Rowing Machine Workout: More Muscle and Less Fat in Under 30 Minutes

This is Frank Underwood.

Frank is America’s most hated and loved fictional president of the United States.

Why am I talking about President Underwood in a fitness blog?

Well, if you can’t figure it out just go to a scene back in season 1 of “House of Cards.”

Frank Underwood is using a rowing machine.

Interesting seeing this machine being used in a popular drama series.

This is Jason Statham.

He looks nothing like Francis Underwood.

Underwood doesn’t look fit.

But it’s pretty obvious Jason Statham is fit.

And he probably knows how to use cardio to his advantage.

He’s quite athletic.

So why do I bring them up.

Before I answer that I have to point one thing out.

There’s two camps in fitness.

Those who do cardio.

And those who don’t.

For some reason there’s this belief that cardio isn’t necessary.

Or there’s this belief that cardio will make you lose muscle and get skinny.

If you’ve read previous articles on this site you’ll see examples of how cardio helps you maintain muscle.

In some instances you can gain muscle.

It all depends on how you use it.

Muscles Worked By Rowing

(That’s USA Rower Susan Francia)

I’ve seen rowers many times.

Especially in the Olympics.

I’ve seen the way the exercise works.

Grab two oars, hold them in your hands and start rowing.

Naturally, I used to think that the biceps did all the work.

But rowing is way more complicated than that.

It’s possibly one of the few total body cardio workouts around.

Done right it is similar to a power clean movement.

Check out the rowing motion.

The following muscle groups are involved.

  • Legs
  • Buttocks
  • Calves
  • Lower Back
  • Lats
  • Traps
  • Biceps
  • Abs

The entire body is getting a workout.

But lost in the motion is the idea that only the upper body is doing all the work.

The truth is it’s the opposite.

Done right, the legs and core do the majority of the work.

Your biceps are only there to finish the job.

How To Properly Row

First thing’s first.

In order to make a rowing workout effective you have to follow a series of steps.

Here are the steps:

  • Hold the bar with two hands
  • Start at knees bent position
  • Without leaning forward use your legs to push off
  • Once your legs are completely straight, lean back slightly
  • Now use the momentum to pull the bar into your upper ab area

That covers the first half of the exercise.

The motion of the exercise should be smooth and controlled.

Don’t jerk the handle and don’t rush through each step.

Now comes the 2nd part of the motion.

Going back to the starting point.

  • Once the bar touches the upper ab area, smoothly let the bar glide away from your body.
  • As the bar crosses above the thigh area let your upper body come back to an upright position.
  • The legs should be straight at this point, now bend at the knees and go back to the starting position.

Again, this should follow a controlled effortless motion.

The 2nd part of the motion should be slower than the first part of the motion.

It’s important to learn the proper way to do this exercise for the following reasons:

Doing this exercise incorrectly will lead to injury.

Not doing the exercise properly will screw up the benefits of rowing.

You’ll struggle with your rowing stamina and tap out too soon.

Choose Your Damper Setting Wisely

A big mistake most people make when using a rowing machine is underestimating how good of a cardio exercise it is.

One of the first things that people notice when trying out rowing is that it feels pretty easy.

Unlike sprints or a jog on a treadmill, if you’re out of shape you’ll tap out pretty fast.

A few minutes into a light jog and it’s possible to get winded.

On a rowing machine going for a few minutes can feel easier.

The first instinct is to make it harder by increasing the setting.

It’s also common for beginners, and even more experienced rowers, to not know that settings can be changed on a machine.

Look at a rowing machine and you’ll see that the front looks like a wheel.

On the “wheel” of the machine you’ll see a black round piece that can be adjusted.

That’s what’s called the “damper.”

The damper is basically the part of the machine that adds more friction to your rowing.

Naturally, you’d think that the higher the setting, creates a tougher and better cardio workout.

But the damper determines how much air flow enters the machine.

  • A higher damper setting (like a setting of 10) causes more air to enter the machine. The higher setting allows more air to enter the machine during the recovery period. More effort will then be required at the next stroke (Damper Setting 101).
  • A lower setting allows less air flow in the recovery phase of rowing.
Lower Damper Setting vs. High Damper Setting

If you’re just starting out it’s best to use lower damper settings.

A lower setting in the range of 3 to 5 will give you a better cardio workout.

If your goal is to focus more on strength goals, then a higher damper setting in the range of 7 to 10 is a better option.

However, a higher setting is recommended if you’ve been doing rowing for a while.

It’s important to learn to properly row and perfect the steps of a proper row.

