How To Build A BIG Muscular Back

Bodybuilding Back Workout
How To Build A BIG Muscular Back

The back is one of the most critical areas to develop for a strong powerful physique. Many beginners overlook the importance of back training in their workouts as they tend to focus more on the show off muscles like the chest and arms. While having a well developed chest and arms are important to a complete physique. They are only a small part of the big picture. The back is the most crucial muscle group in the upper body for all around functional strength and an impressive muscular physique.

The old saying in bodybuilding competitions over the last 20+ years has been “the contest is won from the back”. And with very few exceptions most bodybuilding contests are won by the competitor with the best back development.

A good back has two qualities:

1) Thickness & 2) V-Taper

Having thickness will help fill out your frame and add muscular meat to your bones while increasing your strength and power. A strong body needs a strong posterior chain to support heavy lifts (i.e. traps, lats, spinal erectors, glutes and hamstrings).

Having a nice wide V-taper shape to your back will give the optical illusion that the waist is smaller and the shoulders are wider. This is known as the classic X frame which is an important element of a good physique.

In this blog post you’re going to get a complete back workout that includes some of the very best exercises that will help pack slabs of thick muscle on your “wings”.

This is an advanced workout routine, so if you have at least 12 months of solid lifting under your belt you should be able to tackle this workout program head on.

Lee Hayward - Back Lat Spread
Lee Hayward – Back Lat Spread Pose

However, if you are still in your first year of lifting (or have been away from the gym for a while) than a less challenging back workout would be better suited to your needs.

(Note: I have a back workout video playlist posted on YouTube showing routines for beginners, intermediate, and advanced lifters at: Lee Hayward’s Back Workout Videos)

The Back Workout…

Pull Ups

The first exercise of the workout is Pull Ups and these are arguably the single best exercise that you can do for building back width. You’d be surprised to find out just how few people can actually do a proper pull up. Most people look like they are doing some kind of funky horizontal bar work at in a high school gymnastics class.

I like to do pull ups the way the great Arnold Schwarzenegger used to do back in the
“Pumping Iron Days” on muscle beach… Start Every Back Workout With 50 Pull Ups!

arnold-schwarzenegger-backArnold Schwarzenegger Back Double Bicep Pose

How you would do this is simply grab the pull up bar and perform a set of as many pull ups as you can do. Then rest a minute or two. Do anther set of as many reps as you can do. Rest 1-2 minutes, do another set, etc. And just keep going until you have completed 50 total reps of pull ups.

With each set you should vary your hand position and grip (i.e. wide, medium, narrow, underhand, parallel, etc.) this will work the back muscles from several different angles, make it easier to complete 50 total reps, and provide better overall muscle stimulation.

Wide Grip Pull Ups

If you can’t get all 50 reps, don’t sweat it. Just do as many reps as you can and strive to get at least 1 more rep each back workout. Overtime you’ll eventually build up to the point of doing 50+ pull ups in a single workout. And when you get to that stage, chances are your back will no longer be a weak body part for you.

Lee Hayward Pull Up Program If you would like some help with building up your pull up strength. Then you should check out the Progressive Pull Up Program. This is a graduated pull up video training system. All basis are covered here. Right from the out of shape beginner who can’t even do a single pull up with bodyweight, right on up to the advanced muscle-head who can bang out multiple sets of weighted pull ups!

Click Here To Get The Progressive Pull Up Program


Next we’re going to move on to deadlifts. The deadlift is the oldest of all weight training exercises and is one of the most effective exercises for overall body development. When it comes to lifting weights it doesn’t get any simpler than loading a bunch of plates on a barbell and picking it up off the ground. Doing deadlifts as a regular move in your back training will build muscle thickness and real world functional strength like nothing else.

Barbell Deadlifts
Conventional Deadlifts

Start off with a light weight and do several progressively heavier warm up sets of 5 reps. Pyramid up with each set, but keep the reps to 5 reps per set. There is no need to perform high reps on your warm up sets because this will just waste energy and take away from your strength during your heavy top weight working sets.

To give you an example of how you can pyramid your sets and reps:
Set 1 – 135 lbs. x 5
Set 2 – 185 lbs. x 5
Set 3 – 225 lbs. x 5
Set 4 – 275 lbs. x 5

Once you get up to a heavy working weight I recommend that you keep that weight and perform 3 sets of 5 reps with the same weight. Train heavy, but DO NOT push yourself to hard and DO NOT train to failure.

Deadlifts are taxing enough on the body as it is, you don’t need to rep out to failure to make great progress with them. Stopping short of failure will not stress out your central nervous system and allow for faster recovery, not to mention greatly reducing your risk of injury.

Rest at least 2 minutes between each set of deadlifts and longer if you feel you need it so you’ll have maximum strength and power.

One Arm Dumbbell Rows

After the deadlifts we are going to move on to one arm dumbbell rows. This will work the lats hard with a good rowing move, but it will give your lower back a much needed rest because you are supporting your upper body with your free hand.

I like to straddle my legs wide apart and brace my non-working arm against the dumbbell rack or high exercise bench. This position will generally allow you to lift more weight than if you kneel on a bench like you see some guys doing.

db-rowOne Arm Dumbbell Rows

Do a couple lighter warm up sets first and then work up to progressively heavier weights. Once you get to your top working weight, do 3 sets of 10 reps for each arm.

Make sure to squeeze and contract the lats at the top of each rep for a brief second before lowering the dumbbell back down. Try to avoid using momentum as you lift the weight up, remember you are doing rows for building your back, you’re not trying to start a lawn mower.

Rest 1 minute between each set. Do a set for one arm, rest a minute, and then do a set for your other arm (this is considered 1 set). Keep going in this fashion until you complete 3 heavy working sets of 10 reps for each arm.

