Best Powerlifting Back Workout Routine

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

| Published on

Fact Checked

If you utilize the correct powerlifting back workout, you will set yourself up for greater muscle gains in the long term.

This is simply because powerlifting back training (compound lifts in the 1-5 rep range) is more oriented towards strength gains.

More strength means more progressive overload , thus realizing one of the main principles of muscle hypertrophy.

Many successful bodybuilders even use these powerlifting back exercises for size.

But before we get to the back workout for powerlifting , let’s set some terminology.

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Types Of Muscle Growth

powerlifting back workout ronnie coleman

When it comes to resistance training, we mainly differentiate between two types of training – Powerlifting & bodybuilding.

As we said, the powerlifting range of 1-5 repetitions, stimulates strength gains, where as the bodybuilding range of 6-15 repetitions, stimulates bulk muscle growth and strength endurance.

These two can be split into two types of muscle growth – Myofibrillar hypertrophy & Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the growth of the contractile muscle units (myofibrils), which we call “muscle fibers”.

Functionally, this type of growth is responsible for the increase of strength and is also associated with improvements in the central nervous system.

The reason for the latter, is that heavier loads in the 1-5 rep range, induce a greater stress on the central nervous system, which is why the body improves those pathways.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, on the other hand, is the growth of the sarcoplasm, which is a jelly-like fluid that surrounds the fibers and contains non-contractile proteins.

Functionally, this type of hypertrophy grants strength endurance and is regarded to as “bodybuilder hypertrophy”.

Working in the 6-15 rep range primarily leads to improvements in strength endurance and secondarily in raw strength.

TIP: Combine both types of training but put the balance in favor of the one that suits your goal. Want to get stronger? Work in the 1-5 rep range primarily. Want to hop on a bodybuilding stage in time? Focus on higher reps.

Now let’s get to the powerlifting back training routine, shall we?

Powerlifting back workout

This powerlifter back workout is your best bet to put a solid foundation of strength which you can build upon.

It is based on heavy, compound movements which allow you to reach the limits of your maximum strength, but you also get to do some high-rep work at the end!

Exercise #1 – Inverted row

inverted row for powerlifting back workout

Sets: 3

Reps: 5

Rest times: 60 seconds

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If you have seen some of our previous workouts, you’d know that in our book, using activation movements before your heavier lifts, is important.

This first exercise will activate and warm up your pulling muscle groups, as well as the core and prepare you for the barbell deadlifts afterwards.

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  1. Place a bar lower on the rack
  2. Lie down below it and hang with your arms wider than shoulder width
  3. Place feet together and straight and lift your butt up so its not hanging
  4. Pull yourself up
  5. Pause up top briefly
  6. Go back down and repeat

Exercise #2 – Barbell Deadlift

barbell deadlift

Sets: 2 Warm up sets, 4 working sets

Reps: 5 on warm up sets, 2×5 and 2×3 on working sets

Rest times: 1 minute on warm up sets, 3-4 minutes on working sets

This second exercise is pretty much the core of any powerlifting back training routine.

To keep the torso stable and straight, the entire posterior chain is highly engaged, thus making this pretty much a full body movement.

Start off with a relatively heavy weight for the warm up sets, go for explosive reps and then move on to 4 working sets of lower reps.

Use a weight that will leave 1-2 reps in reserve after the 3rd rep.


  1. Load a barbell and place it on the ground
  2. Stand behind it with your shins close to the bar
  3. Bend knees slightly and bend over
  4. Hold the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder width
  5. Squat slightly, look forward and stand up with the bar
  6. Avoid overextending the torso
  7. Go back down slowly
  8. Repeat

Exercise #3 – Pendlay Row

pendlay row

Sets: 3

Reps: 5

Rest times: 2 minutes

The pendlay row is one of the forgotten movements which can be well-utilized in a powerlifting back workout routine.

Besides working the back well, the core is also engaged and we have static tension in the legs, which stabilize the body.

Talk about compound exercises.


  1. Place a bar on the ground
  2. Stand behind it and place feet comfortably
  3. Bend over and grab the bar with an overhand grip
  4. Pull the bar up to your lower abs
  5. Squeeze the back muscles briefly and let the bar go back down (control the speed to keep tension)
  6. Repeat without letting the bar touch the ground

Exercise #4 – Pull ups

wide grip pull ups

Total: 50 reps in as many sets as needed, with as much rest as you need

Last but not least, the king of all back exercises – The wide grip pull-up.

This exercise will not only help you get stronger and have a better-looking back, but it will also improve your scapular function, biceps and forearm strength.

We recommend doing 10 sets of 5 repetitions with ~60 seconds of rest between each set.


  1. Hang on the pull-up bar with a wide grip
  2. Look up
  3. Keep feet together and straight
  4. Pull yourself up until your chin is at the level of the bar
  5. Squeeze the back muscles and go back down slowly

Training tips

Besides having a good powerlifter back workout, there are other aspects of the whole picture, which you have to keep in mind on the bigger scale.

Let’s go through some of our best training tips, to help you maximize the results of your training routine

Training volume

Volume is one of the training parameters that will pretty much dictate your performance.

When you’re working in the powerlifting range, you want to spread your volume across as many sessions as possible, as that will maximize it.

Think of it this way – By the time you reach your 10th working set in ONE workout, you’d be toast. Why not spread that volume in two sessions of 5 working sets and be able to lift heavier on each set, thus creating bigger volume?

Rest times

Generally, people are used to thinking of supersets & dropsets as the foundation of strength and muscle gains.

However, the fact of the matter is that the powerlifting rep range actually requires much more rest in-between sets.

And we’re not talking about 2 minutes.

In strength training, the heaviest lifts can reach up to 10-15 minutes of rest in-between sets.

However, that is only valid for one repetition max lifts, meaning that your 3-5 rep working sets can be done with 3-4 minutes of rest, to optimize performance on each set.


Though you are lifting heavier, your main priority should always be proper execution of each movement.

This will allow for optimal muscle contraction and will also act as a preventative measure for injuries.

Remember – Leave your ego at the door!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we will answer the two most commonly asked questions regarding powerlifting.

#1 How do I start powerlifting?

Generally, powerlifting is associated with lifting weights that are close to your maximum strength levels.

This is not a recommended approach for beginners, due to the risk of injury.

As a beginner, focus on the 6-15 rep range with relatively heavy weights, so you can build strength.

With time, you can slowly transition into more of a powerlifting-oriented approach and do heavier lifts in the 1-5 rep range.

#2 How many times a week do powerlifters train?

Training frequency, as we said, is one of the most important things you should keep yourself accountable for, as that will determine your performance from set to set.

This parameter changes as volume increases, meaning that as you go up to 10 working sets and above per week, per exercise, training frequency will increase so that you can spread that volume.

If you are currently doing deadlifts once a week but feel like you can do more, try twice and if that makes you feel fresh from session to session, you can experiment with a third session.

This is valid for all lifts.


There is a fine difference between the approach bodybuilders use versus the powerlifting approach.

Each has its advantages and should be used, depending on the individual’s goal.

Other parameters such as frequency, volume and rest times should also be utilized throughout the training process.

Hopefully you can use this powerlifting back workout routine to your advantage,

If you want to diversify from your powerlifting back training, check out our Hardcore back workout for mass.

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