Especially if you’re training from the home gym setting, performing your back exercises from a supported position can have a ton of benefits. In this article I’ll explain the benefits of using supported rows and include several supported row variations you can implement into your training to build a bigger, stronger and healthier back.
Performing supported movements can:
Force you to pull stricter reps
Take stress off the low back
Allow you to slow things down and use isometrics/eccentrics
Build muscle and make you stronger
Improve Mind-Muscle Connection (Yes, it’s a real thing)
Hear me out…
When it comes to back training, we’ve all spent considerable time banging out many variations of barbell and dumbbell rows, deadlifts, pull ups, etc..
and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.. those are the staple movements that build a big, strong back and put on slabs of muscle.
But try a simple experiment out for yourself:
Take what you normally use for dumbbell rows and try to perform them in a chest supported position. You’ll likely find that you cannot move the same weight, and that you’ll have to use much lighter weight to perform a set. Why is that?
This is because in the chest supported position, you cannot use any momentum to perform the movement. You can’t cheat, and that means the back is going to have to be responsible for pulling that weight.
Improved Contractile Abilities
Performing stricter reps will force the back muscles to generate the force to pull the weight. Coupled with a brief isometric squeeze at the top, you’ve got a powerful recipe for both muscle growth and strength in those muscles.
If the back muscles are used to having assistance in pulling weight, performing strict reps will be shockingly hard. Getting stronger from this position can go a long way in taking your strength up a notch (and subsequently, can result in some serious gainz as well.)
The mind-muscle connection is simply your ability to focus specifically on the target muscle you’re trying to use.
With a muscle like the Biceps, this can be done pretty easily. However, when targeting the large muscles of the upper back, it can be a little more challenging.
Supported row variations coupled with a brief isometric pause in the squeeze position will really force you to be aware of the muscles working hard when you pull. This can be extremely helpful across all of your back training.
The ability to establish that connection with the muscle is what will take your gains to the next level.
5 Supported Back Exercises for Strength and Size.
Here are 5 supported variations that I use all the time that have been really great additions to my training, and for those I’ve trained.
If you want to take your back workouts to the next level, I highly suggest implementing some or all of these, keeping what resonates most with you and your training goals.
1 – Chest Supported DB Rows
As stated previously, these take all the cheating out of the movement, and so you’ll find you have to use lighter weight than you’re used to with regular DB rows.
Perform these on a low incline bench, slightly elevating the chest to get a deeper squeeze.
Mind-Muscle Connection in Action.
Note how there’s a brief pause at the top. This is a critical part of the movement and in training the mind-muscle connection.
This is more difficult to do with traditional rows, as you’re using momentum and pulling faster reps, and pausing can place unnecessary stress on the low back.
With supported DB rows, you can really hold that squeeze and feel the upper back muscles working hard.
These are best performed in the middle or end of a session, for 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps, emphasizing the squeeze and hold at the top.
You can use different grips (prone, reverse, neutral) and pull with elbows in or slightly out to hit the back a bit differently. I personally feel these the most with a reverse (supinated) grip, but everyone’s different.
2 – Seal Rows
Seal Rows are performed from a horizontal position on a bench. To accomplish this, you’ll likely have to elevate a flat bench on 2 platforms. I usually just stack plates up, which gets the job done.
You’ll lie flat holding a pair of dumbbells and pull the elbows back and up to a deep squeeze in the upper back.
You can change the angle of the dumbbells and your elbows to get a slightly different pull, and you should try out different angles to see which you feel the most.
I like these for sets of 8-12 reps, really focusing on the squeeze. If you can’t pull to a good squeeze at the top, the weight is too heavy and you should go a little lighter.
Lose the ego in the gym and focus on doing things right.
3 – Head Supported Barbell Rows
These are one of my favorite variations, and I frequently use these instead of traditional barbell rows.
The biggest advantage these give you is taking some stress off the low back. For many people, the low back fatigues before anything else when performing heavy rows, and that defeats the purpose of the movement and doesn’t allow you to attack the upper back like you need to.
Establish a solid base, with your head against a solid structure (a padded barbell works fine). Keep your neck in a neutral position and avoid flexing or jerking the neck.
You can pull from pins/safety spotters or the floor with these, which is really great because it forces you to pull from a dead stop (no momentum) and also allows you to briefly reset on each rep.
These can be performed just like seal rows, from a horizontal position, or from a slightly elevated angle.
Eccentric/Isometric Supported DB Rows
Using eccentric/isometric reps can be brutal. These will build a mind-muscle connection better than anything else I can think of when it comes to back training.
You’ll pull to a deep squeeze, hold the squeeze for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position (about 3-5 seconds on the eccentric).
Performing reps in this style will create a ton of metabolic stress, inducing an “occlusion” effect, in which blood is delayed from exiting the muscle.
This causes the fast twitch muscle fibers to take over and also results in a huge pump, both of which are highly conducive to muscle growth.
Perform these in sets of 6-10 reps, focusing on quality over heavy weight.
