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The Pillar Program: 15 Back Exercises To Improve Posture & Prevent Injuries

You’re probably getting your back training wrong. 

Having spent the last 20 years of my life in gyms, time and again I see guys doing the same handful of back exercises. There’s no thought or function in their approach… they’ve just googled ‘back exercises’ and done what coach google has told them to.

Not their fault. 

But let me change that for you. In my role as a personal trainer and weightlifting coach, I’ve spent years helping people to build a strong and muscular back.

In the Pillar Program, I’ll teach you how to train your back properly. We’ll look at anatomy, movement patterns, and exercise selection. This will help you build a back that will be strong, healthy, and functional. 

All of these exercises are entirely possible in a home gym without the need for specialist equipment.

The Pillar Program: Improve your posture and deadlift in 12 weeks

Back exercises infographic

Why is a strong back so important? Here are four major benefits of the Pillar Program, giving you reasons to switch up how you train your back…

1. A strong back prevents injury

Because a strong and muscular back is a great thing. 

First of all, it’s protective – a 27 year study found that around 577 MILLION people worldwide experience back pain each year

You don’t want to be one of them, and a strong back helps to avoid back issues by protecting the spine and helps to deal with loads. A strong back is a safe back.

2. Building back mass makes you a better athlete

A strong back helps with core strength, helps you generate power and resist external force. So it’ll help you improve your deadlift and lifts too.

If you play a sport where you need to generate a lot of force quickly, such as a throwing sport, a strong back is vital. Likewise, if you compete in a sport where you need to lift a lot of weight, for example weightlifting, CrossFit or powerlifting, you’re going to need a strong back. 

Without a good back in a strength sport, you’re taking a water pistol into a gun fight.

3. A muscular back looks great!

A solid back looks great. Yeah, a good chest is one thing, but a muscular back? That takes real work. 

There’s no hiding place when it comes to a great back. 

Some people are lucky to be genetically gifted with their chest and abs, not many people are born with a solid back. We could all pretend it’s solely about function, but show me someone who claims they aren’t interested in aesthetics and I’ll show you a liar!

4. Improve posture (aka neck and shoulder health)

I’m not going to get into the anatomical weeds here, but training your back can have a direct impact on neck and shoulder health. 

The muscles of the upper back interact with the shoulder, plus a strong back helps to rebalance strength at the shoulder joint. There’s already a strong evidence base to show that strength training helps to improve joint health

Finally, given a lot of people have internally-rotated shoulders thanks to poor posture and working positions, upper back strength training helps to correct this.

5 Steps to Use the Pillar Program to Build A Strong Back in 12 Weeks

A strong back doesn’t happen by accident. You’ve got to be smart with your approaches to training and recovery. This isn’t a program that has just been thrown together in a ‘let’s see’ fashion – it has been thought through and carefully considered. Follow these steps to make the most of it…

Step 1: Perform each workout once a week (3-5 workouts each week)

The Pillar Program is designed to be performed over three days in the week. There’s a bonus workout at the bottom of the article. This is an optional ‘gap filler’ for you to do on the days in between.

Here’s how I suggest you split your training week…

Monday: Pillar Program: flexion and extension

Tuesday: Bonus Workout

Wednesday: Pillar Program: horizontal pull

Thursday: Bonus Workout

Friday: Pillar Program: vertical pull

Weekend: Rest

Workout 1: flexion and extension

Kettlebell Swings420
Good Mornings46
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts410
Bench Reverse Hyperextensions410

Workout 2: horizontal pull

Barbell Bent Over Row410
Inverted Row410
Face Pulls420
Gorilla Row420
Reverse Fly415

Workout 3: vertical pull

Pull ups48
Chin ups410
Snatch Pulls46
Sumo Deadlift High Pull46

Don’t do them on consecutive days if you can help it – give your back time to rest and recover between workouts. 

By all means, fill the days in between with the bonus workout, but don’t repeat any of the exercises in the Pillar Program on these days.

The workouts consist entirely of compound back exercises that cover multiple body parts, but the reason it’s a 3-day program is two-fold…

  1. To build a solid back.
  2. It allows you enough time in the week to add in exercises for other body parts, so you’re not neglecting everything else.

Step 2: Figure out your starting weight safely

Assuming you’re new to training and aren’t sure what weight to start on, there’s a simple approach.