Face Pulls

This is the “secret exercise” for thickening up the upper back and strengthening the rear delts. I learned about this exercise from powerlifting guru Louie Simmons of the WestSide Barbell Club.

The face pull is a staple move for most powerlifters because it helps keeps the upper back in balance with your chest and shoulders. It’s very common for the front delts to get overdeveloped compared to the rear delts because whenever you do pressing exercises like the bench press the front delts get worked. However, most people don’t do a whole lot of direct training for the rear delts and upper back.

lee-hayward-louie-simmonsLee Hayward & Louie Simmons

facepullFace Pulls Using The Cable Cross Over Pulley

To perform this move simply attach a rope to a cable cross over pulley and set it at head height. Grab the ends of the rope and row it towards the sides of your face (hence the name face pull).

If you don’t have an adjustable cable cross over pulley you can do this on a seated cable row machine as well with a rope attachment. And if you don’t have cables than you can do the same move using rubber fitness bands such as the Body Lastic Bands.

Face pulls work best for higher reps, so shoot for 4 sets of 15 reps to really pump up the upper back. Rest 1 minute between sets.

Hyper Extensions

The final finisher to this killer back workout is hyper extensions. I’ve always been a big fan of doing high rep hyper extensions for building up the lower back. They are an excellent exercise that work the spinal erectors, glutes, and hamstrings. I shoot for 100 total reps (i.e. 4 sets of 25 reps, 5 sets of 20, etc.). By this stage you will have already worked your lower back hard with the deadlifts, so you won’t need extra weight, just use your bodyweight and feel your back get pumped like crazy!

Hyper Extensions Lee Hayward
Hyper Extensions

Depending on your fitness level and work capacity you may or may not be able to do 100 total reps of hyper extensions. But that’s ok, just do 3-4 sets of as many reps as you can do and build up the repetitions gradually overtime. Take at least 1 minute rest between sets when doing hyper extensions.

The 100 reps of hyper extensions is a goal that you should work towards. And once you reach that goal of 100 total hyper extensions you will no longer complain about having a weak lower back.


No weight training workout is complete without stretching. After your workout you need to stretch out the muscles you just trained in order to help reduce soreness, speed up recovery, and improve your flexibility and range of motion.

After every back workout go over to the pull up bar and grab the bar and hang on for as long as your grip will last. Repeat 3-4 times using different hand positions each time to stretch out the lats from different angles. This is not only a great back stretch, but a fantastic grip builder. Rest 1 minute between each stretch to allow your grip to recover.

Once your finished hanging from the pull up bar, touch your toes (or try to) and hold that stretch for 2 sets of 30-60 seconds. This will help ease up the tension in your lower back from the deadlifts and hyper extensions.

Back Stretches Touch Your Toes

Back Stretches

(Note: I have a full stretching video series posted on YouTube showing how to stretch out after each of your workouts at: Lee Hayward’s Stretching Videos)


Well there you have it, a complete back workout from top to bottom. Do this workout routine once a week as part of your bodybuilding training split. When doing a high volume workout like this it’s best to set aside a day just for back training, rather than trying to pair it up with another body part.

Re-Cap Of The Back Workout Routine:
Pull Ups – 50 total reps with bodyweight (or as many reps as you can do).
Deadlifts – work up to 3 heavy sets of 5 reps.
One Arm Dumbbell Rows – 3 sets of 10 reps per arm.
Face Pulls – 4 sets of 15 reps.
Hyper Extensions – 3-4 sets of as many reps as you can do.
Stretching – Hang from the pull up bar and touch your toes.

If you like this workout routine, I won’t hold it against you if you LIKE it and SHARE it on facebook 😉
And please leave me your comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

About The Author


Lee Hayward is a former competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online coaching people since 1997. His work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes. Lee's main focus right now is with helping men over 40 - who don't want to be fat anymore - lose the gut, build muscle, and get back in shape. If you're ready to "Start Again" for the last time and finally build a lean healthy body that you can be proud of, just e-mail Lee to discuss a realistic action plan that's right for you...


  • Pat

    Wow the face pull rules !!!Really isolates the rear delts!!!
    Keep up the good work!

  • ASH

    Hey lee,

    thank you….

    what’s deference between One Arm DUmbble and One Arm cable …..

    and which one can make quick muscle..


  • Denzil Liburd

    I’m doing my back tomorrow,and i will incorparate that in my workout thursday is always my back workout day cant wait cheers Lee good health to you mr man.


  • Aspen Luxury Rentals

    Very nice and beautiful article its helps to do an exercise in right and accurate way.

    Thank y ou.

  • I tried the facepulls at the gym yesterday and I liked it. I’m a bit sore today, not too much though and I’ll be ready to try this move again tomorrow when I go to the YMCA again.

    Mad props Lee

  • Joseph

    It’s funny my back is probably my strongest body part other then my legs and I can maybe do 7 pull ups lol and that’s after training it for several months.. Always felt like I was straining my shoulder joints too much for the benefit it gives of course that’s using body weight and not the machine..
    That over hand grip on dead-lift makes me feal off balance and so more chance of injury instead of just using straps and a regular grip.. Seems like if I remember correctly you saying something like this in the past about you preferring a regular grip on dead lifts with straps instead of the over head version.. Anyways good stuff as usual, keep up the good work.

  • Eu-Juan

    Awesome workout, I have been following you for some time and always sound advice. I gym because of my back, I have scheuermanns and scoliosis. So my back is very fragile and ofcourse posture wise really bad too. I love the face-pulls but please could you suggest exercises that would really target and basically counter the ‘hunch’ caused from above mentioned? It will not correct it(surgery dependent) but hopefully alleviate it to a large degree… any feedback will be appreciated.


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