I really want to build up the overall thickness and muscle mass in my back. I like the look of big, wide lats with a V-taper and I need some help on recommendations for my routine. What other exercises can I use in place of seated rows when training my back? My high school doesn’t have a seated rowing machine, so I need to find good alternative exercises to include in my back workouts.
Even though the seated row exercise is a great movement for developing your back, it’s not the best mass building exercise that you want to focus on when your overall goal is to pack on thick slabs of dense muscle mass to your back and lats. The absolute king of all back exercises is the deadlift and it’s the core movement that you want to include as the foundation of your back routine. The deadlift is a multi-joint exercise that recruits many different muscle groups and this allows more anabolic hormones to be activated and released. The more muscle building hormones that you can activate means the more overall gains you can achieve! With the deadlift movement, you are not only working your back muscles but you are also targeting your lower body including your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. This is exactly what makes the deadlift a true full body powerhouse exercise that will help you build up muscle mass all over your entire body.
There are a few different styles of deadlifts that you can choose from, so try a few of them out and see which one feels the best. The most common type is the conventional deadlift where you take a shoulder width stance and either use a double overhand grip or a over-under hand grip where one palm is facing down and the other palm is facing up. The other popular variation to this exercise is the Sumo deadlift where your legs are spread super far apart to the sides with your arms reaching down inside of your legs, which mimics the stance of a Sumo fighter.
Along with the deadlift exercise, there are several other great mass building back exercises that you can use instead of seated rows. The best thing about these exercises is that you only need some dumbbells, a barbell and your own body weight.
One Arm Dumbbell Rows
This is a fantastic exercise for building overall thickness in your back and targets the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, lower traps, and the erector spinae. This is one of those great “bang for your buck” exercises that you can always rely on for packing on muscle mass to your upper body.
Bent Over Barbell Rows
After the deadlift exercise, this is the “go to” mass builder for your back. Make sure to use proper form on this movement since form and technique is of the utmost importance. Keep a slight bend in your knees as you slowly bend over at the waist while keeping your back flat and your shoulders up (avoid hunching your shoulders and back). You will quickly know if you’re using too much weight on this exercise if you begin to swing the weight and notice a large degree of up-and-down movement as you lower the weight down and row it back up. There should be very little vertical movement with your upper body when rowing the barbell up and down. Keep your upper body in a fixed position and get a peak contraction at the top before slowly lowering the bar back down to the starting position. A great tip is to perform this exercise in front of a mirror to double-check your form in order to make sure you are using 100% of your lats during the movement. If you start to swing at the bottom of the exercise, simply decrease the amount of weight you’re using and continue with the proper technique. It’s much better to use a lighter weight in order to place all of the emphasis on the muscle group being targeted and to ensure your overall safety.
Yes, I did include a bodyweight exercise into the mix of the best mass builders for your back. The reason for this is simply because the basic pull-up is an incredible exercise for developing a wide set of lats. It’s also a rather difficult exercise to perform and you really need to have a lot of upper body strength in order to do multiple repetitions. How many people do you know that can do 20 pull-ups using strict form? I’m not talking about the crazy swinging ones that they use in those CrossFit competitions either. I bet if you took a random sampling of 20 guys in your gym, maybe only 1-2 of them could do 20 full range pull-ups. You can either try adding a few sets of pull-ups as a warm-up exercise to do before starting your back workout or you can include them as a great finishing exercise at the end of your workout routine. If you’re totally burned out and can’t do any more than 2-3 strict pull-ups without crashing onto the ground like a freshly cut Douglas Fir tree, then use the pull-up machine which allows you to adjust the weight stack in order to find just the right resistance to allow you to perform 8-12 quality reps.