the effects. These tips are great which I will be sure to try on my next session. Thanks again man!

  4. Bought and use (4 days upper/lower split) your book for about 2 months now. Enjoy going to the gym and lifting again. Finally understand all the BS the fitness industry throw at you are BS and there is no short cuts.
    Just work and moving up that weight up a little bit each time (it actually works…no shit). Always enjoy your article because it’s very entertaining . At some point during the article I would duck behind the desk and hide for a moment and say ‘Shit…! I did that dumbass thingy he just described’…Thanks, Jay for keeping us from being a dumbass,,,lol

  5. Hey jay, I have been doing your ABA,BAB workout for a month. I I’m seeing some results to.some exercises I do I can’t add 5 lbs.every week is that ok.for example I have been bench pressing 155lbs. for three weeks in a row still not able to add any weight to the bar because I have not been able to reach 8 to10 reps for all three sets is that ok?

    • It’s normal to eventually hit a point where you can’t add 5lbs to the bar every workout anymore (at which point your goal is to add reps each workout until you hit the goal and can add weight), but it should take longer than a month to reach that point. Chances are you started fairly heavy to begin with if it has happened this soon.

      There is also the possibility that you don’t do well with slighter higher rep ranges like this, in which case you may want to experiment with the 6-8 rep range and see if that helps.

      Your diet and your goals (fat loss? muscle growth?) will also play a role. More about this here.

  6. “Solving #1 and #2 = Being Less Of A Dumbass”
    Haha I like how you say “less” instead of “don’t be” like we can’t completely not be a dumbass.

    When it comes to rows, I find this exercise a bit sketchy and never quite felt comfortable doing it. I have been doing it the way Rippetoe explains how the weights are on the floor, you bend over and look straight in front of you, and pull up to chest then back down to floor. I always feel it is a very way to hurt your lower back if I screw up one day and the form never feels quite right to me. Could dumbbells or another exercise be equally as effective for a mid back exercise?

    Do we consider dead lifts back or leg workout?

    • Sounds like you’re talking about pendlay rows. But like I mentioned in this article, there is nothing about this row (or any other row) that makes it a better back exercise than any other similar rowing movement.

      And your deadlift question is one that people argue over all the time. It can go either way, but I tend to go with legs.

      • So what is the correct way to do the best barbell row? Are you saying any pulling movement backwards is equal in effectiveness?

          • Ok. I think the Pendeley Rows may be a bit too injury prone so I may throw it out. But Rippitoe explains that the positioning of where you row determines which muscle group will be focused. Like if you are too horizontal it will focus on upper back or shoulders, but parallel will be more mid back. But doing this parallel way, just feels like you can really screw up your lower back if not careful. So in this sense, can you honestly say a row is a row? What about machine rows? I would guess you don’t think fondly of them.

          • Yes, the line of pull in the row will make a difference (pulling towards your chest will be more upper back/rear delts, pulling towards hips will be more lats). But, regardless of the specific exercise or equipment being used, it’s really all the same shit. A similar row done a similar way will be the same as every other row.

          • Sorry I made a mistake I meant “Like if you are too VERTICAL it will focus on upper back or shoulders, but parallel will be more mid back”. I guess you realized that. But I totally see what you are saying. The positioning and form is what matters, not how you go about doing it. I totally get it. Thanks for clearing that up. But I think we can agree machines, not cables, will offer less benefit as part of the work is done for you. The 5X5 Strong Lifts guy says never do dumbells for chest because you can’t life as much weight as the bar which will result in less gains. He says the bar is needed to lift the most weight. His obsession is on weight. But I see dumbells as actually having more nervous system involvement as you have to stabilize in ways the bar can’t like left and right in a bench press. Not sure though. just my common sense.

            I got another question if you don’t mind. Speaking of not being so focused on exactly which exercise, I assume regardless of the many benefits of squatting, there must be some point where it is too heavy on the knee joints, right? Even if your quads are strong, my guess is you still are putting a lot of stress on the spine and knees. Maybe squatting is best done in higher rep ranges with lower weights? Rippitoe says Squats help the knes but I don’t know if this is true. There must be a point where it goes from health to harm, even before you feel pain, right? I am not talking about Power Lifting, just for health and body building.

