Higher-Rep Back Workout

In keeping with March’s higher rep sets, this workout used sets of 10+ reps with lighter weights.  I plan to repeat this workout tomorrow morning, adding 2.5 lbs or one extra rep where possible this week since this is the second time through the same sequence.

We started with 10 minutes of jump rope intervals with 45 sec on, 15 sec rest.  I aimed for 120 jumps/ 45 seconds to really get warmed up/get my heart pumping. Whatever number you hit on your first round, aim to match or beat that number each successive round.

Once you’re warmed up, move into the following series

  • 3 X 10 Machine rows – standing, high row, lateral row
  • 3 X 10 supersets of one-arm rows, bent over rows
  • 3 X 10 supersets of bent over rear-delt raise, bent over wide rows
  • 3 X 10 supersets of double pulley rows and lat pulldowns
  • 3 X 10 inverted rows
  • 3 X 10 t-bar rows

(1) Machine Rows:  We started with 3 rounds of 10 reps each standing machine rows (let me be honest – I have no clue what to call this machine 🙂 ), high rows, and lateral rows.  Choose a weight that is heavy without sacrificing form for all 10 reps.  If you can do 12 or more reps, add 2.5-5 lb plates until you can only hit ten reps.  If you are struggling after 8 reps, drop the weight by 2.5-5 lbs.

(a) For what I am calling the standing row, I added one 45 lb plate.  Focus on pulling your hands into your rib cae, with elbows pressed back.



(b) After you’ve completed 3 rounds of 10 reps, move on to the high row machine.


For high row, focus on pulling your hands into your chest, with elbows down and back behind you.  Work to keep your ribcage relaxed — if you feel your ribs pushing outward, take a deep breath in and imagine you are flattening your stomach as wide as possible.  This will help you to keep a neutral spine (and will therefore protect your back!).  Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and push through your heels.

You should be able to do more weight on this machine (depending on the brand and set-up.)  I used 65lbs/side for a total of 132 lbs (the machine starts with only 2 lbs weight on the machine at Equinox – adjust according to the machine at your gym.)



(c) When you finish high rows, move on to 3 rounds of 10 reps for lateral rows.


For these rows, pull your hands just below your chest, again driving the elbows back behind you.  Keep you feet planted and ribcage “soft” to protect your back.  I used 55lbs/side, for a total of 122lbs (again – the machines at Equinox indicate that the starting weight is 12 lbs for this machine.  Adjust according to the equipment at your gym.)

We alternated grips on each set, which altered the angle of the row (and therefore the exact target muscles of the row.)

A wider grip hits more of the inner back, near the spine:



The narrow grip targets the outer back:



(2) Free-Weight Rows: We then moved on to supersets of free-weight rows.

(a) First, we moved from one-armed rows to double arm rows.  I kept 35 lb weights for both movements, but most people can use heavier weights on one-arm rows than on double-arm rows.  Because this set ends up being a 30-rep movement, it may make sense to go slightly lighter than normal on the one-arm row.

Perform 10 reps on your stronger arm first, then on your weaker arm.  Immediately move into double arm rows.  By fatiguing your weaker arm with less rest, you can work to make your strength more even.

You can do one-arm rows on a bench or standing.  I did mine standing — bend the opposite leg as the working arm, and take a large step back with the leg of your working arm.  Bend over and use your non-working forearm to support your weight on the bent knee.  Holding the weight to your side, lift the elbow up and back until your hand is near your side rib cage.  Lower and repeat for 9 additional reps before switching sides.


For double-arm rows, bend over, keeping your back straight and you neck in line with your spine (it helps to look down about 6 inches to a foot in front of you.)  Raise both elbows up and back until both hands are at your side rib cage.


After you finish 10 reps, rest for 30 sec – 1 min, and repeat for 2 additional rounds.

(b) The next superset was bent-over rear delt raises and wide rows for 3 rounds of 10 reps each.  These moves are an “active recovery” set, so keep the weight very light.  I used 12.5 lb weights.

The starting position is the same for both moves – bend over at the waist, with your back straight and neck in line with the spine.  Drop your arms down, with the weights above your feet.


For rear delt raises, lift the arms out to your sides, with elbows slightly bent.


For wide rows, keep the palms facing in.  Bring your hands up and out to your sides until they are turned to ~45 degree angles.  Lift your elbows up and back.  You should feel the work in your upper back in the secondary muscles near your spine.


(3) Cable Supersets: Move to the cable machines for your next superset — again 3 rounds of 10 reps each.  I love cable machines because they place constant tension on your muscles – meaning extra work on both the concentric and eccentric parts of the movement.  Double pulley machines are even harder!  If your gym doesn’t have double pulley machines, you can easily substitute in low rows and regular lat pulldown, though I would suggest using heavier weights.

Start with double pulley rows.  I use about half the weight of low rows – 42.5 lbs.  Start with your knees slightly bent, but with your heels firmly planted into the footrests on the machine.  Keep your back straight and your neck neutral.


Pull the weight back until your elbows are slightly behind you and your hands are pulled into your ribcage.  (Isometric holding for pictures deserves extra points, haha — so hard!)


Immediately move into double pulley lat pulldown, again at half the weight of normal, of 42.5 lbs.



At the bottom of the movement, your back should be straight and your shoulders should be as relaxed as possible.  Your elbows will be pointing down and your hands will pull in right below your middle chest.

Complete 10 reps, rest for 30 sec – 1 min, and repeat for 2 more rounds.

(4) Inverted Row: more active recovery!  Inverted rows use you bodyweight, which should feel like a relief after some of the heavier weights.  To make it harder, put your feet out farther away from you.  Because this move is intended as a bit of a break, move them closer to the bar and rack the bar higher to make the move a little easier.  Complete 3 rounds of 10 reps.



(5) Finisher – T Bar Rows:  We finished with t-bar rows @90lbs.  Using a t-bar machine, set up your bar and load whatever additional plates you plan to use.  Stand over the bar, and position a v-bar attachment around the bar.  Keep your back straight and your neck neutral.


Pull the weight into your lower ribcage by bringing the the elbows close to your body and behind you.  Lower and repeat for 10 reps.



We finished out the workout with foam rolling and a 20 minute cool down walk at 3.5mph/2.0 incline.

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