Build A Massive Back With This Seated Row Technique

Build A Massive Back with This Advanced Seated Row Drop Set Protocol

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Are you looking for a unique yet potent mass builder for your entire back (upper, middle, and low back musculature)? If the answer is yes then you’ll want to try this modified drop set on the seated row station.   Besides making you freakishly strong, this is without a doubt one of the most effective functional strength and hypertrophy protocols I’ve ever used with my athletes.  

Here I have two of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn and Fernando Velasco performing this deceptively difficult protocol as we prepare their bodies for the upcoming season. 

Start the set by using an eccentric isometric hold in the stretched position with a supramaximal load (a load greater than your 1 RM) for a 10-15 second duration.  The seated cable row is very conducive for supramaximal eccentric isometrics as the movement starts in the stretched position to begin with therefore it simply requires the athlete to set their spine, and shoulder blades, then hold the position with the arms full extended.  

Most lifters should be able to hold at least 25-30% more weight than they would typically use for rows.  This creates an incredible amount of mechanical tension and muscle damage for maximizing muscle growth particularly because of the combination of overload and stretch.  You'll literally feel every muscle in your body as you hold this supramaximal eccentric isometric not to mention your upper back will feel like it’s getting annihilated.  As a bonus this does wonders for posture and spinal alignment as your resisting incredibly high levels of flexion forces acting on the spine.  

This supramaximal loading also produces post activation potentiation (increased neural drive and motor unit recruitment) from the inordinately heavier loads.  Rather than terminating the set here, you’ll use this potentiation to elicit a greater hypertrophy response. 

Simply follow the supramaximal hold with a drop set by decreasing the load by 40-50%.  From there you’ll blast out smooth rows with additional pauses in both the contracted and stretched positions. 

Because the nervous system will be potentiated and hyper activated from the prior heavy loading, the reduced weight for the standard rows will feel inordinately light.  This will allow the lifter to produce smooth yet powerful and intense contractions throughout the lats and upper back.  As a result this creates further metabolic stress and cellular swelling to the upper back musculature making it highly effective for producing functional strength and hypertrophy.  Several sets of this will more than suffice for triggering newfound growth in your upper back and lats. 

You’ll also experience three physical bonuses when performing this exercise protocol.  

1. You’ll experience increased lower body activation throughout the hips, feet, and ankles.  Due to the heavy loads and the 90 degree hip flexion position, the isometric hold feels very similar to an RDL.  In fact don’t be surprised if your hips and legs begin to shake and quiver while performing the supramaximal hold.  In addition, focus on keeping your feet straight and knees slightly pushed out with more pressure on the outside of the feet just like you would during a squat or RDL.  Performing these in barefoot or minimalist conditions will help optimize these effects.

2. The low back muscles will also receive intense stimulation from this rowing protocol as the heavy loads and high time under tension will require the spinal erectors and musculature around the lumbar spine to resist flexion forces.  As a result this is one of the best low back strengthening and preventative exercises you’ll ever perform.  For individuals who suffer with low back pain I recommend performing the isometric hold using lighter loads. Simply holding the proper position with perfect posture and resisting flexion forces will have an incredible impact on low back health even with relatively lighter loads.

3. The grip, hands, and forearms get absolutely crushed from this rowing protocol due to the supramaximal loads and duration of the modified drop set.  In fact the grip may be the first thing to go when you first attempt these.  After several sessions of implementing this the grip and forearms strength should improve immensely thereby allowing the upper back to be the limiting factor.  This intense gripping does wonders for increasing upper body strength and pulling power as well as improved shoulder packing and centration.  That’s because grip strength and grip activation are directly related to shoulder stability.  The more intensely you grip the more stable and packed your shoulders will be.   As a result you can expect further improvements in shoulder stability from implementing this protocol.  Just make sure you don’t use excessive range of motion on either end of the movement (don’t over stretch or over-row).