          • No, I wouldn’t agree with that. There’s a couple of machine rows from Hammer Strength that I think are fantastic. There’s also a variety of chest supported t-bar row machines that are awesome. And please don’t even bother referencing the SL5x5 guy… he’s a fucking idiot.

            As for squats, they’re potentially dangerous when the weights get heavy… sure… but so is every other exercise. As long as your form is what it should be, you’re doing them safely in a squat rack just in case you get stuck, your programming is what it should be, and you don’t have any issues doing them, I don’t see a reason to worry about them more than any other exercise.

          • Thanks for your response. So Mehdi is a dumbass huh? He gets a lot of his info from Rippetoe anyway. But Mehdi claims the heavier the weight, the more the gains, barbells can go heavier so only lift barbell. Maybe total BS.

            My gym has that row hammer strength machine with a chest support. Still not sure why since the machine stabilizes for you why that would not be inferior.

            The difference with squats as opposed to other exercises is all of gravity is being placed upon your knee joints and your spine in a straight horizontal way. I was thinking there must be a certain amount of weight, even with perfect form, that begin to damage the knees and maybe even possibly the spine. Because even with massive quads, your knees wouldn’t really get that much stronger.

            Thanks for all your great info and posts! Thank you!

          • Mehdi = idiot.

            Hammer strength rows = potentially just as good as every other row.

            Heavy squats = perfectly fine as long as form is good, programming is good, things are done right/adjusted when needed, etc. etc. etc.

      • When I deadlift, I feel it mostly in my lower back. Also, the last time I deadlifted, on my last set on my last few reps, (8-10), an almost headache pain went up the back of my neck and into my head. This happened also when I tried zercher squats. The pain didn’t go away for a few hours after. This scared me and still does. What do you think I should do?

  7. Great article! I (accidentally due to not realising I was using a heavier bar) added 5 kg to my barbell row this week and although I got through 3 sets of 8 (I’m doing your beginner program), I know that the last few reps of each set were not as accomplished… I would not be able to have held and squeezed for a second after the last 3 reps of each set…

    should I keep going with this weight as I managed it, or go back down so I can hold and squeeze? I know I am working my back more than my biceps, I can definitely feel it the next couple of days but after reading this article I am unsure if my approach is optimal.

    I freaking love this website by the way. Seriously.

    • It’s not really something that HAS to be done, especially if your form is already good and you’re already doing a good job of using your back and not your biceps. It’s more just something that will probably be beneficial to do.

  8. Weight is behind your elbows / the weight is under your elbows These are the Best Cues in the History of Best Cues! First time in my training I felt an upper back Soreness 🙂 Thanks again for a Fantastic Article Jay

  9. Yes Yes Yes! It really is all about technique in any excercise we choose. Great tip about elbows to remember too! 😉

  10. Well I put some of this into practice this morning and I do feel a difference. Which is sad because I was already pretty sure I was doing it right. I think having a reminder to slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing is very helpful. It’s very easy to get sloppy when training the back. Thanks for the great tips!

  11. Hi, I’ve tried to put this principles in work in my last pull workout. I did one arm rows and lat pulldowns and tried to squeeze my back muscles and hold it for 1 second. I actually felt that I worked the back more this way. Thanks for the tip! However after my back work I did some curls but I’ve had an annoying intense pain in my formarms doing these for the past month. I read that doin a set of 100 reps curls with just the olympic bar could help my rehabilitation of the tendons. WHat do you think?

      • Yes you’re right about that but I may have found a solution: I saw that I could do Close Grip Pulldowns (Focusing on pulling with the biceps) without any pain whatsoever. Is it a good exercise to develop the biceps instead of doing curls? Thanks for taking your time and answering my questions

  12. The first part of this article was pure fun and i loved it!
    I am guilty of #3 and will give a try to the new cue “imagine the weight is behind your elbows”.

    Thinking of my elbows pulling does not seem right, but lets see if this tweak fixes my problem.
    Thanks as usual, great job!

