Barbell pulling exercises are one of the best ways to improve the strength and increase the muscle mass of your upper back, which can help you improve your aesthetics, posture and athletic performance. We have selected the 5 barbell pull exercises you should consider adding to your training regime.
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These barbell pulling movements will do an excellent job at increasing the contractile strength and force production of the muscle in the upper back. These exercises can be difficult to do at high weights and low reps as they require a lot of discipline to not use momentum from the hips. This doesn’t mean that they are in effective at increasing strength it just means you will need to be very focused on performing the exercise with good technique.
All of these exercises can be a very effective way to build the muscles in the upper back. When attempting to build muscles in the upper back it’s important that grip endurance isn’t the limiting factor so you may want to use straps to ensure you are getting as much volume as your back can tolerate, not your grip.
Pulling strength can be an important part of many contact sports like both rugby and judo for example. Using these barbell pulling exercises alongside a balanced strength and conditioning programme will enable improvements in athletic performance
Having a strong and large upper back can be a great way to see increases in your deadlift. The deadlift will require these muscles to be large and strong so doing accessory work with these exercises will be beneficial to those looking to increase their deadlift.
For strength training your going to want to use lower repetition ranges with heavy weights. For these style of exercises using rep ranges between 4-8 for strength will be appropriate, going below 4 repetitions for pure strength work will just encourage the use of the hips to lift the weight. For the sets used, as a general guidelines using between 3-6 within a session will allow you to see strength gains if your training consistently.
For muscle gain in the upper back you will want to use between 8-15 working sets per week in this movement pattern. This will allow you to see excellent gains in the upper back musculature over time. The sets per week can be split over multiple sessions and multiple exercises so don’t feel like you need to put everything into the same session.
The bent over row is the most well known barbell pulling exercise and rightly so, it is the most effective at both strength and hypertrophy. It should be performed with control and as much contraction as possible from the upper back. One key thing to avoid with this exercise is the lifting of the chest after each repetition, its very easy to do this so make sure your chest is staying close to the ground.
The supinated bent over row is very similar to the bent over row just with a different grip position making it ever so slightly different than the bent over row. The main emphasis should be on using the muscles in the upper back and creating as much tension at possible in the muscles. This can be a great exercise to use after the bent over row has been used in multiple cycles to add some variety to the bi-lateral horizontal pulling exercises.
The landmine bar row is an excellent bi-lateral pulling exercise, especially for upper back hypertrophy. It needs to be done with control and not shrugging as is so often seen in commercial gyms. Make sure you’re using the muscles in the upper back to lift the weight and not the momentum from the hips. Also make sure before you start this exercise that you’re not going to pull the weight into your chin. Holding a stable lower back throughout can also be difficult so make sure you’re putting emphasis on keeping clean positions.
The staggered stance single arm landmine row is a great variation for athletes looking to improve pulling strength with a barbell. It requires a lot more core strength than the previously mentioned exercises meaning it can have two adaptations. The landmine is particularly hard to grip for multiple repetitions so make sure you’re using a strap on this exercise.
The landmine singe arm low row is a great replacement for the kettlebell and dumbbell variations of this exercise. One aspect that is difficult is the fixed barbell path which can make the end of the pull a little uncomfortable. You will need to wear a strap if performing this for high number of repetitions.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.