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This Barbell Back Workout Builds Strength & Size

Arnold Schwarzenegger tensing his back muscles after completing a barbell back workout.

Barbell back workout

This barbell back workout brings you the best back-building exercises from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The New Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding. The workout is inspired by the training methodologies of some of the world’s top strength athletes.

Combining the training wisdom of legendary weightlifters, we've constructed a workout that delivers results.

Developing a broad, thick, and massive back is absolutely necessary in the creation of a quality . . . physique,’ (Schwarzenegger).

Barbell back workout benefits

For starters, this barbell back workout requires minimal equipment. With an Olympic barbell and an assortment of weights, you can complete this workout. And because you won’t be wasting time transitioning between different exercises, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get through it.

The primary purpose of this barbell back workout is to build strength. As Arnold Schwarzenegger tells us in the The New Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, ‘Strong back muscles are essential for lifting and carrying heavy weight, and a highly muscular back has always been considered the measure of a man’s strength.’

But this barbell back workout does more than build strength. Because it is organised around two big compound exercises – deadlifts and bent-over rows – this workout also increases muscle mass.

In addition to the compound movements, two isolation exercises have been enlisted to increase muscle definition and separation. This combination strength and sculpting exercises will help build and shape an impressive back.

Barbell back workout outcomes

If you include the barbell back workout in your general training routine, you may enjoy some of the following fitness benefits.

Increased back strength
Increased muscle mass
Improved muscle definition
Develop the width and thickness of the back

Back workout gym

This barbell back workout is best completed at the gym. Because the workout is designed to increase strength, you’ll need a range of weights. If you are unable to apply the poundage, you’ll fail to subject your muscles to overload, a training principle prerequisite for developing strength.

‘Muscles,’ Schwarzenegger reminds us, ‘will not grow bigger or stronger unless you force them to. Making your muscles contract against a level of resistance they are not used to will eventually cause them to adapt and grow stronger. [And] the primary way of doing this is to add weight to your exercises,’ (The New Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding – pp.136/137).

Also, because this barbell back workout involves powerlifting movement – deadlifts – it’s helpful to have access to bumper plates.

Back workout at home

However, you don’t have to train purely for strength. If you have a barbell and weighted discs at home, you could still use this workout for general back development. Even with lighter loads it will still improve muscle definition while conferring some strength benefits.

Barbell back workout

The barbell exercises have been organised to target specific sections of the back. Starting at the lower back, the deadlift engages the erector spinae muscles.

Deadlifts are an overall power exercise that involves more muscles than any other exercise in your [back] routine,’ (The New Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding).

Progressing to the middle section of the back, bent-over rows and barbell pullovers activate the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboids.

The bent-over row and barbell pullovers are great exercises for widening ‘the upper back and, to a lesser degree, [they] add density to the lower back.’

Moving up, the barbell shrug targets the upper traps and posterior deltoids. Together, these four barbell exercises will stimulate every muscle in the back.

Barbell deadlift

Method: 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps (80 to 100% of body weight)

Back muscles targeted: erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, infraspinatus, trapezius.

Deadlift key techniques

  • Adopting a shoulder-width stance, start with your feet under the bar.

  • Bending at the knee grasp the barbell; your hands are slightly wider than your feet.

  • Using glute and lower back strength, stand up.

  • As you stand ensure to drive the hips forward.

  • Once upright, return the bar to the floor for the next rep.

Related: Barbell Deadlift | Quick Demonstration

Barbell row

Method: 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps (60 to 80% of body weight)

Back muscles targeted: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, infraspinatus, trapezius.

Bent-over row key techniques

  • Assuming that you’re starting with an Olympic bar on the floor, to get into position perform the first phase of the deadlift (see technique overview above).

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width and hands spaced slightly wider along the bar.

  • Keeping a shallow bend at the knee joint, hinge forward at the hips until the bar is just below the knee cap.

  • The back must remain perfectly straight.

  • Applying a smooth rowing action touch the bar to your stomach.

  • To complete the exercise, extend your arms and repeat.

Related: Barbell Row | Quick Demonstration

Barbell bent-arm pullovers

Method: 6 to 8 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Back muscles targeted: lower lats, serratus.

Barbell bent-arm pullovers key techniques

  • First, sit on a flat weightlifting bench with a barbell resting on your quads. If you are training with a partner, they can hand you the bar when you’re in the start position described in the following points.

  • Holding the bar at your front, hands spaced slightly under shoulder-width, lie back along the bench.

  • The barbell is level with the chest, you are lying flat on the bench with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

  • Now press the barbell up as you would when performing a bench press.

  • Remember, your arms must remain locked in a bent position throughout the exercise.

  • Under control, lower the barbell back until it dips below your head.

  • In this position you will feel a stretch in the chest and your lats will engage as you pullover the barbell back to the start.

Barbell shrugs

Method: 6 to 8 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Back muscles targeted: trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus.

Barbell shrugs key techniques

  • Standing with a barbell at your front, ensure that your feet and hands are spaced shoulder-width.

  • Slowly and under control, attempt to touch your ears with your shoulders.

  • Pause at the top point and ‘squeeze’ your traps for a 2-second count.

  • Release under control.

  • Remember to keep your arms straight when shrugging.

  • Also, do not roll the shoulders. Simply raise your shoulders up and down.

Related: Try this back workout with dumbbells


Enjoyed this barbell back workout?

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This image shows the Hungry4Fitness book of circuits and workouts volume two. Inside the image it identifies the key features of the book which include: Over 70 fully customisable circuits and workouts suitable for all levels of fitness and ability; 4-Week Functional Fitness Training Programme; How to create your own circuits and workouts including essential training principles; Key exercise explanations and tutorials; A complete guide to fitness testing; The 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge; CrossFit-style training sessions including EMOM, AMRAP, and HIIT workouts; An illustrated, step-by-step guide to stretching.


This article on the barbell back workout concludes with the blog author. In this textbox it says: As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance! Blog Author: Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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