  13. I’m sorry Jay, I don’t need your tips for a great back. It seems all my good genes are in my back muscles. I’d trade that for good chest genes any time.
    Although I think the secret to that is the game I play with my nephew and niece. Have each one of them hanging from one of my legs and do some chin ups.
    Seriously though, your articles are always so hilarious, love them, thanks.

  14. As usual funny, witty and informative. Totally agree with the squeeze contraction at the end, that gives you a clear indication if you’re using is the correct weight. Coupled to form is enough rest and proper diet. I did my own experiment in January 2014 by taking a month off and seriously training, getting enough rest and proper diet and technique which I got from your email. My commitment beared great results however returning back to work , working crappy hours, not enough rest but a good diet atleast I lost most of my hard work. I realised the importance of having all three elements in tact. Why the lengthy email you ask? Its not possible to get the hectic gains when you have a demanding work load. The good news is though I get gains not as quick as I would like but If I stick at this and with Jays tips each month Im bound to see the difference soon.

    Thanks for writing excellent articles.

  15. Very nicely written article. I think that my lat pull down was turning into triceps press down at the end of the rep for last week or so. Now I will rectify. i also read your article related to alternating sets. Because i usually take the rest according to the time mentioned in you 4 day split therefore i guess the concept of alternating sets can save me some time without affecting the performance. Your articles are just great. Many thanks for your effort. Waiting for next article.


  16. Hi Jay

    i tried to do it in the manner explained by you and it worked greately. I felt it in my back after the workout. Thanks. I have one question for you. We dont have squat rack in the gym. Is it ok to use smith machine for squats. I read a lot of hue and cry about not using the smith machine for squats. how much does it matter whether one uses smith machine or free weight to do squats.

    • I’m not really a fan of the smith machine, and personally never use it for anything. The fixed straight-up-and-straight-down position it forces you into just tends to not be ideal for most people’s bodies from a safety/injury prevention standpoint.

  17. Hi Jay,

    I did your muscle building upper/lower split for a few months, but can only go to the gym 3x/week now, so I’m switching back to full-body workouts.

    Is it ok if I do not do ANY isolation movements (arms/calves) at all, and ONLY do compound movements?

    I’m currently thinking along the lines of this: (ideas are mostly taken from your beginners full-body routine and the muscle-building upper/lower routine)

    Workout A:
    1. BB Romanian Deadlift: 3x(6-8)
    2. Pull-ups: 4x (5-10)
    3. Incline DB Bench: 3x(6-8)
    4. DB Lounges: 3x(8-10)
    5. DB Row: 3x(6-8)
    6. Back-extensions: 3×10 (I do this more for therapy/rehab)

    Workout B:
    1. BB back squat: 3x(6-8)
    2. DB Bench: 3x(6-8)
    3. Chin-ups: 4x(5-10)
    4. Leg curls: 3x(8-10)
    5. Military press: 3x(6-8)
    6. Hanging leg-raise 3×10

    Would a workout like this, with no isolation movements help increase my mass? How about the workout orders? (I try to go leg->back->chest->leg->back->lower-back or leg->chest->back->leg->shoulder->abs)

    Thanks for your time!

    • Isolation exercises are not a requirement for building muscle (assuming that’s your goal). They can however be beneficial, which is why they were included.

      If you can only train 3 days per week, why not just do the 3 day version of the upper/lower split? That would be my first recommendation.

      • Hey Jay,

        Thanks for your response. Yea I did that for a few weeks, but felt like my body can take on more stimuli (and so far it’s been working decently well). However, after 6 weeks of this routine, I may have plateaued a bit. As a relative beginner, I thought I should still be able to squeeze out more from beginner gains, so I was wondering if my routine needed improvement.

        What would you recommend for a full-body routine for people past the beginner’s stage? (You mentioned that full-body splits work for intermediate/advanced lifters as well, but the only routine you provided seemed to be for beginners 🙂 )

        • If your goal is building muscle, then I honestly wouldn’t recommend a full body routine to someone past the beginner stage (unless they could only train twice per week). It can definitely work… no doubt about that. It’s just an inferior way for an intermediate to train for growth in my opinion.

          • Thanks again for your quick response! One last question:

            You mentioned progressive overload, but also mentioned that we should do a total of 20-30 reps per exercise per workout.