Supported Variations with a Rear Delt Focus
The Rear Delts should be worked more than any other part of the shoulder. Why?
Because the Rear Delts are highly active both during back training and during your pressing movements, in particular when you bench press.
Strong Rear Delts are crucial for the health of your shoulders. And if you want a big bench press, you’ll pay plenty of attention to them.
Supported High Elbow Rows (Rear Delts)
If we want to shift the focus onto the Rear Delts (which you should be doing often), I’ve got 2 options from a supported position that are killer.
The first option is to pull high elbow rows from the bench supported position.
Elevating the chest slightly will allow for a deeper pull. These will quickly have your Rear Delts on fire.
I like these for 12-15 Reps, usually towards the end of a session, or as a warm up on a pressing day.
Heavy Partials – Rear Delt Raises
Heavy Partials can be a great addition to your training, and can be a brutal way to finish a session off.
For these, I’ll take a pair of dumbbells heavier than I could normally pull full reps with, and perform partial reps in a “swinging” motion.
I like these as a finisher, for 1-2 max effort sets to failure, usually 30-50 reps. Prepare to be on fire.
You can also simply perform supported Rear Delt Raises as well..
Swole Town is here, and if you’re searching for workouts to build muscle, get stronger and/or just to be a beast in the gym.. you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a full workout from the program and a link to try a free week to see if you want to join the community.
What is Swole Town?
Swole Town is a lifting/training program designed to pack on muscle and strength. It is delivered through the TrainHeroic App and costs $12/month, 97% cheaper than hiring a trainer with all the benefits. Workouts fully mapped out, with video demos and explanation of every movement, plus access to a coach and a community of people with the same goals as you.
What’s Different About This Program?
Swole Town is born out of years of trial and error in the gym. Many different training philosophies are built into a system that is built around 4 week training blocks. This keeps your body in a constant state of adaptation, and makes your workouts more enjoyable and challenging.
Training through TrainHeroic is the optimal way to workout. Trainers are expensive, and going it alone is sub-optimal at best. Letting an expert program your workouts will lead to bigger gains all around. You’d spend more on a Starbucks trip than you would for a month of badass training…
Full Workout From The Swole Town Program
Here’s a full training day from the program. This is an upper body training session from a 4 week cycle called “RAGE.” RAGE is a high volume cycle full of supersets and metabolic stress-inducing training blocks. This 4 week block alone could pack muscle on your body.
So here is the full workout. This training session is focused on chest and back.. specifically horizontal pressing and vertical pulling. Try it out, and come take a closer look if you had fun with this one. If you were in the program, I’d be telling you to go crush this one. So for now, GO CRUSH IT!
Coaches Notes: (Directly From Program Session)
Another day on the grind. We’re hitting explosive depth push ups straight into heavy floor presses today. We’re going to keep hammering your pressing power, and by the end of a 12 week stay in Swole Town, I’m banking on many of you hitting PR’s on your pressing movements. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Trust the process and train hard.
Keep in mind that this is a volume cycle.. we have higher intensity cycles coming up where you’ll get to push your strength up and get in some heavier reps and more explosive movements. Everything in its right time. For now, we’re crushing volume.
We’re in week 3 of RAGE. One more week of this high volume cycle, and we’ll begin transitioning into some higher intensity cycles. That is when I usually notice big gains. When the body has started getting used to one training style, and you suddenly transition into heavier loads and more intense methods. Arnold called it the “shock principle.” Stay the course.
Prep Work (Warm Up)
All blocks with the same letter should be performed as a superset, one after the other. For Prep work, don’t aim heavy. We’re prepping the body for the full workout.
A1 – Single Arm DB Bench Press: 3 x 8
8 right, 8 left. Add weight each set, being mindful that this is prep work.
A2 – Inchworm to Extended Plank: 3 x 3
Walk your hands out as far as you can while maintaining the integrity of your posture. Then, walk them back in and back to standing. 3 sets of 3 reps.
B1 – Dumbbell Pullover
Go heavy, and I want a good, deep stretch of the ribcage and Lats. 3 sets of 8.
C1 – Depth Push up: 4 x 3
3 depth push ups, then straight to the floor press. This is a superset. Rest 2 minutes after completing both movements.
C2 – Barbell Floor Press: 4 x 6
Take a few warm up sets to find the right weight to hit for 4 sets of 6 reps. Want these to be heavy, but we’re looking to hit all the reps at the same weight. I want a 1 second pause when your triceps hit the floor without releasing any tension in the triceps/chest/shoulders. Drive the weight up with aggression.
D – Chin Ups: 4 x Max Reps
Looking for strict chin ups. Come all the way down. 90 seconds of rest between sets. 4 sets of as many chin ups as you can get. Rest 90 seconds between sets.
E – Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 4 sets x 12, 10, 8, 6
Use a low incline setting.. somewhere around 30 degrees. Rest 90 seconds between sets. Add weight each set as the rep range moves down, ending with a heavy set of 6 reps.
Complete the finisher as quickly as possible, resting only when you have to.
