Bringing Up the Back Part Two

by Johnny Pain

In the last installment of this two-part series “Bringing Up the Back Part One” we looked at the necessity of a strong back. In this half we will look at an eight-week program designed to be a crash course in back development that will help add valuable back beef to your frame.

The Exercises

The Movements that we are doing here will be simple in nature. Two require machines (though the pullover can be done exclusively with dumbbells in the absence of a pullover machine). All are designed to place a tremendous amount of emphasis on the musculature of the back resulting in growth and strength development.

Each workout will consist of a pullover movement as a warm-up followed by a vertical pulling movement, a moderate horizontal pull, and a big, monster pull. For dessert we will be serving up the mighty “G-Row”, an infamous Greyskull favorite to finish things off.


The Dumbbell Pull-over: Lay perpendicular across a bench with only your upper back touching the bench. Hold a dumbbell in your hands as shown and keep your elbows slightly bent. Perform the exercise as shown in a slow and controlled matter, squeezing your arm pits as you complete the range of motion.


The Machine Pull-over: Adjust the height of the seat so that your elbows are hitting the pads on the arm of the machine. Push with your elbows, don’t pull with your hands. Bring the arm of the machine in a slow, controlled arc to your belly without momentum. Hold a squeeze at the bottom.


The V-Handle Pulldown: Sit upright in the seat with legs locked. Lock your lower back in extension, and push your chest out hard (it stays this way throughout). Reach until your shoulders are pulled up (as in a dead hang) and pull the handle down to your upper chest, driving with your elbows and thinking of your hands as hooks. Use straps preferably, but just say no to momentum.


The Weighted Chin: Palms facing you, weight suspended from a belt. Dead Hang. Pull until your throat touches the bar.


The Bent-Over Barbell Row: Keep your chest pushed out and get as horizontal as your body will allow while maintaining a good lower back position. Using a Bench Press grip on the bar, row the bar up towards your nipples (Drago is not at the finish position completely in the second photograph). Don’t “come down to meet the bar”, keep your torso fixed and move only your arms. Learn to feel the squeeze in your back as you pull your shoulders together at the top.


The Dumbbell Row: Ok, we aren’t starting a weedwhacker here; no sloppy, momentum nonsense. Let the weight hang dead at the start of each rep (keeping your shoulder somewhat back still). Row back towards your hip, not up towards your pec line. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.


The Deadlift: You know the drill here. Good mechanics, move the weight. Use straps if needed, but don’t round the back excessively on any rep. If the knees start buckling or sliding forward, stop trying to lift the bar, your set is done.


The Rack Pull: My favorite. Set the pins so the bar is just above the knee. Strap up and pull the bar keeping your chest poked out throughout the movement. Done heavy (and correctly) these will build your back like nothing else.


The G-Row: Lie face down on a Glute Ham Developer holding a barbell. Perform a back extension, pausing at the top. Once at the top, row the barbell up to touch your chest and hold for a three count. After the three count, let the bar down first and then return to the bottom position. That’s one.


The Frequency

You will be exposed to a heavy back training session two days per week, Monday and Friday assuming a M,W,F lifting schedule. The Wednesday workout will consist of two pressing movements (horizontal, moderate vertical) and a squat variant. It is important to remember that the focus of training during the duration of this program is to bring the back up to speed and cause some serious development in a concentrated period of time. The pressing movements and squats will not suffer any catastrophic losses; so do not flood my Q and A with fear based questions about what will happen to the squat. While the numbers may not shoot up dramatically on those movements in the short term, in the long run they will improve due to the increased back strength.

Remember, Strong Back = Strong Man.

The Program


Nautilus or Dumbbell Pullover : Two sets of 10-12 reps (just a hair shy of failure)

V-Handle Pulldown: One set of 6-8 reps followed by one set of 8-12 reps (to failure on both)

Bent-over Barbell Row: One Heavy set of 6-8 reps to failure

Deadlift: One Heavy set of 6-8 reps to failure

G-Row: Two sets of 5 with a three second hold at the top



Incline Bench Press: One set of 6-8 reps followed by one set of 8-12 reps (to failure on both)

Seated Dumbbell Press: Two sets of 8-12 reps to failure

Squat: One heavy top set of 4-6 reps



Nautilus or Dumbbell Pullover : Two sets of 10-12 reps (just a hair shy of failure)

Weighted Chin-up: Two sets 6-8 reps

Dumbbell Row: Two sets 8-12 reps

Rack Pull: One Heavy set of 6-8 reps

G-Row: Two sets of 5 with a three second hold at the top


Add weight to all movements in small (5 lb or less increments) if you are making the targeted rep range before failing. It is ok to repeat a weight and try to get more reps on the next session if you find yourself failing at the low end of the rep range. Any questions regarding how to progress the loading on any of the movements can be asked here.

Knuckle down and give each of these sessions your all for eight weeks and you will be very satisfied with the results. Assuming that you are feeding your body what it needs, you will have built a wider, thicker, stronger back. Don’t be surprised up if you need to go up a shirt size or two.

Enjoy, and drop me a line on the forum to let me know how you progress or to have any questions answered.


Johnny Pain is the man behind as well as the notorious Greyskull Barbell Club, and several other ventures. He is the author of several books on subjects pertaining to strength and conditioning. He can be found comically entertaining questions on his Q and A forum at or can be reached for consultations, training seminars, or speaking engagements at


9 Responses

  1. Mitch

    Awesome stuff. Thanks JP

    November 10, 2011 at 12:41 am

  2. stonewallwells

    Hey JP,

    On seated DB Presses, is it okay to use a neutral grip?

    November 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

    • A neutral grip will work fine if there is discomfort with a conventional grip.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm

  3. Illiest Villain

    Good Stuff, Would like to see a ‘Hamstrings’ and ‘Calves’ edition of this.

    2 areas where most people (me included) seem to be lacking.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

  4. Mikus

    Not that my back hasn’t been growing since the start of GSLP, but this looks like a welcome change for a couple of months… still recommend the usual plug-ins on other days?

    Hoping to get a chance to visit Greyskull in the not so distant future… Dover DE isn’t far away.

    November 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    • Yep, the other plug ins can be added during this time.

      You’re right Dover isn’t far. I’d love to have you out here. We have a seminar coming up Dec 17.

      November 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm

  5. Aaron K.

    Hi JP. Great workout. I personally have always had an affinity for back in the gym- but this looks like a welcome kick in the ass to my routine.

    My only question is regarding the volume. With only eight sets total, granted, done with perfect form and heavy weight, will you be getting enough of a workout? I usually am up around at least 16 total sets and up to 24 on higher volume days. Based on other readings, this isn’t uncommon. What are your thoughts? I appreciate any and all help.


    November 12, 2011 at 12:29 am

    • Aaron, traditionally there have been two somewhat opposing schools of thought in strength training, the volume school and the intensity school. I have long been a proponent of the intensity school. Create a stimulus, then get out of the gym and rest/recover. Make the set significant, go all out to failure, and then call it a day. Dorian Yates used to say that volume was a great way of generating intensity for someone who was incapable of generating intensity. Shoot a man in the head and there is no need to pump ten more rounds into him. He won’t die more.

      Thanks for the comments. Feel free to ask any additional questions in my q and a

      November 12, 2011 at 1:45 am

  6. Mikus

    I’ll be in Jersey for the Devils game/early Christmas with family that weekend, but will keep my eyes open for another seminar soon.

    November 13, 2011 at 8:57 am

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