Barbell exercises are a staple in many strength and hypertrophy training programs. They allow for a wide range of motion and allow for the use of heavy weights, making them effective for increasing both strength and muscle size.
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In this article, we will discuss some of the best barbell exercises for the back, including their proper form and how to incorporate them into a training program. These exercises include the barbell deadlift, barbell rows, barbell bent-over rows, and barbell shrugs. We will also discuss the benefits of each exercise and how to properly progress in weight and volume. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter, incorporating these barbell exercises into your training program can help you build a stronger, more muscular back.
The barbell is such a great tool that is so widely used because it can be easily loaded. The loading of the barbell means that effective strength adaptations can take place. Other pieces of equipment like the dumbbell and the kettlebell simply are not as effective at gaining strength as the barbell because they become very impractical to use when dealing with heavy weights.
The barbell also offers a large variety of exercises, this can make training more fun and interesting which in turn can lead to improved consistency. Consistency is the basis of any physical practice and therefore if variety can lead to consistency it is a very important piece of the puzzle when trying to build a physical practice.
The barbell is an effective tool to use when trying to create hypertrophy adaptations. Although it is effective when used with heavy loads it can also be just as useful when used with light to moderate loads to create different types of adaptation. The barbell bent over row is one of the best exercises available to create hypertrophy adaptations in the back.
Increasing the strength and size of the muscles in the back, which as we have discussed can be done by using a barbell, can drastically improve posture. This improved posture can help reduce strain on your muscles, bones and joints. Having stronger muscles in your back will allow you to maintain good positions with little effort. There are many other reasons why good posture is important such a breathing and even appearance.
Having a strong and muscular back can undoubtable help improve athletic performance. If your sport requires a strong back like say Judo or rugby, then using these barbell exercises to improve the strength of the muscle in the back can be hugely beneficial to athletic performance.
Injury mitigation through increasing the muscle strength and size in the back is a very effective process. Strong muscles provide support for the joints, help absorb shocks and protect your bones on impact.
Growing your back with a barbell will take consistent effort and require you to follow a training programme. This training programme should consist of enough working sets to grow the muscles in your back. Here are some volume guidelines of how many sets you should be doing to either maintain the size of the muscles in your back or grow them.
Minimum Volume - 8 sets per week
Minimum Effective Dose - 10 sets per week
Adaptive Volume - 14 to 22 sets per week.
In terms of training frequency it’s probably best to be training around 2-4 times a week to be hitting these sorts of volumes. Only training the back once a week will make it difficult to be within your adaptive volume.
Increasing your neural efficiency (strength) of the muscles in your back through lifting heavy weights can easily be done with a barbell. This style of training will involve lifting heavy weights with fewer repetitions. This means doing between 3-5 repetitions for 3-5 sets a few times a week. This is just a rough guideline but can be a very easy way to conceptualise how to increase the strength of any muscle group or specific lift. Increasing the strength of the back muscles with a barbell through deadlifting is probably the most effective way to achieve this goal.
For me personally when I am designing sessions for myself and my clients I enjoy using the barbell as a primary exercises for pulling exercises, like a barbell bent over row, and using the dumbbell pull exercises as secondaries. This will allow you to both build strength and hypertrophy in the muscles in your back.
Barbell bent over row are the most effective exercise for gaining muscle in the back with a barbell. It is the go to horizontal pulling option with the barbell and can be used very effectively to perform high number of repetitions at moderate loads.
Supinated barbell bent over row is very similar to the standard bent over, just with a different grip position to add some slight variety. It is also effective at creating hypertrophy adaptations in the muscles of the back.
Deadlifts are without doubt the most effective way to increase the strength of the muscles of the back. The deadlift can be done with very heavy loads, although it also requires strength in the hamstrings and glutes, the back muscles are a key component of this lift. The neural capabilities through lifting heavy deadlifts will occur through doing heavy deadlifts with a barbell. These can also be used for muscle gain, but this will take a great deal of energy from the central nervous system unlike say the barbell bent over row.
The sumo deadlift is similar to the conventional deadlift in the sense that it can be used to create strength and hypertrophy adaptations effectively. If you’re an experienced lifter you will know which lift suits your morphology type and can chose between the conventional and sumo deadlift. If you have never learnt the sumo deadlift you may want to give it a go and see if you find it a comfortable way to lift weights off the ground.
The single arm landmine row is an excellent unilateral variation for growing the muscles in the back. This horizontal pulling variation is an excellent way to build high amounts of volume in the back if you only have access to a barbell. One limiting factor here may be grip strength. As gripping a barbell head can be difficult for long periods of time it may be worth while investing in some straps to ensure that grip isn't the limiting factor.
The staggered stance landmine row is very similar to the single arm landmine row but is slightly easier as the staggered stance position allows you to find a more comfortable and stable hinge position. I would recommend this for more intermediate lifters and the single arm landmine row requires very good and stable hinge positioning.
The landmine bar row is a great horizontal pulling variation to build volume in the upper-back muscles for muscle growth. It will be hard to add weight to this exercise as it will become too tempting to use momentum to lift the weight, taking away from the work required form the back. This exercises should mainly be used for muscle gain purposes over strength gain.
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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.