F1 – Barbell Push Ups x 75 Reps
75 Reps of barbell push ups and band pull-aparts. Break the reps up however you need to. Just get them all in. 75 barbell push ups and 75 band pull-aparts. End the day with a pump and some solid burning.
F2 – Band Pull Aparts: 1 Set x 75 Reps
Watch the video for these. Lot of people doing these wrong out there. This is an amazing movement when done properly. I like pulling the band down and back to better mimic vertical pulling and really challenge the Rear Delts. Squeeze every rep and let this one burn.
Keep in mind this is just one training session in the larger context of a 4 week training block, and even further, in the larger context of the programming. This is not a copy and paste program. It’s unique programming, and you will get bigger and stronger if you stick around.
SupaStrong (Mike Richardson)
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach, Trainer. Coach/Creator of Swole Town and Supastrong.net. Currently a federal agent, formerly 11b Infantry in the US Army Reserves. Training and coaching are my passions.
This movement is hands down the number one most effective way to build your upper back and traps quickly.
The trap muscles are busy all day being utilized in a support capacity, and then we normally work them by shrugging… a slow movement done usually for medium to high reps.
Maybe it’s time to ditch the shrugs.
The High Pull is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The explosive nature of the movement targets and stimulates the fast twitch muscle fibers of the upper back, which are far more capable of explosive growth.
I have witnessed growth in the traps and upper back after just a handful of sessions, and that’s no BS!
Highly recommend Bulk Supplements. You get more, pay less, and the ingredients are pure.
How To Perform
I first learned this movement by reading an article on T-Nation.com by Christian Thibaudeau many years ago. I’ll post a link to that article at the bottom of this post.
My goal is to help you, the reader… not make myself out to be some sort of guru.
The article is fantastic, and worth reading after this one if you’re serious about taking your back training to the next level.
I normally prefer to perform the movement from a standing position (hang position), as I am looking to target the upper back/Traps and not necessarily accrue the fatigue from pulling from the floor.
Be sure to really focus on the explosive pull of the traps, and keep the bar close to your body, elbows high (higher than the wrists).
When your traps are sorer than you thought possible the following day, you will know I wasn’t kidding!
Try 3 sets of 5-7 reps to start. Use straps, and use a weight where you can be explosive with proper form, yet still challenged.
The bar should reach at least to your lower chest on each pull.
When you’re pulling some decent weight in the high pull, you will be amazed at the results. It’s a game changer.
There are plenty of other ways to build up the traps and upper back, but I like this movement so much and I’ve seen such great results from it that it is definitely number one on the list of Trap Builders.
#2 – Hise Shrug
Ok, ok… I know I said ditch the shrugs.
But this is not the typical shrug most people are performing in the gym.
Hise shrugs put the weight on top of the Traps.
This can be accomplished with a barbell on your back, or by using the calf raise machine.
How To Perform
Put a barbell on your back, right on top of the traps.
Brace your trunk and Flex the Glutes for stability..
Shrug up, hold, and back down nice and slow.
In my opinion, it is better to do these with the calf raise machine. It’s far more comfortable.
Why are They So Good?
Hise Shrugs load the Traps and Upper back directly, and in a unique way that they are likely not used to.
The feeling of fatigue in the Traps from performing these is much different than traditional shrugs.
The new stimulus these can provide can be a solid way to induce some additional growth.
#3 – Farmer Carries
Farmer carries are one of the absolute best, and least utilized builders of the Traps and Back.
The key word here again is TENSION.
Holding onto heavy implements and walking for an extended period of time (20-60 seconds) puts tremendous tension on the Traps, Back, Arms and Trunk.
That tension will lead to muscle growth, improved grip strength, improved Core strength and stability, and for sure some thick ass Traps.
How to Perform
To perform Farmer Carries, simply grab 2 heavy implements (Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Farmer Carry handles, etc..) and walk.
Be sure to:
Keep the chest up and stay upright. Do not hunch forward. If you can’t keep your posture in line, the weight is too heavy.
Challenge yourself. Like any other lift, you want to use progressive overload on these. Always look to get stronger and challenge the body by increasing weight, reps, distance, or all of the above.
Take small, choppy steps. Taking long strides will increase the risk of injury by putting one limb at a time under a heavy load.
Sample Workout For a Big Back and Huge Traps.
*Using this style of training, I would typically hit Back twice in the training week. This session would be one, and the other would be more traditional back training, comprised of Rows, Chin ups, etc.
SG High Pull
40yd (30 sec)
Rear Delt Partials
*See video below for Rear Delt Partials if you aren’t familiar.
There’s a lot more to building up that YOKE than just shrugging yourself to death.
Shrugs can be effective, but you need a lot more variety than that to really build an impressive upper back and to really make your Traps look scary big.
The three movements I’ve listed here are the ones I believe to be the absolute best bang for your buck when it comes to building thick, strong Traps. I hope you’ll give them a try.
As always, I hope this article helps get you one step closer to your best self. Keep pushing!
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