How To Train Your Back For Maximum Hypertrophy

You’ll be walking through doors sideways after this read.

The back is an extremely juicy piece of real estate for muscle growth. Not only does it have some of the largest muscles in your body, but it’s also composed of many smaller parts. Altogether this offers you a programming dream to construct any number of “back days” for the foreseeable future.

With any muscle group, there are a ton of effective strategies to customize your workout. There are also some crucial training keys to maximizing your results.

Muscular bodybuilder's back.

Dig into the meat and potatoes of muscle growth and learn how to train your back for maximum hypertrophy.

Back Hypertrophy 101

Training to build muscle can be one of the most challenging — yet enjoyable — experiences for a physique-oriented athlete

With a muscle group like the back, you’ll often receive a dose of both heavy training and some serious pump action. This will help you produce significant mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and to a certain extent, muscle damage.

Mechanical tension is the physical strain or effort that your muscle experiences during each repetition. The hardest (or most grinding) repetitions are those that often produce the most mechanical tension. Using heavier weights for moderate to lower repetitions are a great way for you to stimulate a ton of mechanical tension.

Muscular bodybuilder doing a lat pulldown.

Think of intentional muscle damage as a side effect of good training. Whether you’re hefting lighter or heavier weights, all difficult sets and repetitions will likely cause some small degrees of damage. That’s all you need. The vast majority of growth stimulation should be coming from metabolic stress and mechanical tension. From here, eat, sleep, and start growing.

Hypertrophy for Different Muscles

Not all muscles require the same type of training stimulus. In terms of your back muscles, you don’t want to load each muscle with very heavy weights. Train your rhomboids, for example, with relatively light weight and more reps. But you can train your lats — significantly bigger than your rhomboids — with much heavier loads for fewer reps.

With physically smaller muscles, going slightly lighter and accumulating a ton of metabolic stress (think lactate) can help you achieve a similar result by the end of your sets. As your muscle fatigues, a larger number of fibers will be forced to work hard and receive an opportunity for growth.

Back Hypertrophy Tips and Tricks

Your back can be a tricky creature to train. Here are some handy tips and tricks to get the most out of your back training.

Know When to Load It

Training for maximum back hypertrophy looks different for each of your specific muscles. Your rep scheme and load will be different depending on specific exercises, too. 

With compound exercises that allow you to go heavy while maintaining safe form, try using a heavy load. Exercises such as chest-supported rows that help you maintain your position are great exercises to go a bit heavier on. Perform around six to eight repetitions to give yourself enough training stimulus without a breakdown in form.

Know When to Rep it Out

Other times, you’re working with smaller muscle groups or performing exercises that require a bit more stability. This is when you’ll want to use less weight with higher repetitions

Areas such as your rear deltoids or teres major (smaller muscle groups that add some spice to your physique) are perfect examples here. In the long run, you might be able to load them heavier. But most of the time, you’re better off with a 10 to 15-repetition range to avoid overload and technical breakdown.

Unilateral Is Key

Unilateral exercises are huge assets for maximizing your back hypertrophy. It is extremely effective at maintaining a balance between the strength and size of each muscle. To create that picturesque symmetry that physique athletes strive for, you’ll want to include your fair share of unilateral dumbbell and cable exercises here.

A person doing a single-arm back workout.

Unilateral training also accounts for the uniqueness that is your body. Your limb length, shoulder width, or any other factor affecting how you may complete an exercise can be customized by going unilateral.

Target Every Muscle

There is a deceptive amount of muscle groups that contribute to the overall aesthetic of your back. The most obvious muscles — like the lats, traps, and rhomboids — may stand out during most workout plans.

But don’t forget about muscles such as the teres, rear delts, and even your lower back. While typically seen as smaller muscles, accounting for these overlooked nooks and crannies can add to your physique.

How to Program for Back Hypertrophy

If you’re looking to maximize your back hypertrophy, there are some big rocks to account for in your programming. Intensity, volume, and frequency are all major players in the back-building game. 

Intensity for Back Hypertrophy

Training for back hypertrophy is, in some ways, similar to what you need to do for all other muscle groups. To stimulate significant muscle growth — especially if you’re using lighter weights — you may want to train reasonably close to muscle failure. (1)

A person doing a dumbbell row.

How you get there will look a bit different depending on the exercise or training implement. For larger muscles or when using free weights, look to gain some strength in addition to muscle mass. To accomplish this, aim to utilize around 80 percent of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). Try to hit muscle failure with good form while performing sets of six to eight repetitions with 80 percent or higher of your 1RM. (2)

For smaller muscle groups or when you are later in a workout, choose a higher repetition count that will still get you close to failure. Machines and cables are usually the implements of choice here. 