A lower setting will also help you build stamina and keep you from gassing out too soon.

4 Benefits of Rowing Machine Workouts

#1 The first benefit to rowing is the overall athleticism involved in this workout.

Sure, you can get on a stationary bicycle.

You can use an elliptical if you want to burn some fat.

But rowing requires your entire body, including your core, to be engaged in the workout.

I’ve talked about the importance of making workouts as athletic as possible if you want to look fit.

#2  A second benefit is the combination of muscle building and cardio.

There’s few ways to combine both of these factors in one cardio workout.

Most cardio workouts have their limitations.

Some cardio workouts are mostly effective for just that- cardio.

Muscle building isn’t possible, as in the case of the elliptical.

A stationary bicycle can help you gain muscle in your lower body along with cardio.

But rowing will help you gain muscle from your calves and thighs to your traps and lats.

In fact, research in the Journal of Applied Physiology has shown that rowing, paired with strength training, helps maintain muscle, prevents atrophy in important muscle groups and helps improve cardiovascular health.

#3  A third benefit, which is popular, is the low impact of the exercise.

If you row the right way you won’t be busting your joints.

In fact, it’s pretty tough to mess up your joints.

Unlike sprinting and jogging which put strain on the knees, ankles and lower back, rowing doesn’t cause this problem.

Rowing is a smooth exercise that doesn’t impact your joints in any way.

#4 I’ll throw this as a fourth benefit- the meditative/zen like feeling of rowing.

One of the benefits I’ve  gotten from using a rowing machine is the peaceful yet focused feeling i get from it.

The repetitive motion of using my legs, core, arms and back in a controlled manner has a peaceful feeling.

The sound of air going into the machine, steady repetitive movement and staying in tune to your body and breathing keeps you focused throughout the exercise.

It’s hard for your mind to wander.

Rowing feels like meditation.

And i’m sure that rowing in the outdoors is even more meditative.

A Rowing Workout to Get Extra Lean

Getting ripped is not tough.

One of the best ways to do so is by using HIIT.

Rowing for distance works for burning fat.

But you can combine distance along with intervals to maximize fat burning while gaining muscle.

Here’s a way to combine the two.

  • Warm Up (10 minutes)
  • Set your damper to level 3.
  • Row for 10 minutes at an easy to moderate pace.
  • Stroke rate should be at an average of 20 during this phase.
  • Intervals (15 minutes)
  • Increase your stroke rate to 24 for the next 15 minutes.
  • Break your intervals by 2 minute intervals with one minute rest in between.
  • So it’ll look like this:
  • Rowing for 2 minutes
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Row for 2 minutes
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Row for 2 minutes
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Row for 2 minutes
  • Rest for 1 minute
  • Row for 2 minutes
  • Rest for 1 minute

Finish by walking on a treadmill for 10 minutes at an easy pace to cool down.

Some training programs break up intervals by distance.

These work too but I find it tougher to follow distance intervals for beginners and even intermediate rowers.

Beyond Intermediate Rowers

However, if you want to follow a more challenging interval plan you can do it in the following way.

Warm up by doing 10 minutes of rowing at a moderate pace.

Follow the warm up with the following:

  • 500 meters of rowing
  • 1 minute rest
  • 750 meters of rowing
  • 1 minute rest
  • 1000 meters of rowing
  • 1 minute rest
  • 750 meters rowing
  • 1 minute rest
  • 500 meters rowing
  • 1 minute rest

Finish by walking on a treadmill at an easy 10 minute pace.

Try including some rowing into your workouts 2 or 3 times per week.

Add rowing at the end of strength training workout day.

Or do it on a cardio day.

There you have it.

Rowing is a great way to switch things.

By doing rowing as a cardio workout, you’ll find it providing many benefits.

You won’t have to worry about getting skinny.

Quite the opposite.

Rowing is an excellent way to build your back, traps, strengthen you core and get strong legs.

Combined with strength training you’ll see how athletic you’ll look.

Try it out.

Comment below and let me know what you think of rowing workouts.

To your fitness,

Sam- Look Like An Athlete

Krainski, Hastings, Heinicke, Romain, Pacini, Snell, … & Levine, (2014). The effect of rowing ergometry and resistive exercise on skeletal muscle structure and function during bed rest. Journal of Applied Physiology, jap-00803.