Start with an empty bar and perform a set of 10 reps of the exercise to warm up and practice the movement. Rest, and add small amounts of weight to the bar. Gradually build the weights up by around 10% per time, until you reach a weight where you hit failure at the prescribed number of reps. 

Make a note of this weight – it’s your working weight.

You’ll need to do this for every exercise in the workout, but you’ll only have to do it once. As soon as you’ve got your working weights, you’ll know where you stand each time.

Step 3: Getting your warm-up right

A proper warm up is vital. Here’s how I suggest you warm up for the pillar program…

5 minutes of gentle cardio, ideally something that uses both upper and lower body. Good examples will be running, rowing, air bike or skipping.

After 5 minutes, you’ll be warm. Now you have to engage the muscles and joints. There’s no need to go fancy here. A simple 3-2-1 protocol works…

  • 3 Air Squats
  • 2 Push Ups
  • 1 Burpee
  • Repeat this x 10

Finally, your first set of each exercise should be with an empty bar or light weights. That’ll help you practice the movement pattern.

Don’t own a rowing machine? Not to worry – just check out our rowing machine alternatives.

Step 4: Workouts should be around 45 minutes long

I’m not precious about back workout length – this is about quality. There are 20 sets per workout on the Pillar Program. Factoring in warm ups and adequate rest, I would suggest the workouts should last around 45 minutes. 

Your aim should be to rest enough between workouts, but not longer.

Rest until you can manage 90-100% of the reps in the next set. If you manage less than that (say you can only hit 8 of 10 reps prescribed), you’ll need slightly longer to rest.

This isn’t a fat loss program where calorie burn and intensity is the aim of the game. We want to reduce the risk of injury and maximize workout quality by ensuring sufficient rest. 

Just don’t rest too long… you’re still working out after all!

Step 5: Add 2-5% weight when you manage 90%+ of every rep

The point at which you add weight is when you can manage 90% or more of every rep of an exercise across the sets.

Say for example an exercise has 4 sets of 10 reps as the target. You might manage the following..

  • Set 1: 10
  • Set 2: 10
  • Set 3: 9
  • Set 4: 6

At this point, I wouldn’t be happy with you increasing the weights, because fatigue was obviously a factor. If you managed 7 or 8 on the 4th set, then I’d suggest you increase the weight by 2-5%. 

So if you deadlift 200lbs increase it to 210lbs for the next back workout. 

You’ll probably be increasing weight every 1-2 weeks or so. The aim is progress here!

Here’s an example of an athletic client of mine who was quite new to weight lifting. This just gives you an idea of what this program can do but your starting weight could be completely different from this…

Workout 1: flexion and extension

ExerciseStarting weight (lbs)Final weight (lbs)
Kettlebell Swings2670
Good Mornings45110
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts135250
Bench Reverse Hyperextensions030

Workout 2: horizontal pull

ExerciseStarting weight (lbs)Final weight (lbs)
Barbell Bent Over Row90180
Inverted Row045
Face Pulls50140
Gorilla Row2670
Reverse Fly2070

Workout 3: vertical pull

ExerciseStarting weight (lbs)Final weight (lbs)
Pull upsBodyweight45
Chin upsBodyweight45
Snatch Pulls45135
Sumo Deadlift High Pull45135

Further notes on the program design

Readers of my programs will know that I like workouts to be thought through. For me, programming workouts isn’t a case of listing a series of exercises for a body part. I want to understand the why for each one.

If I can’t justify an exercise, it doesn’t stick around. The aim should be a minimal effective dose. When you flick a switch to turn on a light, you don’t keep flicking it to ‘turn it on more’. Exercise is similar.

Do what you need to. No more.

Movement patterns are fundamental to successful programming…

Each back workout consists of 5 exercises, with 4 sets of each. The workouts are designed with a movement pattern as the focus each time. The exercises are designed to strengthen the back across the following movement patterns…

  1. Hip flexion and extension
  2. Horizontal pull (scapular retraction)
  3. Vertical pull (scapular elevation and depression)

On each workout, you will perform exercises that are specifically designed to improve the movement pattern you’re working on. That’s why I don’t want you mixing the back exercises from the different workouts.

If you think about the kind of back training programs you find online, there’s very rarely any consideration of movements, only muscles. Lazy personal trainers will think ‘back muscles’ when they put together programs, rather than ‘hip flexion and extension movement pattern’ for example. 

This lack of thought is the reason most workout plans are ineffective. 

The goal should be to build a strong back across all of the planes of movement, not just one or two. 