With smaller muscle groups, it’s harder to use a percentage of your 1RM, since you don’t generally max out with small muscles or cable machines. Instead, aim to use a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to help you get close to failure.

Both of these options (1RM or RPE) seem effective at stimulating muscle strength and hypertrophy. (3) Assuming you stay relatively close to muscle failure (leaving one to three repetitions in the tank), use whichever strategy works best for you to effectively target each muscle.

Volume for Back Hypertrophy

Volume — how much weight you’re lifting overall during your workout sets — is a great tool for muscle growth. Using progressively greater volume over time seems to be highly associated with increased muscle hypertrophy. (4)

For most muscle groups, trying to get 10 hard sets per week seems to be a good landmark for growth. Although you can potentially see greater progress by adding more volume per week, start here before increasing as your schedule and ability to recover may allow. (4)

Frequency for Back Hypertrophy

Frequency — in this case, how often you’re training your back — is another potentially big piece of the hypertrophy puzzle. It seems that if your volume is consistent week-to-week, your exercise frequency is less important

For example, training once-per-week or a twice-per-week push-pull-legs split are both effective options. As long as you get all the work done within the week, you can choose the style that works best for you. (5)

One important consideration for back training is the ability to split up the numerous back muscles between two or more days. So, you might target your bigger back muscle groups on one day and your smaller muscle groups on another day. This way, you might be able to come at each day with higher intensity and less time required per workout

Common Back Hypertrophy Mistakes

There are a handful of sneaky back day mistakes that might be limiting your results. Here’s how to fix them.

Overlapping Exercises

The back is composed of many muscles that are most effectively targeted through unique exercise angles or exercise types. While some movements or training implements may seem different, a program may have redundancies that leave room for improvement.

The Fix

Make sure your program involves both row and pulldown-style exercises but also manipulates your exercise angle throughout the session. Subtle changes in the angle — how close your arm is to your body — can affect which muscle group (lats, rhomboids, or traps) is getting the most work.

Grip Limiting Your Gains

An extremely common issue that arises with back hypertrophy training is when your grip starts to fail before your back muscles. Your back is a strong and durable set of muscles, but each movement will tax your grip throughout the day. If the grip starts to fail before the muscle of choice, this is a problem.

The Fix

The best solution is to build your grip such that it doesn’t become a recurring problem. But when you’re going especially heavy — or when you’re still developing your grip strength — keep a solution handy. 

Carry a set of lifting straps with you. Train your back exercises without straps for as long as possible to help with your grip strength. Once your grip starts to give way, toss on the straps so your back growth doesn’t get impeded.

Too Many Reps in Reserve

It can be difficult to gauge how far away you are from muscle failure, especially on higher repetition sets. The burn starts to get intense and it feels super challenging — but is the muscle group really about to fail?

The Fix

Muscle failure is often associated with an involuntary slowing of repetition speed. This is a solid indicator that your set is getting close to failure. But you may still have more in the tank than you think. 

A person in a white tank top doing pull-ups.

You don’t need to take every set to failure to see growth. Still, taking the last set of the day on an exercise to failure is a great assessment and growth tool. You can then recalibrate your entire program around the result, adding load where applicable.

Trying to Do it All At Once

Once you’ve accomplished some initial growth, it can get more difficult to see the same results. Particularly if you’re trying to keep every muscle group of the back involved in every workout, it can become a bit overwhelming. You may fatigue before every muscle gets its due.

The Fix

Design your program in blocks that emphasize each muscle group, shifting which muscles get priority with different days and training cycles. There is a high degree of synergy between many muscle groups of the back. This means that you’ll likely hit them with at least a maintenance dose of training even when they aren’t the priority.

As your physique develops, take a few months to emphasize each muscle group to see better growth in the long haul.

Best Exercises for Back Hypertrophy

As with every muscle group, there will be some heavy-hitting exercises that will help deliver the goods for your back training. Your program should change over time, but these exercises (or their variations) will likely be recurring throughout your lifting experience.

Bent-Over Barbell Row

The bent-over barbell row is one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck back exercises around. It integrates nearly every muscle group, including the lower back and postural muscles

This is primarily a strength-based compound movement, meaning that you can build up to a heavy load here. Take your time and let the load accumulate slowly.


The pull-up is another bread-and-butter back exercise that integrates a ton of muscle and coordination. Primarily drawing on the lats (and some of the upper back), you’ll need a lot of proprioception and full-body tension to stabilize your body through the range of motion. These will have great carryover to even machine-based exercises in the future. 