Latissimus Dorsi Exercises: Learn The Best Exercises To Build Wide Lats

Having a strong back and building wide lats comes down to doing one thing and that is doing the right latissimus dorsi exercises.  There are many exercises that target the back and sometimes it can be confusing trying to figure out which exercises works best.  Here we will break down the best exercises you can include in your workout program using:

  • Bodyweight Exercises
  • Barbell Exercises
  • Dumbbell Exercises
  • Cable Exercises

If you have been ignoring your back muscles you are doing your body a huge disservice.  I know it can be easy to focus on chest and arm workouts and they may seem more fun but working on your lats and your back is equally important if you want to have a strong looking upper body.

What Is The Latissimus Dorsi Muscle?

Although commonly referred to as to as the lats, the more technical name is the latissimus dorsi.  This muscle group covers the middle of the back from the spine and extends to the outer ribs. If you look at a well developed set of lats are commonly described as looking like wings.

There are many benefits to having a strong set of lats.  If you want to have a strong looking upper body, a v shaped body and back and want to have a proportionate looking physique, then working on the lats is necessary.

Body Weight Exercises For Lats

One of the best ways to trigger muscle growth in any part of your body is by using bodyweight exercises.  There is a common misconception that you can not gain muscle by using your own bodyweight.  Although I hear that often I also find this to be absurd.  Remember, gaining muscle is not so much about the type of equipment that you use but more about the type of tension you put your body through.

A good example of someone who uses bodyweight exercises and manages to put on lean ripped muscle is a gymnast.  Look at a male gymnast and you will see that their upper bodies, including their lats, look great.  By using a simple set of exercises you can achieve similar results.

  • Pull Ups:  If you are not doing pull ups in your strength training program you are really missing out on an exercise that not only develops wide lats, but also gives you bigger biceps and strong forearms.  Although pull ups are confused for chin ups, just remember that pull ups are done with a palms out grip. When pulling yourself up focus your strength on your back muscles and not on your biceps.  As you reach the top of the bar squeeze the shoulder blades for maximum effect.  If you can’t do more than a few reps simply try to do as many as possible and slowly increase your reps over time.  For best results try to do a slightly wider than shoulder grip.
  • Chin Ups:  Chin ups are similar to pull ups and are often confused as being the same exercise.  Chin ups, as opposed to pull ups, are performed using a palm in grip.  This is a great lattisimus dorsi and biceps exercise.
  • Inverted Rows:  This exercise is rarely done in the gym and I think it has more to do with a misconception that it is a beginner exercise and an ineffective exercise.  Most guys would rather do some exercise with heavy weight to boost their ego but inverted rows work well for the lats.  This exercise is the bodyweight equivalent of a barbell row.  To perform this exercise simply hold on to a bar with your back facing the ground.  Keep your legs straight out and with the heels touching the ground.  Next, pull your weight up until the chest is an inch from the bar and feel the squeeze in your shoulder blades.  Lower your body slowly until your arms are stretched out.

Advanced Bodyweight Latissimus Dorsi Exercises

  • Weighted Pull Ups:  Perhaps you have developed enough strength to do plenty of pull ups and you want something challenging.  An advanced and definitely challenging variation is the weighted pull up.  Start with using a light weight, either a 5 pound or 10 pound plate, and increase the weight as you gain strength.
  • Unassisted Inverted Rows:  You can make an inverted row difficult by lifting your feet off the ground.  By lifting your feet off the ground your arms and back will be forced to lift the entire weight of your body.  This variation will trigger more growth in your lats.
  • Front Lever Holds:  This lat exercise is one of the most difficult to do but definitely has a huge payoff.  This exercise is common in gymnastics and is usually performed on the rings.  You can do this on rings, TRX bands and even on a horizontal bar.  This move is a static hold and does not require pulling the body upwards.  Simply start at a hanging position with the arms extended and lift your feet off the ground.  Next, try to hold the position so that the body is horizontal and parallel to the floor.  If this is too difficult you start in a tucked position with the knees tucked in to the chest.  As it becomes easier to hold this position and you feel more comfortable extend your legs outward until you can hold the body in a horizontal position.  The front lever is not only a great lat exercise but also a core exercise.

(Here is Jason Ferruggia demonstrating a a Front Lever Hold)

Barbell Exercises For Lats

Another great way to do lats exercises is by including barbells in your workouts.  In fact, barbell back workouts will not only add mass on your back but will lead to muscle growth throughout the body with these compound movements.