Then there’s the aesthetic element. Research published in 2019 by Michal Krzysztofik et al on ‘Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy’ showed that a fundamental element of hypertrophy is a mixture of different types of muscle stimulation. 

By training the back from different directions and in different ways, you help to increase muscle growth.

Then there’s anatomy…
The back is a very complex structure. It consists of 40 muscles, each with a different origin and insertion point. They interact in different ways and contract to allow a huge range of movement.

They serve to both create and resist movement of the spine. 

To expect all of these muscles to respond well to a program that has you sat performing machine-based exercises is laughable. These structures were built to work. They need to move in different ways, at different loads and experience a range of stresses if you want them to grow and get stronger. 

In the Pillar Program, these muscles will work hard across a wide variety of reg ranges and movements, leaving no muscle left untrained, so to speak.

The Pillar Program – How to guide

This is a 3 day per week program. It is designed to train the back, but the beauty of these exercises is that you’ll get a lot of additional benefits elsewhere. With the exercises selected here, there are both upper AND lower body benefits.

At the end of the workout, I’ll add a suggested (do it if you want to) workout which you can use to ‘plug the gaps’ in your training left by the Pillar Program, which is back focussed.

As mentioned earlier, don’t perform these exercises on consecutive days. Leave a day or two in between for the back to recover from the work.

Pillar Program Workouts

To make life easier I’ve separated the three back workouts into distinct sections, so you can focus on one at a time. There’s a small section on each exercise so you can see how to do them if you are new to these exercises.

Hip Flexion and Extension Workout

Hip flexion and extension workout infographic

This workout focuses on strengthening the back through hip flexion and extension – moving the hips backwards and forwards. It’s a fundamental movement pattern for a huge amount of exercises, so the carryover into other movements is huge.

These exercises tend to focus on the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. More generally, they train the entire posterior chain, which improves athleticism and reduces injury risk.

The workout…

Kettlebell Swings420
Good Mornings46
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts410
Bench Reverse Hyperextensions410

The exercises…

1. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are the ultimate hinge movement. They’re a foundation human movement with huge crossover into other patterns and physical abilities. Used properly, they can build strength, reduce injury risk and offer huge variety to a program. Deadlifts are often seen as the king of exercises, and it’s a claim with plenty of support.

Equipment needed for deadlifts:

How to do deadlifts:

  • Assume an overhand or alternating grip on the bar, about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your legs, keep your back straight and your chest up
  • Drive through your legs, keeping your arms straight as you lift – this will lift the bar to hip height
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together and push the hips forward slightly
  • Reverse the movement on the way down – start by pushing the hips back and lowering the weight down by bending your legs, keeping your chest up and back straight throughout
  • Repeat as many times as required

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

2. Kettlebell swings

The kettlebell swing is a fantastic exercise for the hamstrings and the glutes. It’s a movement that requires a big hip drive, especially when the weight gets heavier and the emphasis is on strength and power. The movement pattern is perfect for strengthening the back through flexion and extension.

Equipment needed for kettlebell swings:

  • Kettlebell

How to do kettlebell swings:

  1. Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
  2. Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
  3. At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
  4. Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hip and shoulders
  5. Keeping your back and legs straight throughout, build momentum with each swing until you’re reaching chest height with the kettlebell
  6. Repeat as many times as required

Note: check out our kettlebell swing alternatives if you don’t have kettlebells in your gym.

3. Good mornings

The good morning is an underused back exercise.

In terms of back and glute strength building it is very effective, plus it doesn’t have much in the way of technique to learn. It’s a very safe exercise to perform because of the simple movement pattern. It’s also a great way to strengthen the hamstrings. Keep the weight on the lighter side because it loads the back.

Equipment needed for good mornings:

How to do good mornings:

  • Set the barbell on your back, across the shoulders – never the neck
  • Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back
  • Maintaining a straight back throughout, push the hips back and lower your torso towards the ground
  • When your torso is parallel to the ground and your hamstrings are well-stretched, pause to engage the muscles fully
  • Straighten your torso by pushing your hips forward with the hamstrings, lower back and glutes controlling the speed of the movement throughout
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: if you want to focus on your hamstring even more, check out our hamstring exercises program. Also, check out our good morning exercise alternatives if you want to switch up this exercise with an alternative that suits you better.