Most gyms also have assisted variations available, from resistance bands to machines designed to help you perform assisted pull-ups. With these tools, you can build towards your first pull-up or perform them for repetitions no matter where you’re starting. 

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is a more stabilized neighbor of the pull-up. It targets many of the same muscle groups (the lats and upper back) as the pull-up. But the leg anchors and cable system help you get close to failure with less demand on full-body tension.

With various grip choices, the lat pulldown will serve as a fantastic muscle builder for your program. You can target slightly different areas of your back while utilizing all those grip options.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

The single-arm dumbbell row is another free weight staple for your back day. It helps build full body strength and coordination because you’ll be training one side at a time.

Still, you can often load this move with fairly heavy dumbbells. Throughout your training life, a good single-arm dumbbell row can be a cornerstone of solid lat development.

Rear Delt Cable Row

The rear delt cable row is a sneaky variation of the seated cable row that helps build up the smaller muscles of your upper back. While some might place rear delt work on shoulder day, they are also responsible for contributing to many back-related movements. 

Line up your cable rows with about a 45-degree arm angle. Then lock your shoulder blades back and down, and go to town.

Rear Delt Cable Fly

The rear delt cable fly is a lighter but longer-levered rear delt movement relative to the row. It takes advantage of your arms staying long and more extended at the elbow. This means that you don’t need as much weight to get the job done. 

This is particularly helpful, as the rear delts are a smaller muscle group that might be hard for you to easily target. Take things lighter and with higher repetitions to preserve your technique.

Single-Arm Machine Row

The single-arm machine version of a row is a highly customizable exercise that helps you get truly close to failure. Since you’re using a machine, you’ll have a much easier time taxing the back muscles because the line of pull is very stable. 

Since you’re not working as hard to simply stay in position, you can take your lats and traps over the finish line with less coordination than the dumbbell version.

Single-Arm Cable Pulldown

The single-arm cable pulldown is a strong candidate for one of the best back exercises to place in your program. This unilateral version with a cable allows you to fully tailor your technique to your body.

It’s more stable than the pull-up, so you won’t need nearly as much full-body coordination or overhead mobility. You should be able to take your lats close to failure for high-quality growth.

Chest-Supported T-Bar Row

The chest-supported T-bar row helps target the middle traps and rhomboids. It also helps you with stability. By resting your chest on the pad, you no longer need to exert energy to keep your position locked in. 

As a result, you can fully protract and retract your shoulder blades on each repetition. This helps you grow your mid-to-upper back without the slow breakdown of technique from unsupported variations.

Key Takeaways

Training your back requires a lot of moving parts, considering how diverse your back muscles are. Your exercise selection, muscle priorities, and split must all be incredibly unique. With that in mind, here are some key points to follow for every back day:

  • Make sure to target two to three muscles or muscle groups per workout.
  • Aim for 10 or more working sets per muscle per week (split however you prefer).
  • Lead off each workout training heavier (80 percent or higher of your 1RM) on free weight or compound exercises.
  • Catch a pump on a more stable implement like a machine (aim for keeping zero to three repetitions in reserve).

Keep Building

Carving out the details of your back will be a labor of love. With a ton of different angles, exercises, and training implements, you should be bursting at the seams with the biggest, broadest back around. 

Train heavy, catch a pump, utilize unilateral work, and take your sets to the max for the best results. Don’t be afraid to shake things up for a while and place particular emphasis on your muscle groups of choice. In the long run, it’s all going to be gains.

For more on how to train your back to the fullest, check out these back-focused training articles.


  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct;29(10):2954-63.
  2. Lopez, P., Radaelli, R., Taaffe, D. R., Newton, R. U., Galvão, D. A., Trajano, G. S., Teodoro, J. L., Kraemer, W. J., Häkkinen, K., & Pinto, R. S. (2021). Resistance Training Load Effects on Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Gain: Systematic Review and Network Meta-analysis. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 53(6), 1206–1216. 
  3. Helms, E. R., Byrnes, R. K., Cooke, D. M., Haischer, M. H., Carzoli, J. P., Johnson, T. K., Cross, M. R., Cronin, J. B., Storey, A. G., & Zourdos, M. C. (2018). RPE vs. Percentage 1RM Loading in Periodized Programs Matched for Sets and Repetitions. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 247.
  4. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082.
  5. Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Latella, C. (2019). Resistance training frequency and skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A review of available evidence. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 22(3), 361–370.

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