  • Barbell Rows:  This is a more traditional exercise for developing the lats and can be done with either an overhand grip or underhand grip.  Barbell rows are excellent for targeting the entire back muscles as well as the biceps.
  • Deadlifts:  Although this exercise is not usually mentioned as a lat exercise the truth is it is one of the best at developing the lats along with the entire back and hamstrings.  This compound exercise is a must do exercise if you want to put on muscle.
  • T Bar Rows:  This is a classic style move that gets ignored often.  Guys like Arnold made this the backbone of their lat workouts.  Along with working on the lats this exercise helps develop thickness in the back.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises

  • One Arm Dumbbell Row:  This exercise works well at working the latissimus dorsi muscles.  Place one knee on a bench and with the hand opposite the knee grab a dumbbell.  Bring the weight up and in to your ribcage area while feeling the squeeze in your shoulder blade.  Use a controlled motion to lift and lower the weight.  While doing the exercise look straight ahead and keep your back straight.
  • Dumbbell Pullover:  Grab a dumbbell of moderate weight and place your hand under the weight.  Lie down with your upper back on a bench so that the body is perpendicular to the position of the bench. Hold the weight over your body with your arms straight up.     Slowly lower the weight behind you so that the weight and your hands are in alignment to the top of your head.  Stop and pull the dumbbell up to the starting position. This exercise will work the lats along with your chest muscles.

Cable Latissimus Dorsi Exercises

Here are a few common lat exercises that you can do with a cable machine.

  • Lat Pulldown:  This is a good exercise to complement a pull up.  If you are unable to complete one pull up then this exercise will help you develop lat and bicep strength.  However, I still recommend a pull up over the lat pull down any day.
  • Cable Row:  Much like a barbell row and a dumbbell row this exercise is done in a similar manner.  Cable machine rows can be a safe alternative for a beginner to moderate weight lifter.  The important thing to remember is to keep the back straight. Do not round your back, including the lower back.
  • Straight Arm Pull Downs:  This is often done as a finishing move and although not one of my favorites it does work the lat muscles.  This exercise is done using a lat pulldown machine and it is done while standing up.  Using light weight hold the pull down bar with arms straightened outward.  Bring the bar down below your waist without bending your arms.  You could literally get the same or better results by swimming or paddling on a surfboard and get a back like a swimmer.

Creating A Workout To Build Wide Lats

Now that you have all these exercises what do you do?  Well, first of all do not try to do as many of these exercises in one workout.  Doing a bunch of these workouts is overkill and won’t give you a wider back.  Rather than doing a bunch of exercises choose a sequence exercises in the following manner

  • 1 Pull Up type movement (example: pull ups or chin ups)
  • 1 rowing movement: can be either barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight, or cable variation
  • 1 pull down type movement or pull over movement
  • Deadlifts:  throw in exercise in the mix on leg days, preferably a day you are not doing back.

Do each exercise for 3 to 4 sets and 8-10 repetitions

Sample Workout

  • Pull Ups (4 sets of 8-10 reps)
  • Barbell Rows (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
  • Dumbbell Pullover (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
  • Deadlifts on a separate day (3 sets of 6-8 reps)

I always prefer mixing a bodyweight exercise along with weights for maximum results.  Although this workout is strictly about working the back and lats, I do recommend using bodyweight exercises in any muscle group workout.

Learning how to develop a strong back is all about doing the right latissimus dorsi exercises.  Just keep it simple and don’t worry about cramming as many exercises or sets as possible.  The easiest way to make gains is by keeping your workouts simple.

How To Get A V Shaped Body With A Back And Shoulders Workout

Have you ever opened a women’s magazine and read some of those “surveys” naming the body part of a man women consider sexy?  You will typically find the usual answers: sexy chest, strong arms, abs, etc.  But one body part that gets high marks yet is often cast aside is a “V Shaped Back.”  So if it is considered sexy why aren’t more men trying to get a muscular back?  But did you know that having a well developed back is key to developing a V shaped body, a symbol of a dominant individual?

A typical day at any gym consists of seeing guys doing workouts that focus on the chest and biceps.  In fact, often times you will see the same guys doing bench presses several times a week and sadly neglecting the rest of the upper body.  Heck, the lower body is often ignored entirely by gym rats…

Attract Attention With A V Shape Body

It is easy for someone to want to focus on the chest and the arms.  The ego boost we get from adding more weight to a bench press is undeniable and curling heavier every month is as well.  So often we end up showing off how much we bench press but rarely does anyone ask, “hey, how many pull ups did you do?”

As much as we want to think that the chest is what defines a masculine physique, it is actually a combination of factors which make for a strong and masculine looking torso.  A torso is composed of not only the chest but also the back and shoulders.  If you neglect one part of the equation the entire torso will look out of balance.  In order to have balanced torso it is necessary to work on all the three parts of the body just mentioned.

