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Last Updated on January 7, 2021

Forget pull-ups and pulldowns for a day and use this barebones approach to building deep, grainy back thickness.

A great many lifters, when training back, spend a lot of their set equity on developing wide lats – everyone wants that great set of wings. But what often gets lost in this equation is the quest for back thickness – that deep, grainy, dense back that is the hallmark of so many great physiques. While vertical pulls are ideal for developing width, depth is achieved through the use of horizontal pulls and, yes, deadlifts.

Training hard and heavy with these kinds of moves can help you pack on the kind of mass that leaves your upper back looking like a den of coiled snakes. Or, you can go on training the way that you are and keep looking like a paper cutout. The choice is yours.


Yeah, we just went all Tolkien on you. But the fact remains that a simplistic approach – with the right intensity, of course – can help you construct the kind of back aesthetic that you’re looking for. If you have a width-focused back workout, you can simply do the workout provided on a second day later in the week, which will greatly accelerate your gains. Or, if you’re a high-volume guy, you can go ahead and try adding these moves to your existing back workout on one, all-out back-a-palooza.


All hail the deadlift! It is no coincidence heavy deadlifts are synonymous with great back development. The deadlift focuses on your erectors as you extend your torso to full vertical. This helps develop that bottom-to-top, Silverback-like thickness. But the better news is that the full-body load of deadlifts causes a surge in favorable hormones like testosterone and growth hormone that fill that area out while helping you add muscle and burn fat everywhere else.

After you are warmed up, you have 12 minutes to complete all deadlifts. Start with a weight you are capable of doing 8-10 reps with. For set one, do five reps. Rest 60 seconds and attempt five reps again. If you are unable to complete five reps do four, if you cannot do four reps do three, if you cannot do three reps do two, and if two reps is too much, do one. Always stop one shy of failure but do not exceedfive repetitions.  Repeat this process for 12 minutes.  The clock starts once you have completed your first set. On the last set, if you still have something left, go for an all-out rep max.


Named for bodybuilder, John Meadows, this exercise is like a one-armed dumbbell row, but it is done with a T-bar instead. You’ll grab the bar outside of the weight on the thick end of the barbell – feel free to use straps if the wider grip makes it tough to focus on your lats – then assume a bent-over rowing position and pull.

Traditionally, rowing exercises have long been known for building thick backs and this move is no exception. The heavy pull blasts the lats as well as the other depth-building muscles of your middle back including your teres major and minor. Meadows recommends slightly kicking your hips away from the bar and emphasizing the stretch, you will feel this in the lower lats.

Instead of counting reps, pick a weight you could do 15 reps with. Start with your weakest arm by performing as many reps as possible in one minute, emphasizing stretch and technique; rest one minute and match this number of reps on the stronger arms. Rest one minute, then do the same thing for 45 seconds on the original arm; rest 45 seconds and follow suit on the weaker arm. Rest 45 seconds and the final set on the strong arm go for 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds and finish for 30 seconds on the weaker arm.


In some pulling movements, the limiting factor is the biceps. Because they are involved and they fatigue before the back, straight-arm pulldowns are an isolation movement that work great for building back width and circumventing the biceps.

We are going to do this movement for two minutes straight! Pick a weight you can do 15-20 reps with. You are going to do three reps, slow and controlled and after the three reps are complete hold the weight in the top position emphasizing the stretch for five seconds. Repeat the process and do this for two minutes.

This move may be more width-first in your mind but after the heavy work early in the workout, these pulldowns will help to finish off your lats and flush them full of blood. To get a little extra depth-building “kick,” focus on trying to pull your elbows back and up at the bottom. Envision pulling the bar “through” your body for a little extra engagement of the middle back.



Rest Interval Intensity Sets Reps Time


60 seconds 8-10RM Max 1-5

12 min.

Meadows Row

60, 45, 30 Seconds 15RM 3 Max

Straight-Arm Pulldown

15-20RM Max 3

Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. His new book, Built to the Hilt, is now available at Amazon and EliteFTS. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at



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