4. Stiff-legged deadlifts

I don’t know of a better exercise for strictly focussing on the hamstrings through such a simple movement pattern than the stiff-legged deadlift. It’s functional in the sense it’s a deadlift, so lower back, hip and glute engagement is there, but the hamstrings are doing the majority of the work. Huge return on investment with this exercise. 

Equipment needed for stiff-legged deadlifts:

How to do stiff-legged deadlifts:

  1. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip, shoulder width
  2. Deadlift the bar into your starting position, which is where you’re holding the barbell with straight arms
  3. Keeping your back and legs straight, tilt your hips back as your torso starts to point towards the floor
  4. Keep pushing your hips back, with your legs straight as you lower the bar towards the floor
  5. As you feel your hamstrings stretch fully, push the hips forward and lift the bar back to the starting position
  6. At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together
  7. Repeat as many times as required

Note: Check out our pull exercises if you’re looking for ways to further develop your lower back muscles.

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

5. Bench reverse hyperextensions

Even if you only have access to a bench, you can still do reverse hyperextensions. It’s a slightly adjusted technique and the range of movement isn’t the same, but it’s still an effective lower back exercise and well worth adding to your training. It’ll certainly help to engage the lower back and glutes, without the need to add thousands of dollars worth of extra equipment to your home gym.

Equipment needed for bench reverse hyperextensions:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

How to do bench reverse hyperextensions:

  • Lie on your front on the bench, holding tightly onto the bench 
  • Your hips should be positioned on the end of the bench, allowing your legs to move freely
  • When you’re in position, grab the dumbbell between your feet
  • Extend the legs and lift them up as high as you can behind you, fully engaging the glutes and lower back
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze the muscles hard for a second, then lower back down
  • Repeat as many times as required

Check out some similar back exercises in our article on back extension alternatives.

Note: you can get a solid impact out of doing the hyper extension on a bench. However, if you’re considering getting a machine to do the original exercise, be sure to check out our best reverse hyper machine in-depth guide.

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

Horizontal pull workout

Horizontal pull workout infographic

The horizontal pull workout is where we focus on back exercises that include a lot of scapular retraction (squeezing the shoulder blades together). This is perfect for training the upper back and helping to improve shoulder health. There’s a lot of bicep activation in these exercises, so it ticks a vanity box too.

These exercises are the kind that are common in bodybuilding workouts on ‘back day’, but they are more than just muscle building exercises, they help keep the shoulders and neck healthy too.

The workout…

Barbell Bent Over Row410
Inverted Row410
Face Pulls420
Gorilla Row420
Reverse Fly415

The exercises…

6. Bent over barbell rows

This is the classic horizontal row exercise and has been a staple of training programmes for years. It’s a way to not only train the lats, but it also activates the glutes and lower back as it requires them to work in order to keep the torso stable whilst lifting a heavy weight. As you lift the weight, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout to activate the upper back muscles. 

Equipment needed for bent over barbell rows:

How to do bent over barbell rows:

  • Hold the barbell with the grip of your choice – overhand or underhand
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull the barbell up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the barbell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

If you find the bent over rows a bit too harsh on the lower back, be sure to check out our bent over row alternatives.

7. Inverted row

Inverted rows are a great way to train grip, scapular retraction, core and spinal stability in one go. It’s a simple set up, doesn’t need much in the way of technique and has a lot of additional bicep and shoulder training benefits. Inverted rows are deceptively tough as well! As always, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout the movement. 

Equipment needed for inverted rows:

How to do an inverted row:

  • Secure your bar in place
  • Secure your feet (or at least make sure they’re not going to slip!)
  • With a straight back, slowly lower yourself away from the bar until your arms are straight
  • Maintaining the straight back, pull yourself back up to the bar, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout
  • When your torso reaches the bar, pause then slowly lower yourself away from the bar by straightening your arms
  • Repeat as many times as required

Check out our inverted row alternatives if this exercise proves too easy and you want a bigger challenge.

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

8. Face Pulls

Too many people write off the face pull as a lightweight exercise that has little benefit, but the truth is they’re one of the most important exercises for upper back and shoulder health there is. Face pulls emphasize the traps and rear delts, but they also demand scapular movement too. This rotation of the joint helps to keep your upper back and shoulders strong and healthy.