It is easy to forget about our backs when, after all, any time we look in the mirror we look at what stands in front of us.  However, ask any lady if they notice a man’s back as he is walking away and you can bet she is definitely looking.

Look Good And Feel Better With A Strong Back

Having a strong back is not only about looks.  A strong back is also beneficial as it helps develop good posture.  It is impossible to look dominant walking around with a slouch.  A straight posture exudes confidence and makes you look taller.  A taller appearance helps the rest of the torso like the chest and the shoulders stand out.

Another important reason to work on back muscles is to prevent nagging back pain caused by age and by wear and tear.  These days most of us lead sedentary lives as we sit on the couch watching our favorite show or sitting at a desk for the majority of the day.  After years of this we eventually develop back problems.

In order to develop a V shaped body or torso we need to do 3 things:

  1. Develop wider shoulders
  2. Develop the lats
  3. Have a slim waist

In order to develop wider shoulders we need to do exercises that will develop the medial delts or side delts as they are more commonly referred.  The following exercises are great for developing this area of the shoulders:

  1. Military Presses
  2. Lateral Raises

These two exercises are quite common and are necessary in any strength training program.  Perform between 3-4 sets of each exercise for 8 to 10 reps in order to build mass in the shoulders.

Other exercises which are excellent at developing the shoulders are Hang Clean & Press and the second exercise is the Clean & Press.  Both exercises are not only excellent shoulder exercises but total body exercises when done right.

The Best Back Exercises For An Awesome Back

I have come across many guys who only do one back exercise and expect to achieve a wider back.  However, the back muscles are not just one solid piece of tissue.  Back muscles are very complex and require working on them from different angles to target the lats, upper back, middle back and lower back.

There are various exercises that will help in developing lower back muscles and upper back muscles but our goal here is to maximize our efforts to develop a wider back and maximize a V-shaped body.  Here are the best exercises that will develop the lats:

  • Pull Ups:  This exercise is hands down the best at developing the back muscles.  This is a must have exercise in your back repertoire if you want a muscular back with great lat development.  For best results use a slightly wider than shoulder grip.
  • Chin Ups:  These are great for developing the upper and middle back.  Chin ups are performed using palms in grip.
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row:  This is one of the best exercises for developing the lats and thickness in the middle part of the back.
  • Bent Over Barbell Row:  This is another exercise that is a must have if you want to develop those lats.  Along with the back you will also develop biceps strength especially if you use a palms up grip.
  • Deadlifts:  Although this exercise is not often considered a back exercise it will guarantee that you will develop a stronger and wider back if you go heavy and perform it with proper form.   Deadlifts also work the hamstrings and lower back.

Although these exercises are great at developing back strength and mass they should be done with proper form and allow sufficient rest between workouts.  Even though you may have seen bodybuilder workouts laying out 4 to 5 sets per exercise on days you are working on your back, I have found that performing less is ideal.

Here is an example of a great mass building back workout:

Pull Ups:  4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Bent Over Barbell Row:  3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Chin Ups:  3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

One Arm Dumbbell Rows:  2 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Allow at least 60 to 90 seconds rest between sets.

You can eliminate either the chin ups or one arm dumbbell rows if you feel it is too much to handle.  In fact, a beginner should only stick to 3 of these exercises and work up after several months of training.

Deadlifts should be included but rather than doing these with a back workout, include them on days you are doing leg workouts.  Deadlifts can be 3 to 4 sets of 6-8 reps.

Increase the weight of these exercises once it is easier to complete 8 reps per set .

So now you have the exercises necessary to develop a wider back but is this enough?  Although having a wide back will give a V shape and will also make your waist look smaller it is important to have as small a waist as possible.  Now, I am not talking about having a waist that would make a lady envy you, but rather a waist that does not have the dreaded spare tire.

Avoid A Spare Tire By Burning Fat The Right Way

You should ideally do some form of cardio along with following a healthy eating plan.  Eliminate foods that are high in sugar and high in fat.

Cardio is often avoided because of a false belief that it will cause a decrease in muscle mass or muscle definition.  This is true if you perform long steady state cardio as is the case with marathon runners but your goal is not to train for a marathon but rather for explosiveness.

Try to copy a sprinters cardio training which is broken up in to intervals.  Interval training is more effective when performed in short, brief and explosive sequences for fat burning purposes and for muscle building.

An ideal way of doing interval training is by doing cardio intervals of one minute of high intensity, like sprinting or any other cardio exercise, followed by one minute at a slow relaxed pace or total rest.  Follow this series of intervals for a period of 15 to 20 minutes and then finish off with slow cardio for 10 to 15 minutes.

