The ideal upper body program that focuses on building a bigger, healthier back

The ideal upper body program that focusing on building a healthy strong back includes the following:

  • Opening arc patterns i.e. reverse fly pattern
  • Horizontal pull patterns i.e. rows
  • Vertical pull patterns i.e. chin up, pull up, lat pull down
  • Closing arc i.e. straight arm pull down
  • Combined movements i.e. face pull

In the program below you will see we have covered off on all of these key components except for the opening arc reverse fly.  On reflection of writing this post, an exercise incorporating this pattern should have been selected.

Equipment requirements

  • Dumbbell/Barbell/Kettlebell
  • Cable machine

Training focus

  • Focusing largely on building a strong healthy back that incorporates all the key movement patterns

Training frequency

  • Aim to incorporate upper body back focused exercises at least twice per week if your program.  Regardless of whether you are performing a split program or whole body program.
    One can simply change the exercise to be either isolated in nature (greater body stability with single plane) or integrated with other movement patterns across multiple planes



  • Anywhere between 2-4 per exercise (this will be time dependent, total exercise number dependent, goal dependent)


  • For beginners, choose a weight that allows you to perform 10 reps, with perhaps 3-4 reps left in the tank.  After 1-2 weeks, look to  change the weight so that you are working more towards your 10 repetition maximum.
  • For more experienced trainers, depending on your focus, start with a weight that allows you to perform 10 reps with a tempo of 2 up, 1 hold and 2 down (5 seconds per rep), therefore 50 seconds per set.  Depending on your goal, you can look to increase weight and speed to focus more on strength/power, or you can slow the rep down and play around with the rep number to focus on strength/endurance


  • For those lifting heavier weights, look at longer rest breaks between sets i.e. 120 seconds
  • For those lifting lighter weights, aim for rest periods of 45-90 seconds

The exercise program

Face pulls

  • Focus: Combined movement i.e. external rotation with 90 degrees abduction of the arm.
  • Challenge yourself: Lower the starting anchor point, change the end point of the pull pattern
  • Make things easier:  Reduce the weight, have the anchor point higher
  • Alternatives:  Banded face pull (increase resistance through range)

2. Straight arm pull down

  • Focus:  Closing arc focus, serratus/lat focus
  • Challenge yourself: Integrate from a hinge position or tall kneeling, increase the range of motion, increase the load, change the attachment and grip focus
  • Make things easier: Reduce the range of motion, reduce the load
  • Alternatives:  Dumbbell lying pull over

3. Pendlay Row

  • Focus:  Horizontal pull focus, integrated with hinge and trunk bracing
  • Make things more challenging:  Increase weight, change grip width from neutral to snatch, perform a deficit
  • Make things easier: Reduce ROM, Reduce load
  • Alternatives: Seated row, bench supported row, single arm row (these are all horizontal pull patterns)

4. Lat pull down wide

  • Focus:  Vertical pull pattern
  • Challenge yourself: Change the attachment, change the grip, perform single hand
  • Make things easier: Reduce ROM, reduce the load
  • Alternatives:  Chin up, Pull up

5. Single arm kettlebell row

  • Focus:  Single arm horizontal pull + hinge and brace
  • Make things more challenging: Increase ROM, increase load, reduce base of support
  • Make things easier: Reduce ROM, reduce load
  • Alternatives: Single arm cable row

6. Lat pull down narrow

  • Focus:  Vertical pull pattern
  • Make things more challenging: Change grip width, attachment, grip
  • Make things easier: Reduce ROM, reduce load
  • Alternatives: Chin up, pull up

7. Bent over single arm row (landmine)

  • Focus: Horizontal pull (single arm) with hinge and brace
  • Make things more challenging: Increase ROM, Load, Reduce base of support
  • Make things easier: Reduce load, ROM
  • Alternatives: Single arm cable row, single are seated row, single arm chest supported row

For those wanting to review this program on instagram or save it as a favourite, click on the link below:

This blog post was written by Principle Four Osteopathy osteopath Heath Williams. Principle Four Osteopathy is one of Melbourne city cbd leading osteopathy clinics.  The clinic integrates manual therapy, occupational health and strength and conditioning services onsite.  For more information, check out