Equipment needed for face pulls:

  • Resistance band (you could also use a cable machine if you’re lucky enough to have one)
  • Somewhere to anchor the band

How to do face pulls:

  1. Set the band at face height
  2. Stand far enough away that the ban has plenty of tension in it – you’re looking for resistance, so give it chance to be hard work
  3. Keep your elbows up high and take the band with a double overhand grip
  4. Pull the band towards your face, keeping the elbows up high throughout
  5. At the end of the movement squeeze your shoulder blades together
  6. Slowly allow the hands to return to the start position
  7. Repeat as many times as required

Don’t have the proper cable pulley machine for face pulls? Check out our article on face pull alternatives.

9. Gorilla row

The gorilla row is a real favorite of mine and features heavily in my training and that of the programmes I write. I like it for a number of reasons… It’s a single limb back exercise, it’s a variation on a row, you can lift big weights, it’s functional and useful in both low and high rep workouts and it trains anti-rotation, which is a big bonus. Overall, they’re a fantastic back exercise.

Equipment needed for gorilla rows:

How to do gorilla rows:

  • Hold the weights with a neutral (palms facing) grip
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull one of the weights up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blade in at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the kettlebell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat the same movement on the opposite side, alternating for as many reps as required

10. Reverse Fly

Reverse flyes are like face pulls in the sense that the value doesn’t lie in the weight you lift – it lies in the quality of the movement execution. Your focus should be on full scapular control, activating the muscles of the upper back and rear delts, and achieving a full muscle squeeze at the top of the movement. Weight isn’t everything – movement quality is important too.

Equipment needed for reverse flyes:

How to do reverse flyes:

  • Bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight
  • Start with your arms pointing down directly underneath your chest, with a slight bend at the elbow
  • Lift the hands out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades as you do
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly to finish
  • Lower the arms back to the start position and repeat

Want to focus more on your upper back? Check out our reverse pec deck alternatives to provide you with exercise ideas.

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

Vertical pull back workout

Vertical pull workout infographic

The final movement pattern in the Pillar Program is the vertical pull. Here we’re looking at exercises that lift the shoulder blades up and down (elevation and depression) rather than together and apart (retraction and protraction). There’s a lot of arm involvement here to.

These exercises don’t target a smaller area of the back, they’ll train the back in a general sense. They’re the ideal finishing piece to the Pillar Program.

The workout…

Pull ups48
Chin ups410
Snatch Pulls46
Sumo Deadlift High Pull46

The exercises…

11. Pull ups

The Everest of bodyweight exercises for many. Pull ups combine the huge muscle building benefits of training a lot of muscle in one go, with the physical challenge of being pretty damn tough. They also train grip and at the bottom, they stretch the lats. This stretch helps with shoulder health.

They’re a simple technique to learn, but hard to do. If you can do pull ups well, add weight to ensure you fail at around the 8 rep mark.

Equipment needed for pull ups:

  • Pull up bar (explore our comprehensive guides for the best wall-mounted and free-standing bars if you’re searching for the ideal pull-up bar)

How to do a pull up:

  • Jump up and grab the pull up bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do
  • When your chest reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself down to a full extension of the arms
  • Repeat the movement

Check out our article on lat exercises if you’re aiming at improving your laterals.

12. Chin ups

The chin up is the pull up with an underhand grip. Although the movement pattern is exactly the same, the underhand grip activates the bicep more, which has a couple of benefits – it builds the arms, so you don’t need additional bicep work.

The other one is that it is slightly easier than pull ups because of the bicep help, so you can add more volume.

Adding the pull ups and chin ups to the workout makes it both challenging and effective, plus it’ll help you improve your strength and shoulder flexibility dramatically.

Equipment needed for chin ups:

  • Pull up/chin up bar

How to do a chin up:

  • Jump up and grab the pull up bar with an underhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do
  • When your chest reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself down to a full extension of the arms
  • Repeat the movement

13. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

The sumo deadlift high pull is a polarizing movement – some love it, others hate it. I like it because it trains a huge amount of muscle, it’s a challenging exercise, it’s a movement pattern that demands great technique and it can be tweaked for a high or low load variation.

It’s in this section because it’s a vertical pull, but it’s more than just that. It also trains the legs and core, so there’s a lot of value from the exercise. 

Equipment needed for sumo deadlift high pull:

How to do a sumo deadlift high pull:

  1. Start with your feet wide apart to give you a wide base of support
  2. Keeping your back upright and straight, squat next to the bar
  3. Hold the barbell with hands close together – maybe 8-12 inches apart – overhand grip
  4. Stand up by driving the feet into the floor, maintaining a straight back throughout
  5. Once the barbell is at hip height, aggressively pull the bar to the chest
  6. Lower the bar to the hips, then to the floor and repeat the movement

14. Snatch Pulls

The snatch pull is used mostly as a weightlifting accessory exercise, but it’s one that is a great back exercise because it suits our movement pattern. It activates a lot of the spinal erectors and upper back muscles, whilst avoiding the potentially dangerous aspects of the upright row by shifting the grip wide.