This type of cardio training will help burn fat and help you avoid the dreaded spare tire and achieve an awesome physique complete with a “V shaped body.”

Weighted Pull Ups- Do Them And Become The Gym Strong Man

There I was at the gym when my buddy comes up and asks, “ever done weighted pull ups?”  I looked at him and saw some chains in his left hand.  My friend Art is no one to mess with.  Let’s just say he had practiced bodyweight workouts wearing a pin striped suit in the past…

“No man, I’ve never done them, why?” I replied.

He asked me what I was working on that day and it just so happened to be a day I was working on my back.  We are to this day one of the hand full of guys who do unassisted pull ups from a pull up bar at this gym and it is something we are proud of.  In fact, I love working on my back days because of the fact that I know I complete some pull ups- one of my favorite exercises.

“Come on let’s do some weighted pull ups with this chain I bought.”

Building A Foundation Before Attempting Weighted Pull Ups

When my buddy had asked me if I wanted to join him and do some pull ups with these chains it was fun but a bit intimidating.  I had only attempted pull-ups using my own bodyweight but never tried other variations.  Attempting anything different seemed like a challenge but one that was worth taking.

I decided to take on the challenge because I knew that I had done all the right things in my back workouts.  I had done pull ups, chin ups, rowing and low rows.  I had basically set up the foundation for a strong back.  One thing that I had learned was that by training my back I had in essence been building overall upper body strength.  My typical back workout had consisted of the following sequence:

  • Pull Ups:  4 sets to failure
  • Rows:  4 sets of 10- I tried different variations to switch things up like dumbbell rows, cable rows and hammer strength rows
  • Pull Downs:  4 sets of 10
  • Low Rows:  4 sets of 10

This type of workout for back muscles is solid and targets every area of the back, from the lats, upper back, middle back and lower lats.  It is complete and one that is highly athletic, as it uses multi joint movements and stimulates muscle growth.  These are the types of exercises you would see a rower, swimmer or gymnast train for.

I would not advocate anyone trying weighted pull ups if they are beginners.  This type of exercise is really for a moderate to advanced person.  It is necessary to develop strength in the biceps and back in order to handle the demands that are placed by doing this exercise.

How To Build Back Strength Only Using Your Bodyweight

I emphasized in the past how great bodyweight workout routines are for developing a fit body.  Assuming you do not have access to rowing machines or a pull down machine you can still build back strength by doing an all pull up workout.

Sample Pull Up Workout

  • Wide Grip Pull Ups:  4 sets to failure
  • Shoulder Wide Pull Ups:  This is the traditional way of doing pull ups.  4 sets to failure
  • Chin Ups:  3 to sets to failure (you can learn about the difference between pull ups and chin ups in a previous post about Chin Ups vs Pull Ups)
  • Close Grip Pull Ups:  3 sets to failure (really targets the lower lats)

By using the all bodyweight type workout you can still train your back and get it strong for doing weighted variations in no time.

(Here is a picture of my back a couple of years ago. I’m too shy to show my face.)

Weighted Pull Ups- Why You Should Try Them

The first time my buddy and I attempted these it was much different than what I what we had expected.  More fibers in our back were being called in to action.  This was true “muscle confusion.”  Our bodies had never been used to being placed under such demands but we knew that this was getting the job done.  The weighted variation was providing the following:

  • Shocking the lats and overall back
  • Forcing the muscles to contract with more intensity
  • Forcing back muscles to grow
  • Making us focus on form and how to contract the muscles correctly.

What To Focus On When Doing Weighted Pull Ups

(Example of Weighted Pull Ups)

The important thing to remember is to always focus on proper form.  It is easy to swing the body in an upward motion but this can only cause injury.  It is best to use a slow controlled motion. A second recommendation is to use your back muscles and lifting yourself.  DO NOT USE YOUR ELBOWS OR BICEPS.  If you do you will lose the benefit of working on your back.  Instead you are just making your biceps the focus on the workout.  Don’t worry the side effect of a good pull up is stronger biceps.

It is also important to start your workout with lightweight in order to prep your back for heavier weight later.  When we first started we tried the 25 pound plate the first set, 35 pound plate the second set and up to a 45 pound plate.  The great thing about using these belts/chains is you can start off with very lightweight and build up from there.

Weighted Pull Up Workout

Here is the workout we used and you can tailor it according to your level.

