Building the strongest back that you possibly can is quite possibly the most important thing you should focus on, especially if you want to be a powerlifter.

Goal Of This Workout

This back workout routine for powerlifting is designed around powerlifting and increasing your squat, bench, and deadlift but can be used by anyone.

Why is a strong back is important?

A strong back gives a foundation for squatting, pressing, and deadlifting.

A strong back decreases the chances for back issues that you may develop from sitting too much, or not correctly picking something up.

This doesn’t mean you can deadlift incorrectly and not expect a back problem but your chances of tweaking your back from tying your shoes are much lower.

A strong back equals a strong press

If you check out any elite powerlifter’s workout log, you will see they row as much (if not more) as they press.

As backwards as this may sound, building a stronger back will build your pressing power; especially your lats and upper back.

When choosing a powerlifting routine or programming one for yourself, be sure to include plenty of rows and variations of rows.

Diet and Nutrition Tips

I would recommend going on a slow bulk for this routine to get the most out of it. It is easier to cut some fat afterwards than trying to make strength gains on a calorie deficit.

If you keep your weight consistent and need some tips to add calories into your diet, here are some of the best and healthiest ways to do so:

  • Butter
  • Cream cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Whole milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Cheese on everything
  • Protein shakes
  • Peanut butter
  • Olive oil
  • Extra dressing

These all add flavor and healthy fats to your diet. Personally, I prefer adding calories through this means instead of going to McDonalds and smashing a couple McDoubles.

You will feel better, have more energy, and your stomach will thank you.

Note: A little bit goes a long way, so be sure to know how many calories you are adding.

Recommended Supplements

Without a good diet, supplementation is mostly a waste of money. I will be the first to tell you to spend money on some good meats than a jug of protein.

For those who have their diets in check, here are the supplements I would use with this routine.

Pre-Workout

MTS Nutrition Clash

I personally like apple mango, but all flavors are good.

This is a great blend without too many stimulants.

Protein

MTS Machine Whey Protein: 5lbs

This is in my opinion the best tasting protein on the market. Period.

Great blend with no secrets, no amino spiking, and it is some of the best in the industry.

So far I’ve had Red Velvet, Cookies and Cream, and Key Lime. All are A+.

MTS Nutrition Protein

BCAA

MTS Nutrition Machine Fuel

Marc Lobliner has his sweetening on point with these supplements.

I’ve used mixed berry and grape and I love them both.

Creatine

Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine

I have a review of Optimum Nutrition’s Creatine and it’s a tried and true supplement. It will help with performance and recovery. I highly recommend this.

Cardio and Conditioning Schedule

Conditioning is one of the most important things you can work on to improve your lifts, endurance, and stamina. Improving conditioning also improves life out of the gym.

This particular routine focuses a bit on conditioning, core strength, and mobility.

Once you start lifting relatively heavier weights, you’re going to start breaking form because of muscle weaknesses, lack of conditioning/muscle endurance and mobility issues; so lets address them here.

Warming Up

For your pre-workout warm up, start by walking for 3 minutes and follow-up with a 30 second balls-to-the-walls high intensity sprint. Finish off with 90 seconds of walking.

This “shock” is going to prime your body to train hard and helps get your core body temperature up.

Post Workout Conditioning

I’m not big on citing research materials and I sure as hell am not interested in doing the scientific leg work, but doing high intensity interval training will help improve your muscle and strength gains.

The Plan:

  • 5 minutes brisk walking
  • 30 seconds jogging
  • 30 seconds walking
  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 30 seconds walking
  • 45 seconds sprinting
  • 1 minute walking
  • 1 minute jogging
  • 1 minute walking
  • 30 seconds full sprinting
  • 1.5 minutes walking slowly tapering down to finish

Cardio and Conditioning Tips

This sounds like some special formula but it isn’t; this is a template, if you don’t follow it exactly, you’re fine.

What I want to make you aware of is warming up and priming your body for high intensity training.

Don’t get stuck on the numbers, if you have poor conditioning, add longer walk (resting) periods and strive to recover faster.

What are the best back exercises?

While I personally believe that deadlifts are one of the most powerful and effective exercises for building a strong back, you have to add in other exercises such as rows to build the strongest back possible.

Barbell Rows

Bent over barbell rows are the king of rows; they offer mass, strength, and build a functional physique. Everyone is built a little differently so finding the correct position is going to take some practice.

