An Intense Upper Back Workout For Breakthrough Results

The intent of this back workout is not to make it an end-all workout. It’s to add yet another tool to your list of workout methods. It is a high intensity upper back workout that will give you something to take you to a higher level, or help you break free from a plateau.

For it to work in that capacity, it has to be done with a high degree of intensity. That’s why it should be used periodically and not continuously. It is a breakthrough type workout.

You’ll do three exercises to a high level of fatigue with only enough rest between them to change to each weight station or change equipment. That will mean you will do in 10-15 minutes what you would normally take 30-45 minutes to do.

It’s the intensity that makes it work.

Keep in mind, if you don’t have one or any of the pieces of equipment shown, you can substitute something else. Just try to emulate the move and weight load. It may take some imagination, but keep in mind, your body doesn’t know whether you’re lifting a concrete block or a dumbbell.

Don’t be afraid to be creative.Lat Shoulder Control

Before starting, about the importance of the lats. Yeah it looks good to have a wide back. But more important than that the lats are what gives the deepest functioning ability to your shoulders. The lats enable stable, strong shoulder rotation and provide strength to finish the most difficult lifts and pulls done with the arms and shoulders. The lats also provide significant body armor protecting your body from hard impact.

My warm up for my upper back workout is often in the form of power cleans. These may be light, medium or heavy according to what my strength training needs are at the time. The power cleans are compound moves that fully warm up my legs, upper and lower back, and arms. Not absolutely necessary, but if you’re going to use this great strength and agility exercise, this is a good place.

The high intensity upper back workout starts here.

The first exercise I’m doing is a bent over two arm row with one end of a barbell.  Keep in mind, the important thing is to do them until you feel near failure.

Be sure to set your back when doing these to avoid injury. Don’t allow yourself to sway or allow your back to raise and lower when performing the rows.

Bent over two arm row

When concluded, without delay pick up your dumbbells and do some heavy one arm dumbbell rows. Keep in mind, heavy means what is heavy to you. It should dig in deep to the lats with a full awareness based on feeling the depth of effect.

After the fatigue of the barbell rows, these allow you to focus tightly on your lats without being inhibited by your weakest link which is your lower back. If you have access to a fitness center, you may be able to use a chest supported rowing machine.

One Arm Dumbbell Rows

The final exercise, without resting, are resistance band pull downs. Seated at an angle under the straps, back straight, keeping your arms high grip the band while positioning yourself so there is beginning resistance on the bands. At no point during this exercise should the band(s) go limp.

Note: Today, for a moderate cost, you can purchase resistance band systems that with a little imagination will rival the weight resistance of a high end gym cable machine. Mine can be used individually or combined for resistance up to 210 lbs.

Resistance Band Pulldowns

Pull the bands back smoothly as far as possible. Return to the beginning position. No jerky movements should be used. The return back to the beginning position should be slow ans smooth.

IMPORTANT: On the resistance band moves, there should be no relief on the muscle, up or down, until the exercise is completed – almost to failure. Also the elevated position of the bands is important to hitting the full range of muscle fiber in the lats.

Alternately you can duplicate the rowing exercises very effectively by lying under a barbell elevated on a squat rack or Smith Machine. This provides a very solid platform for pulling yourself up in a rowing motion. It can also be modified pretty significantly to add challenging elements to the exercise.

After these are complete, you should have done somewhere around 50-70 total reps between them all.

Now is time to rest for two minutes.

Alternatives or additions to the exercises above: Full bent barbell rows, straight bar inverted pullups, chest supported dumbbell rows.

How to use it.

Then repeat this intense set of back exercises again. Or use them as a one-time element added to your heavy strength training. Use it however you need it to accomplish your strength training goals.

Keep in mind that once you perfect the performance of these upper back exercises, you can use your imagination to add challenging elements to them.

As you progress through your workouts, the only limit to the number and ways of doing exercises to add challenge and effectiveness is your imagination.

Write down the details of this high intensity upper back workout. While nothing should be cut in stone, having a record of how you do each exercise accompanied by changes you make will go a long way in providing a long list of options going forward.

NOTE: In most articles I write from the perspective of what you can use at home, outdoors in  your yard, in the woods, at a park, etc. While I use a fitness center periodically throughout the year, I never want to get dependent on it to maintain a high level of fitness and strength.


Doing An Upper Back Workout Outdoors With No Equipment

Doing a back workout is kinda like watching an off white wall for an hour. It’s a serious strain with exercises that are not exactly “satisfying” to perform. But that’s until you do your back workout outdoors with no equipment. Well ….. no equipment except trees and rocks.

Remember, these are for ideas, not for cut-in-stone workouts. Use what works for you and what you want from life.

When we work out outdoors we take advantage of the vast array of opportunities and generally use it as a compound workout. When we did the pulling and lifting here we had already run uphill and carried rocks for about a 2 mile course of trails and hills.

rock lift warmup

Lift rocks warming up fully and doing reps carefully from a safe position.

Use caution when lifting rocks or other items outdoors

Keep in mind that when you do any kind of rowing exercise for your back you are also working your lower back. This is where the prospect for injury is very prevalent.

When doing bent rowing exercises this way proceed slowly and carefully until you fully understand your body’s response and limitations. This is not like working out on a flat floor in an air conditioned gym or your home exercise room.

When doing this type back workout be sure your feet are squarely and solidly placed for stability. You should be able to pick up a rock, tree limb or whatever odd item you find in the woods without falling down. You can see that even though I’m standing on the side of a hill, my feet are squarely and solidly placed on the shale and rock surface.

We start by warming up with small rocks or tree limbs. We means my daughter, Jacquilyn and I. Watching her, women should get a clear understanding that resistance work, whether with chrome weights or rocks will not turn them into massive muscle bound female hulks.

Then the work proceeds with bent rows using single, heavy rocks.

  • Start by carefully bending and picking up the rock
  • It should be a rock that allows you to pick it up remaining bent over without injuring your lower back.
  • As with manufactured weights, simply lift the rock toward your chest while remaining bent over.
  • Lower it back to starting position to complete the repetition.

rock bent row start  Rock Bent Rowing  Bent row end

Bent rows with two rocks (like dumbbells)

  • Simply repeat the process above using two individual rocks – one in each hand.

This changes the dynamics and range of motion, working the muscle at slightly different angles.

picking up two rocks    jac-rowing    jac-rowing-end

The now famous tree lat pull back exercise

  • Find a tree with a low hanging {sturdy} branch
  • Jump up and grab the branch swinging the soles of your feet up to the tree trunk.
  • With your feet remaining in place pull your upper body up as far as possible
  • Lower your upper body back down to complete the repetition.

Tree lat pull start  tree lat pull up  Tree lat pull finish

All the bent rowing exercises with rocks have the compound effect of working your biceps and hands as well as lower back. The downside to that is the lower back work is mostly from strain, not intentional focused work.

Again, this is a page of ideas. These type exercises and overall workouts can add variety and effective supplements to your gym workouts. Or they can be stand alone workouts for outdoor competition, challenges and goals.

You can combine them with home or gym workouts or make the outdoors your full gym for every aspect of your fitness pursuits.