The other good reason to include snatch pulls is the athletic development aspect of the lift. It’s a powerful, explosive movement that has crossover benefits for anything requiring power generation with the upper body. This includes throwing sports, swimming, fight sports etc.

Equipment needed for snatch pulls:

How to do snatch pulls:

  1. Take the bar with a snatch grip (double overhand, wide grip)
  2. Bend your knees, keeping your back straight and the chest high
  3. Drive with your legs, keep your back straight and pull directly upwards
  4. Pull the elbows up high and squeeze the shoulder blades together
  5. Maintain the pull until the bar reaches chest height
  6. Keep the bar close to the body throughout
  7. Lower the bar under control
  8. Repeat as many times as required

Check out our Mass in Minutes upper body workout if you’re aiming at strengthening your upper body muscles.

15. Shrugs

Equipment needed for shrugs: 

How to do shrugs:

  • Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand – the arms should be straight either side of your body
  • Keeping the dumbbells by your sides, shrug your shoulder up – visualize trying to touch your ears with your shoulders!
  • When the shoulders are as high as possible, squeeze them together and lower back down
  • Repeat as required

Note: Check out our dumbbell back exercises or our dumbbell ab workout if you want to learn more about dumbbell exercises.

The back exercises bonus workout…

By following the Pillar Program workouts you’ll train most of your body, so the gaps to fill are limited. Despite this, here’s a bonus program to cover those bases that we haven’t with the Pillar Program. 

These exercises cover the press elements we’re missing out on, with a little extra dedicated core work. Do this in the days between your three Pillar Program workouts…

Dumbbell Bench Press48
Dumbbell Shoulder Press410
Barbell Front Squats412
Walking Lunges420
Push Ups420
Push press48
Ab Rollouts310

The aim here is to include pressing movements in the horizontal and vertical planes. I’ve also added some supplementary core work in the form of roll outs. Push ups, front squats, push presses and lunges will also add core work to the program. 

The Pillar Program – Bonus Tips

A few extra nuggets of information to help you get the most from the Pillar Program…

Tip 1: Don’t mix the days up 

On the Pillar Program you’ve got 3 days where you focus on a particular movement pattern. It should stay like that – I don’t want you mixing the movement patterns.

Each day deserves your full focus and attention, so when we’re working on hip flexion and extension for example, stick to it. There are other days to do the other movements.

Tip 2: Work to mechanical failure on each set

It goes without saying that I want you to train with excellent form – that’s basically one of the commandments of fitness!

It takes on an extra importance with back training though, because of the risk of injury if you lose your form on certain exercises (deadlifts, for example).

In the Pillar Program, you train to mechanical failure (where you lose form) rather than muscular failure (where you physically aren’t capable of another rep, even if you compromise form).

Tip 3: Rest enough to perform the next set well

In the Pillar Program we’re not looking to maximize calorie burn – we’re looking to maximize effectiveness.

That relies on a combination of rep quality and rep quantity, so make sure you’ve rested long enough to make the next set a good one. If you can’t complete at least 80% of the programmed reps in the next set, rest for longer.

I’m not precious about how long these workouts take – they’ll take as long as you need them to.

Tip 4: Practice movements you don’t know

These programs are written to make you better… both a better lifter and better informed. That means there’ll be times when you come across back exercises you don’t know, or haven’t done before.

I want you to make sure you take the time to learn the movements correctly. Practice with an empty bar if needs be, just get it right before you start working with the heavier weights. 

Note: Check out our supplementary tricep exercises to complement this workout.

The Pillar Program: The bottom line

This is a bit of an epic – it’ll dominate your training week, but for good reason. These exercises will transform your back health, strength and function. The back exercises I’ve included will also train other body parts too.

By adding the bonus workout, you’ll have a comprehensive program that will help build a serious amount of strength and muscle. Just follow the tips in the article and you’ll enjoy fantastic results.

Get yourself into your gym and get busy!

All of these exercises can be done with the most basic equipment. Check out our best back machine in-depth buying guide if you’re thinking about adding a machine to your home gym.

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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