A good start is about a 45 degree bend, strong core, tight abs, neutral spine, head neutral with spine and facing forward.

I recommend starting your grip width at the same spot as your bench press and work from there. I like to do barbell rows anywhere from my close grip bench width all the way to a snatch grip… See what works best for you.

Be sure to focus on pulling your elbows back for the rep, don’t think about pulling the bar to your chest.

Cutty’s Recommended Rep Range: 5-12 reps per set

Reverse Grip Barbell Rows

Reverse grip barbell rows are the exact same movement as above, but with a supinated grip. (think: barbell curl)

These are a great variation and will target different sections on your back than regular overhand gripped barbell rows.

Again, focus on pulling your elbows back, not pulling the bar to your chest.

Cutty’s Recommended Rep Range: 5 to 12 reps per set

Pendlay Rows

You don’t see a lot of guys in normal gyms doing Pendlay rows, but these are a must for building power and explosiveness. Check out this video from a fellow powerlifter that will explain in detail how to do Pendlay rows:

Cutty’s Recommended Rep Range: 5 to 8 reps per set

One Arm Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows are great because you can get a bigger range of motion than you can with barbell rows and the squeeze at the top is great.

I prefer to extend one arm onto a flat bench and use that as my brace while keeping a neutral head, neck, and spine, and emphasizing pulling back with your elbows.

Cutty’s Recommended Rep Range: 8 to 12 reps per set

Pull Ups

Pull ups are a bitch and can be hard to do bodyweight pull ups, let alone weighted.

These work wonders for your lats and upper back.

Use an assisted pull up machine if you cannot do at least 10 pull ups.

Cutty’s Recommended Rep Range: 8 to 12 reps per set

T Bar Rows

T bar rows are a great close-gripped exercise when done correctly.

When doing these rows, don’t let the famous Ronnie Coleman videos make your ego hurt; do weight you can do correctly… you won’t get much benefit of a 2 inch range of motion.

I would suggest using an actual t bar “machine” that is designed to do t bar rows with. If you do not have access to one of those, put weight on one end of the bar and grab a close-grip attachment and row away.

Check out this video on how to rig one up:

Cutty’s recommended rep range: 8 to 12 reps per set

Inverted Rows

Inverted Rows

You can do these using a power rack with the safety pins up high or use the J hooks if it is safe to.

I would suggest using the (otherwise useless) smith machine for inverted rows. It locks into place and you have a bit more flexibility than a power rack.

Cutty’s recommended rep range: 8 to 12 reps per set

Barbell or Dumbbell Shrugs

Barbell shrugs slam your traps, work your erectors, and build core strength.

I told you earlier that upper back work is extremely important for building a bigger press, and I wasn’t lying.

Doing moderate weight shrugs with moderate volume will strengthen your upper back and give you a noticeable difference in your bench and overhead pressing.

Don’t skimp on the weight, but don’t go so heavy you can’t get proper range of motion. Just because it feels like you are shrugging doesn’t mean you are.

For example:

Cutty’s recommended rep range: 8 to 12 reps per set

Back Workout Routine for Powerlifting Schedule

Whether you are programming your own routine or looking to replace your current back routine, this back routine will add pounds to your total and build a massive back.

If you are replacing your current back routine with this one, this is a pretty straight-forward process, so get to work.

If you are planning out your own program, I would not run this more than twice per week. Ideally I would run this once per week on a day you don’t do squats or deadlifts.

 

Back Workout Routine for Powerlifting

Back Workout Routine for Powerlifting
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Rows 3 8
Pendlay Rows 5 5
Pull Ups or Inverted Rows 4 12
T Bar Rows 3 8
Barbell Shrugs 4 12

Workout Tips

Form: I’m not a form nazi but I will tell you that if you go too heavy you are not going to get as much benefit as if you were doing a lighter weight with better form and stronger contractions. Make sure you are getting quality work in.

Progressively overload: Strive to get stronger each time you do an exercise. Make sure to keep a training log and strive to add 5 pounds to the bar each time you go.

Conclusion

Training your back is extremely important. Machine work is great but nothing trumps barbell or dumbbell work; if you have to use machines, use them as accessory work.

Whether or not you implement this workout routine, I want you to focus on building your back strength up and testing it to your pressing strength. Let me know the results you find. I’ve noticed a difference after a few weeks.

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