            Let’s say my goal was 3×8:

            Monday: 8, 8, 8

            Wednesday, 6, 6, 6.

            Since 6+6+6 is only 18, should I add an extra set (maybe only 4 reps), but it’ll make it within the goal?

            One of the issues I’ve been running into is when I move up a weight, sometimes I only do 6, 5, 5. That is only 16 reps for that exercise (target is 24), so should I add an extra set so it gets closer to that target total reps?

          • Nope, don’t worry about that and don’t add anything.

            The fact that your volume goes down a bit as you progress in weight, and then gradually goes up as you progress in reps, and then goes down a bit again as you go up in weight again, etc. etc. etc. is perfectly fine and an almost built in deloading period.

  18. Properly stimulating my back was a major concern of mine from the second I decided to start weight training. I did a fair amount of research (most of the useful information came from you), and intelligently designed a workout routine based off of your beginner workout routine. I watched several videos on how to use proper form on all of the exercises I had chosen, and felt that I was correctly performing each one with one exception. I could not for the life of me figure out how to really activate my back muscles doing rows. I tried switching from a one arm dumbbell row to a bent over dumbbell row, and finally to a chest supported row. Last night I finally was able to properly stimulate my back muscles on my 3rd attempt at doing chest supported rows. This morning my back is actually sore for the first time since I started weight training, and I stumbled across this article. I finally understand why my efforts before yesterday were not working, and just wanted to say thank you for shedding some light on this issue. I look forward to seeing more new articles from you, as I learn something useful with every one you write.

  19. Hi Jay.
    Great article as always!

    Please help me out.

    I’ve been doing the AB beginner split for about 3 months now and seen some nice progress compared to insane 4 day split I had been doing before (steroid using personal trainer approved). But I have a couple of issues with it.

    I’ve never done deadlifts as I’m scared to injure my back: I have curvature in my lower back, so that last phase of deadlift when you stand straight with heavy weight seems dangerous. As far as I know there’s no true replacement for this exercise, but maybe I could do a combination of other exercises instead? Right now I do hyperextension followed by t-bar or barbell rows. What would you suggest?

    Also I started feeling pain in my left shoulder after I’ve reached certain weight in my bench press. So I can’t do barbell / dumbbell bench presses anymore at least for a while (hopefully). Which left me without both chest and triceps exercises. I can do millitary presses perfectly fine though. I thought of replacing bench press with military press on day A but it would mean I’d have to do more pull exercises as well. And considering I do rows instead of deadlifts my day A workout will be almost the same as day B. What should I do?


    • The best deadlift replacement is another type of deadlift. How about Romanian deadlifts?

      As for your other question, I can’t really give any specific advice when it comes to training with/around an injury, but my suggestion would be to figure out what’s causing the pain (incorrect form tends to be common with bench pressing) and correct it.

  20. Thank you for this superb article. I am doing lat pull downs because I can do only a few pull-ups. You say one should eventually be able to do pull-ups, but how does one become able to do enough of them? Will progressing with lat pull downs and biceps/back improvement be enough or pull ups should be practiced as such? I’ve read the latter, but am afraid to do them because it could interfere with recovery. Thank you!

    • Technically speaking you never truly NEED to be able to do pull-ups. Between various rows and pull-downs, you’ll do equally well. But if you want to be able to do them (and I am personally a fan of them), progressing at lat pulldowns will help to an extent.

      But even better would be doing some form of assisted pull-up (here’s one example:, and then just gradually decreasing that assistance over time until there is none and you’re doing it all on your own.

  21. Went to the Lat Pull down and lowered the weight a little lighter than I usually do. Pulled down focusing on my elbows pushing down something like you said, held it and squeezed for a second, then slowly with tension brought it back up. I felt my back muscles the next 2 days more than I have ever felt them. THANK YOU JAY!

  22. Hello Jay !

    I am presently doing Arnold’s Golden six workout for beginners three times a week :

    1.) squats 3×10
    2.)bench press 3×10
    3.) lats pull down/pull ups 3×10
    4.) overhead press 3×10
    5.)barbell curls 3×10
    6.) Sit ups 3×20

    I just wanted to be sure. Do you see a problem in this routine? I personally LOVE it. But I want your expert advice.