  • Set 1:  Bodyweight Pull Ups for 8 reps as a warm up
  • Set 2:  Weighted Version, 10 reps with a 25 pound plate
  • Set 3:  8 reps using a 35 pound plate
  • Set 4:  5 reps using a 45 pound plate
  • Set 5:  3 reps with 70 pounds

We did not do pull downs after this point.  Two more sets of rows and we were done.

This type of workout is one that I would not recommend doing too often due to the heavy weight you will be pulling.  Once every two weeks or a month is perfectly fine.  Do a typical back workout the other weeks in between.  For my back workouts I only work on this muscle group once a week.

Try doing weighted pull ups and I can’t promise you will become the gym STRONG MAN but you will definitely take your back workouts to a new level.

Chin Ups vs Pull Ups: Which Exercise Wins In Achieving A Strong Back

So you want to develop a stronger back and you have been eyeballing that pull up bar at your gym but have been wondering which exercise is best.  Which exercise is the most effective? Let us break it down and see who wins in the debate of chin ups vs pull ups when working on the back.

There are different exercises that develop the back such as rows, low rows, high rows and different ways of doing pull ups that target the back.  Some of these exercises focus more on the lats, others the middle back, or the upper back region.

It is important to note that in order to achieve the best results and best back development you have to use a variety of exercises to really build stronger back muscles.  With that being said let us look at what pull ups exercises and chin ups exercises mostly target.

The Differences Between These Two Exercises

Chin ups are performed using palms in grip (underhand) and the hands usually close together.  Pull ups are performed with the palms facing outward (overhand) and the grip can vary either neutral, close or wide grip.  Although many people confuse the difference between these two exercises this is the distinction between the two.

Muscles Targeted By Chin Ups Exercises

Chin ups exercises are excellent at working the back, primarily the upper and middle back and the biceps to a great extent.  Other muscles that are targeted are rear deltoids.  Although other muscles like rear deltoids and the lats are stimulated they are done so at a lesser of a degree.

Muscles Targeted By Pull Ups Exercises

Pull ups are known as one of the granddaddies gym workouts.  Unfortunately they are not performed as often as they should be probably because they are considered difficult to perform.  This exercise really targets and stimulates the entire lats area.  For a good example of lats development just look at a gymnast or swimmer’s body.  The lats begin from right below the armpit all the way down below the ribs area.

Pull ups stimulate the lats in a way that makes them stand out more and give the back a wide appearance.

Although the biceps are also stimulated they are done so to a lesser extent than chin ups.  However it is clear that both exercises serve their purpose when working out the back.  It is also important to note that both of these exercises are excellent as they provide upper body strength if done on a regular basis.

Who Wins Between Pull Ups vs Chin Ups?

This depends on which muscle group you want to focus on more.  If you had to decide on an exercise that focuses more on the back then pull ups exercises are ideal.  However there is nothing that says you have to do one or the other.

In fact, I would suggest using both in any back workout.  If you are doing strictly a bodyweight workout then you should definitely do both exercises.  If you are including weights in your workout you can do both or replace one of these exercises in place of lat pulldowns for example.

I advise doing as many repetitions as you can for these exercises.  If your rep volume is low just continue practicing them in your workouts until you can do more.

For a beginner I would advise doing chin ups for a few weeks to develop strength in the back and biceps that will then prepare you for more difficult exercises like pull ups.

In reality I would not look at it as a competition of chin ups vs pull ups but rather learning to incorporate the two for best maximum back and upper body results.

How To Get A Swimmer’s Body Without Even Getting Your Feet Wet

Ask any given person on the street or acquaintance what the most attractive athletic body type is and odds are you will hear them say a swimmer’s body is the most appealing.  Although some might debate that a different type of body is sexier the truth is they will probably rank it somewhere in the top 2 positions.


Having the genetics of a swimmer does help so I will not lie about that.  However, 99 percent of us are not and will never be athletic swimmers.  This does not mean that we can’t look as athletic as a swimmer.  In fact learning how to get a swimmer’s body is not difficult at all.

What makes this body type so attractive?

The reason this body type is attractive to so many men and women is quite simply that this body is lean without being too bulky.  Most people do not like the Incredible Hulk look.  However, swimmers have a natural yet muscular look that is low in body fat that shows off their definition.

A second factor that makes their bodies attractive is the fact that their physical dimensions are even.  In other words the upper body is equally muscular as their lower body.  One body part does not overpower the other.

So what does it take to look like a swimmer?

Have a low fat diet:  Yes you have heard it before but there is no other way around it.  You have to eat healthy in order to keep your body fat low.

