The greatest way to build lean, strong muscle is to train like an athlete. Many times, it's difficult to train like an athlete and build up a ton of muscle at the same time. However, if you approach it the right way, you can build lots of “athletic muscle’ in a hurry!

In this article, I will explain how to train your back properly using “athletic bodybuilding” methods. This will help you build lean, ripped, usable muscle! If you want to still move around easily and swiftly like an athlete while also building tons of muscle, this is it!

1. Train heavy movements.

Your back is one of the strongest parts of your body or at least it should be. Using heavy weights is essential, so reps of anywhere from 3–6 is considered heavy for your back. Because we're going for muscle gain, we don’t need to worry too much about maximal strength in the 1–2 rep range. We want a little more volume. So what are the best movements for training heavy?

Deadlifts are king followed by:

  • Bent barbell rows
  • One arm bent rows with dumbbells or kettlebells
  • Heavy weighted pull-ups
  • Cheat curls (yes, these still work your back if you do them correctly)
  • Atlas stone loading (huge for back strength development)
  • Sandbag cleans and rows

Those are the main exercises to use when training your back heavy. They are all great athletic type movements as well.

2. Do body weight pulls using multiple angles.

When it comes to bodybuilding, a forgotten art is body weight training. People think “unweighted” body weight movements aren't any good for adding muscle and mass. Well, they are dead wrong!

You must do body weight training to ensure that you keep up your strength levels. Body weight also adds in that extra volume, which can really have an effect on building more size. The best ways to train your back using body weight is to hit every angle imaginable! Use these:

  • Pull-ups (all types of grips)
  • Recline rows (use a TRX or squat rack)
  • Rope climbs

3. Superset you back training.

There isn't any better way to make your back training more athletic than supersetting back movements with other body part movements. My personal favorite is the “push-pull” superset.

This is where you may start out with a bench press (push) and then immediately go to a bent row variation (pull).

The great thing about using supersets, especially when trying to add extra muscle on to your frame, is that you get a ton done in a short amount of time. You also will burn more calories by keeping your heart rate elevated, which will help you get and stay lean. Here are a few examples of the best supersets I’ve used in the past for the best results:

  • Bench presses (bent barbell row)
  • Weighted push-ups (weighted recline rows)
  • Military presses (rope climbs)
  • Barbell push-presses (weighted pull-ups)
  • Ring dips (ring pull-ups)

You can also use other movements such as:

  • Back squats (recline rows)
  • Kettlebell front squats (kettlebell bent rows)
  • Barbell power lunges (TRX reclined rows)

4. Use explosive movements.

Another lost art when bodybuilding is the use of explosive movements such as plyometric and Olympic type lifts. Don't ever forget to include these in your workouts! These are a must at keeping you athletic and getting you stronger, all of which will help you add lean muscle mass.

Using explosive type movements will help assure that you're using just about every single muscle fiber possible. You can only activate certain muscle fibers by doing explosive “speed” type movements. This is critical! Most bodybuilders train too slowly. Fast twitch muscle fibers are only activated when doing speedy, explosive type movements. In a nutshell, fast twitch muscle fibers are the fibers that grow the most. This is why it's important to train them!

The best way to do this is by using reps of 5–8. Each movement should be done as explosively as possible! Here are some essential “power” exercises to do for your back:

  • Hang power cleans
  • Medicine ball overhead slams
  • Explosive plyo pull-ups (super advanced)
  • Kettlebell cleans
  • Power snatches
  • Hang snatches
  • Olympic high pulls
  • Band power rows
  • Sandbag cleans

5. Use lots of volume with deloading.

The last tip is probably the best known. To add muscle, you must have a significant amount of extra volume in order to force your muscles to adapt to the stress being placed upon them through training. Too little volume will result in little muscle growth. Too much volume will overstress your muscles and leave you weaker and smaller than anticipated. The right way to use volume is to make sure you get just enough and then lay off a bit. Overdoing it will kill your results.

To avoid this, you need to make sure you take planned “deload” periods within your training schedule. I personally like to “deload’ every 3–4 weeks. You can go longer, but I recommend doing 3–4 weeks of high and heavy volume and then backing off for 7–10 days to do low volume, low intensity work. The rest is where the magic happens! You give your muscles a chance to recover and, when you come back, you're reenergized and ready to get back at it.

Deloads aren’t only good for your physical self (muscles). They're also great for your mental self as well (mind and attitude). The best way to approach a deload is to try and use only body weight exercises or low weighted exercises. Never go to failure on any movements and make sure the workouts are short and fast. The recommended time needed is only train for 20–30 minutes tops for deload workouts. Get in, get out, rest, and recover. It's as simple as that!

So there you go—five ways to start building up your back while still staying athletic! Apply these tips and you’ll see significant gains in strength, power, and lean muscle mass!