  23. Hello Jay!
    Amazing info.
    Here is my question: Suppose my priority is growing my biceps and not my back. Would it make sense to approach the back compound exercises in a different way than the one you wrote here (perhaps pulling more with the biceps), or I should have the same approach of someone whose priority is growing the back muscles?
    Best regards,

    • Nope, definitely not. That would just cause a loss of back muscle, plus the shoulder injuries and postural issues that are guaranteed to come due to a lack of proper back training.

      In this case you’d be better off just doing some kind of arm specialization routine.

  24. I recently reversed the order of my vertical and horizontal pulling. The exercise which went from being first to second lost only one rep in later sets, just like the other one went one rep up in the first set or two. Apart from everything you wrote brilliantly in this article, It made me think it may be another decent indicator that one is not using too much biceps.

  25. I couldn’t find a better blog to post this on, so I choose this.
    Like all who post here, it a great site: good information and good laughs.

    I would encourage all to re-read this occasionally tin order to stay on track. Been doing the beginners seriously since April. Making progress, but got lost. By that I mean I was doing three sets of ten, but then started adding reps and a fourth set. Oops. I was reading your guides again and saw if I could do that I should be adding weight. So I did.

    Completely missed the part about “if all three sets fall within the range–10 to 8- it was time to add weight. Oops. I thought I was supposed to get to three sets of ten and then move to more weight.

    Who knows what I’ll find the third time I read it.

    The advice about squeezing your back muscles and pushing the weight with your elbows is spot.

    Now get busy and write another column! That’s supposed to be a joke.

  26. Bravo man! I have had so many issues on why I just don’t seem to be exhausting my back enough especially during horizontal (primarily rows) exercises. Your visualization guide/example with pretending the weight is behind your elbows, sheer genius. Thanks man! God bless.

  27. hey i was wondering if it is necessary to do both a vertical and horizontal back exercise? and if so, why is that? or if i could just do horizontal pulling exercises, since i feel my back better and get a better workout from these

  28. Hi jay!

    I am curious. I am on your upper/lower intermediate routine now. How would you recommend to bring up a set of lagging arms? I don’t want an arms day. I started training seriously about a year ago, I’m 5’9 and my lifts are bench is around 300lbs, Dl around 390lbs, squats 280lbs, just to give you an idea. However, my arms I feel are as tiny as fuark. Would you really recommend any additional, if at all, to bring up my arms?

    Any comments would be appreciated, even if it is a whiplash ! haha.

  29. Hey Jay. I apologize in advance if you’ve covered my question in another article already. I’m doing the 4 day upper/lower and I’ve mistakenly been doing “conventional” deadlifts as opposed to Romanian (Prescribed) for about a few weeks. I like both variations equally. Just wondering if one or the other will provide better, overall muscle growth. Thanks man

      • Awesome. I DID catch that the other day. I appreciate the response too.

        I have another question! Sorry Jay.

        What kind of form constitutes a “worthy” rep. For instance, when I’m squatting 3 sets of 6-8 and I’m at the last set brutally pushing for the sixth rep and my legs are shaking, form is looking pretty rough, however the rep was indeed completed….would it be terrible to count that as success and add 5lbs to the next session? Or do I simply try for more honest reps next session with the same weight?

        As usual, thank you. Love what you do here.

        • It would depend on just how “rough” it looked. If full range of motion (or something very close to it) was used, I’d count it. If there was some cheating somewhere, or maybe it just didn’t feel as solid as you’d want it to feel before going up in weight, I’d probably try for it again the next time and see if I can get that rep a little bit less-roughly.

  30. Hiya Jay,

    Great site – love the slaying of B.S. that goes on – just what I’ve been looking for.

    Been looking at the beginners 3 day ABA/BAB split and have started some light training for a couple of weeks to get the DOMS out of the way. My question: As I don’t have machines or access to them, I can’t do lat pull downs for back, and am not strong enough (well, too fat) for chins. If I keep on with the dumbbell rows as planned, is there anything else i can add in to make up the shortfall?

Comments are closed.