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How To Develop A Powerful Back (and why you should)

From: The Desk of Maverick Brenton
Subject: Developing A Powerful Back.
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I grew up training in a gym that had dirt for a floor and no roof.

When it rained, you just trained in the mud.

Rusty barbells, homemade dumbbells and old steel plates that clanged loudly when you slapped them on the bar made up the equipment we had – along with a pull-up bar and a dip bar.

It was real old school this place.

No bullshit music, no televisions and no girls walking around with their ass cheeks hanging out.

That’s why I don’t like commercial gyms.

It’s not that I don’t like seeing girls wearing almost nothing, I prefer them that way – it’s just the atmosphere that I don’t like.

I like gritty gyms that smell like pain.

Gyms where proper men train.

So coming from this background I naturally gravitated towards the hardcore power-lifters and strongmen like Brandon Lilly, Eddie Hall, Loui Simmons and Pete Rubish.

Everything those guys said, wrote or published – I studied and memorised so that I could implement it into my own training.

Brandon Lilly was always my favourite lifter though.

The man is a fucking animal and was one of the strongest lifters on the planet before he got injured, which forced him to calm down just a little.

One day in school I was browsing through some material he had produced when I came across an article on the importance of developing a strong back.

He said the back was the most important muscle group to develop if you wanted to make yourself into a strong motherfucker and just look like a badass.

Now Brandon Lilly could rip about 360kg off the floor like it was nothing, without a belt and without straps – so a man with this level of strength certainly knows something worth learning.

Brandon Lilly.

Bill Kazmier, one of the strongest men in the world back in the old days, said the same thing.

“A strong back equals a strong man.”

After seeing the backs that these guys had developed, I decided that I wanted to build a big, bad, meaty back, too.

So I trained it every single time I was in the gym: hitting heavy rows, weighted pull-ups, deadlifts.

Anything and everything to make my back into a wall of muscle – I did.

The result after a few years was exactly what I wanted.

As you can see in the photo at the beginning of this article – I now have a very thick, wide and powerful back that allows me to move some serious weights in the gym.

I got so fucking strong at one point, that I had to buy a custom Dumbbell from the USA to hold all of my weights when I was doing Dumbbell Rows (my best was 120kg for 15 reps).

Years later, that strength is still with me and it’s nothing for me to use the heaviest dumbbell in a gym for my rows.

So there are many benefits to building a powerful back.

Below I’m going to give you my top three benefits and then we’re going to dive into my favourite exercises for building a big back.

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Three Major Benefits of Developing A Powerful Back.


1 – A well developed back speaks power and strength like nothing else – it makes the statement that you are a strong son of a bitch who is not to be fucked with.

2 – It will make you stronger in basically everything.

3 – Women love digging their claws into a muscular back – especially Asian girls, for whatever reason that may be.

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The Best Exercises For Developing A Powerful Back.

Now that you know why you should start taking your back training seriously, lets dive into how I built my back.

You’ll have to experiment with these exercises yourself, to find what works best for your build.

There are plenty of exercises that I haven’t listed and that’s because I’m not listing what I have not tried and tested myself.

No machines exercises are present either.

I have not used enough back machines to be able to provide any reliable feedback on them.

I have used back machines to get a pump after working my main free weight exercises and for this they worked very well.

Here are the exercises that I have used to train my back for the past ten years.

And they’ve worked mighty fine.

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The Conventional Deadlift.

Hands down the greatest back building exercise that exists.

The conventional deadlift has formed the foundation of my back training from day one and getting stronger in the deadlift has added a tonne of muscle to my back, especially my lower back muscles.

It trains every muscle on your back, not to mention every muscle in your body.

This is a heavy weight movement and going light is a waste of time unless you’re just starting out.

Load that fucking barbell up if you want to make the most of this classic back building exercise.

The Barbell Row.

Second to the deadlift – the barbell row is my next favourite exercise for building the back and increasing strength in the deadlift.

This is a great movement for developing the lats and building thickness in the upper back.

