Workout for a Bigger Back and Chest

The flaring, cobra-shaped back and a barrel chest is an imposing physique to come up against on the sporting field. It’s a look that is both powerful and athletic, and one you can obtain for yourself by following a few simple rules.

1. Pause and Squeeze
Almost every movement you perform when training your back will have you pulling something heavy towards your face or chest. At the height of each rep, your shoulders should be tightly pursed together and held for one count. This will add tension to your training and ensure your shoulders are pulled back and your chest is out when standing normally.

2. Heavy Isn’t Always Better
It might look impressive, but heavy weights won’t necessarily get you the barrel chest you desire. Going too heavy can limit your range of motion, so it’s sometimes better to drop the weight and feel the stretch. Performing some light, full-range-of-motion chest exercises is just what the doctor ordered.

3. Build Back and Chest Together
To keep yourself injury-free, it’s important that your back and chest are equally strong. If you can pull it, you should be able to push the same amount (and vice versa). While we know for sure that you’re training those pecs every Monday, don’t let your back lag behind. Super-setting your back and chest exercises is a great way to ensure that your back keeps up the pace and you’ll develop a footballer’s physique in no time.


Exercise Sets Reps
Warm-up Row 1 3 Minutes
Chest Press 3 8 – 12
Single Arm Dumbell Press 3 8 – 12
Lat Pull-Down 3 8 – 12
Single Arm Dumbell Row 3 8 – 12
Barbell Bent-over Row 3 8 – 12
Reverse Grip Pull-up 3 8 – 12

Warm-up Row

SET-UP: Take a seat on the rower and adjust the straps firmly over your feet. Taking an overhand grip on the handle, push back with your legs and pull the handle towards your chest. Depending on the machine, this should activate the screen and you can begin to row.

ACTION: Sitting tall on the seat and rowing with your head up and eyes forward, reach forward with the handle to begin your stroke. As you push back with your legs, pull the handle in towards your navel. Continue in this rhythm until your time or metres are complete.

TIP: Maintain a strong, upright position at all times. Bending the torso at the lower back may cause injuries when the work is performed with weak posture.

Single Arm Dumbbell Press
SET-UP: Using a Swiss ball, lie down so that your upper back, neck and head are firmly supported by the ball. Your legs are out in front creating a bridge with your body. Hold the dumbbell at your shoulder, elbow in at the sides.

ACTION: From there, press the dumbbell up towards the ceiling. Do not lock out the elbow. Return the weight slowly back down to starting position.

TIP: While using a Swiss ball, it is essential to stay stable by keeping your hips high and maintaining a neutral spine.

Resistance Machine Chest Press
SET-UP: Set the handles of the cable machine to chest height. With an overhand grip on the handles and holding them just outside your chest, take a step forward to create a staggered stance. The cables should be taut.

ACTION: Push the handle straight out in front of you until your arms are fully extended (do not lock out the elbows). Pause at the height of the movement before controlling the weight back to the starting position.

TIP: Avoid arching your back by keeping your core locked on tight at all times throughout the movement.

Lat Pulldown
TARGETS: Lower lats

SET-UP: Using an overhand grip, grasp the pulldown bar with both hands (slightly narrower than shoulder-width). Sit with your legs securely under the pads and lean back slightly.

ACTION: Pull the bar down until it touches your chest, fists should be just outside your torso. Allow the bar to travel slowly back to starting position, emphasising the stretch in your lats.

TIP: Lean back a bit farther, as much as 30 degrees, to allow your elbows to be pulled behind your back more deeply. But be sure to maintain the same angle throughout the set.

Single Arm Dumbbell Row
SET-UP: Using a flat bench, place one knee and the hand of your supporting arm on the bench – keeping the foot of your opposite leg straight. Using your free hand, hold the dumbbell at your side with your arm extended towards the floor.

ACTION: Slowly raise the dumbbell towards your ribs, or until your upper arm goes just beyond horizontal. Pause at the top and then return slowly back down to starting position.

TIP: Keep your elbow in at your sides throughout the lift.

bent over one arm row

Reverse Grip Pull-up
TARGETS: Upper and outer lats

SET-UP: Grab the overhead pull-up bar with a wide underhand grip (palms facing you). You should be hanging with your arms at full extension for the start of each rep (not pictured).

ACTION: Activating your lats, pull yourself up so that your chest touches the bar, keeping your lower body stationary throughout. You should feel a contraction in your back at the top of the move, and then slowly lower yourself back to starting position.

TIP: If bodyweight pull-ups are a struggle and you find your form suffering, substitute with assisted pull-ups to ensure you get the most out of the exercise.

reverse grip pull ups

Barbell Bent-over Row
TARGETS: Upper lats, rhomboids and middle traps

SET-UP: Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, grasp the bar with a wide overhand grip. Keeping your knees slightly bent, lean forward at your waist until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. The barbell should be in front of your shins.

ACTION: Without raising your upper body, pull the bar up toward your abdomen. Bringing your elbows high and above your back, hold the bar in the peak contraction for a brief count, then slowly lower the bar to the starting position and repeat.

bent over barbell rows

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