Do Interval Type Cardio Training:  Forget about running miles and hours week after week.  Look at swimmers, specifically the short distance swimmers like Amanda Beard or Michael Phelps (pictured above).  Both swimmers compete in fast races that are similar to short distance track runners.  In order to copy these conditions it is best to do interval type cardio for 15 to 20 minutes.  This type of training can be done either in a pool or using any other type of cardio exercise.

Do Weights In Heavier Range:  Instead of lifting weights in the high rep range lift around six to eight repetitions per set.  Any type of equipment can be used like dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, machines and even training with resistance bands.  More importantly to do not neglect any given body part.  Do workouts that target the shoulders, back, arms, chest and legs.

If anyone wonders how to get a swimmer’s body the three factors I point out are the ones mentioned above.

However it has been said so often that what distinguishes a swimmer’s body from any other athlete is their upper body, specifically the shoulders and back.

Here is a sample workout to develop a strong swimmer’s back

  • Pull Ups:  Use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip.  Do as many as you can per set.
  • Rows:  Use any machine, barbell or dumbbells.
  • Lat Pulldowns:  Use a lat pulldown machine with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip.  In the absence of a pulldown machine feel free to do close grip pull-ups.
  • Low Rows:  Use a low row machine.  The low rows are excellent in giving upper back development as well rear deltoid development.  You can also do this exercise with dumbbells by leaning chest first into an incline bench.  Let your arms hang straight down with a dumbbell in each hand.  Bring the weigh up and back.

Do 4 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions.  For Pull-ups do as many as possible even if you can only do one or two.  You will do more with time and this will help you gain strength that will help with other upper body workouts.

As you can see it is not necessary to get in a pool and swim.  If you do not know how to swim you can still achieve a swimmer’s body by following the steps mentioned above and different workouts like the back workout outlined in this article.

Now that you know how to get a swimmer’s body try these tips and tell me what you think.

Put Your Back In to It: Doing Deadlift Exercises For Strengthening Lower Back Muscles

One of the unsung heroes in athletic workouts, when in comes to strengthening lower back muscles, are the forgotten deadlift exercises. Although they may recall old school training to some, they should not be taken for granted.
photo courtesy of Phil Hirst

When I think of exercises that are used across the board by the majority of athletes as part of their training only a few come to mind. Of course there’s the typical bench press and squats, but the deadlift is always in their routine.

Basketball players, baseball players, football players, Olympic athletes all use this one exercise for conditioning and athleticism. Because this is a compound exercise and as such targets more than one muscle group and builds explosiveness the benefits are huge.

In my years of working out I can probably count with two hands the number of people I have seen doing this exercise at the gym. Why? The two most common excuses are, a) it looks to tough and b) I don’t want to hurt my back.

I won’t lie, deadlifts can be challenging but the rewards are great. The important thing to consider is to use a weight that is not too heavy and proper form is used.

For those who may have a concern that they might hurt their back the importance of form is big. However, as with any exercise always use proper form and you will greatly reduce the risk of injury.

For anyone who may have a concern with injuring the lower back my advice is to start working on those lower back muscles! The lack of lower back muscle development is the reason why these injuries in the first place. With this said, always start with very light weight and work your way up.

If you are focused on strengthening your lower back there is no better exercise than a deadlift. After a couple months of doing this exercise you will see the difference in the lower back and in your core. Remember that core exercises are important in avoiding lower back injuries.

There are various versions of the deadlift:

Romanian Deadlift
Stiff Legged Deadlift
Bent Knee Deadlift

I recommend the Bent Knee version since it will target your entire lower body (leg muscles) up to your core and lower back. The important things to remember when performing this exercise are:

1. Use a wider than shoulder width grip and keep the arms straight. Legs stance should also be shoulder width apart.
2. Do not round your back. Bend at the waist and keep the back flat. Always maintain your lower back firm.
3. Use the strength in your legs when lifting and push from the heels.
4. Do not look down when lifting, instead look straight ahead and keep your chest out.
5. Do not overarch your back when you come up to a standing position.
6. Do not use your lower back when pulling the weight.
7. Keep your abs tight when lifting.
8. Keep the bar/weight close to your body. The bar should be touching your shins when you start and touching your thighs when you come up.
9. Come down slowly and controlled motion as your hips bend first followed by the knees.

In the beginning perform 3 sets of 6 to eight repetitions. Move up to 4 sets after 4 weeks. Only do this series once a week preferably on legs day. Barbells or dumbbells can be used and you can switch it up but start by performing them with barbells.

If you perform this execise on a weekly basis get ready to see an overrall increase in body strength and a stronger lower back as well.