Trying to use strict form never did anything for my back and I only started to see results from barbell rows when I forgot about form and just moved the fucking weight.

Put on some straps so your grip does not limit you and wear a belt if you want – then go move some heavy weight for as many reps as you can.

These can also be done from a deficit to increase the range of motion, allowing you to get a nice stretch at the bottom of the movement, which will help create muscle growth.

The Underhand Barbell Row (Yates Row)

For my body, this exercise has been the single most effective movement for building my lats and thickening up my biceps.

Dorian Yates was a huge advocate of it and he had one of the best backs of all time.

It’s exactly like the normal barbell row except you are using an underhand grip which I believe allows you to get a much better squeeze in the lats.

When I do these I like to let the bar stretch out my lats at the bottom of the movement, then explode up – squeezing as hard as I can at the top.

Do them for heavy sets and light sets using straps if you need to.

The T Bar Row.

A great one for building some serious thickness in the upper back and the lower back when done using heavy weights.

Don’t worry about using strict form – just move the weight and make sure you can feel it in the upper back.

These can also be done from a deficit which allows you to get a greater stretch at the bottom of the movement.

I like to work up to one heavy set of 3 to 5 reps, then do drop sets until the bar is empty.

You can use straps if you need to and a belt if you want to.

Heavy Dumbbell Rows.

There’s a reason I wrote heavy dumbbell rows and not just dumbbell rows.

What is that reason?

This exercise is pointless unless you use a heavy fucking weight.

I did them for years and years without anything happening – then I decided to stop performing the exercise like an old woman.

And once I started moving some heavy weight, my back started growing like crazy along with my biceps.

So forget about strict form: just let the weight stretch your lats at the bottom, then row it up into your stomach.

Go heavy for high reps to get the most out of these.

Aim to hit 225lbs/100kg for 20 reps on each arm.

Yes – you read that correctly.

The Wide Grip Pull-up.

The best exercise for building the lats and creating a wide cobra back.

Wide Grip Pull-ups build width in the lats and they also aid in building the deadlift – as the lats are a major player in the deadlift.

I like doing them every single day, to just get a pump and work on form.

If you’re back is lacking in size, then drop everything and do nothing but wide grip pull-ups every single day for three months.

At the end of that three months, you will no longer have a size issue with your back and this is a promise.

I got injured real bad a few years ago and the only thing I could do was pull-ups.

So I ran a pull-up specialisation program for almost an entire year: the result of doing this was an insanely wide back and achieving 40 reps at a body weight of 90kg, which isn’t too bad.

The Farmers Walk.

Probably the best exercise for building jacked traps and forearms.

You just pick up some real heavy shit and walk with it for as long as you can.

I like to use the farmers handles for shrugs too.

Load them up with as much weight as possible, then pick them up and shrug them for as many reps as you can.

Walking with them seems to be more effective though – so try out both and see what works, just be ready for some very sore traps.

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Sample Back Workout.

Wide Grip Pull-ups: 3 sets stopping just before failure (use body weight only)

Conventional Deadlift: Work up to one heavy set of 3-5 reps.

Underhand Barbell Row: 3 sets x 8-10 reps.

Farmers Handle or Barbell Shrugs : 3 sets x 20 reps.

Machine Lat Pull-down: 2 sets x 15 reps (very slow on the negative)

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That is how I built the back you can see in the image at the beginning of this article.

Years of hard work and sweat with the basics.

When it comes to building a big back – don’t use strict form unless you are doing machine work.

To get those back muscles growing you need to overload them with big weights.

Understand?

You can do a million sets of deadlifts and barbell rows and none of it will do a fucking thing if you’re not moving heavy weight.

At the end of the day you need to deadlift heavy shit, row heavy shit and do a lot of pull-ups – nothing else does anything that causes real growth.

If you can do that you will have a very impressive back provided you are eating enough to grow.

My advice is to make your back training a priority and train it multiple times a week.

Train it whenever you have a pressing workout. Train it when you train legs. Then train it on it’s own specific day.

Good luck.

And leave a comment if you have questions.

Your man,
Maverick Brenton.

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