Matching Training Magnitudes: Train Your Back Like a Beast

Everyone and their brother talks about matching training volumes to ensure balance, making sure that you’re amount of pulling matches your amount of pushing in all planes; you know that old chestnut.

Of course, this is also based on personal i

mbalances, like if you have rounded shoulders you shouldn’t be doing 1400 pushing movements and only 2 pulls. While making sure that pushing to pulling ratios are balanced, it is important to consider that our bodies adapt to the greater stimulus.


I often use the comparison between bicep curls and deadlifts. Do you think your body cares more about a 25 pound dumbbell or a 400 barbell?

If you answered 25 pound dumbbells you get two demerits.

Of course, it cares more about being able to lift 400 pounds than it does 25!

Your body has to make more systemic changes to blast 400 pounds off of the floor than it does to do a concentration curl with a weight that my girlfriend would laugh at.


So, what’s the point? Simply if you are doing a lot of heavy pushing your pulling must match your pushing in over-all magnitude. Here’s an example. Let’s say that you are training for a bench press competition and you bench three times per week. One of those days is a max effort day, during which you are pressing weight at or above 90 percent of your one rep max for a given bench variation. On the second bench day you are doing a dynamic effort bench that involves a lot of power but not a lot of load. The third bench day is some sort of submaximal effort assistance work, say dumbbell bench for a few sets of 8.


For argument’s sake, let’s say that you keep a pulling to pushing ratio of 2:1 in your program. However, your pulling exercises consist of face pulls, 1 arm cable rows, bent dumbbell row and cable cross-over rear delt flys. Those are exercises of relative low-intensity. When these movements are compared to the bench work that you are doing they just don’t balance in the sense of over-all training magnitude. Obviously, if you are in the late phases of a competition bench program you are not going to have the pulling volume or intensity that you would (or at least should) have had earlier in your training cycle. There is too much specific bench work that is necessary and volume of pulling should be cut. But, you need to lay the ground work early on.


Along the same lines as the deadlift and curl comparison, your body is going to try to adapt to benching heavy weight more than it is going to try to adapt to lower-intensity pulling exercises. As we all know, strong back=strong man and better performance as an athlete and a lifter, so it’s important to consider whether or not your back is getting enough stimulation to grow, get stronger and keep up with the rest of your training volume. Here’s how to kick ass and beef up your back training to match the magnitude of your push training:


1) Deadlift: I know that the deadlift isn’t necessarily a “back” exercise (or movement), but it can help you to build a super-strong upper-back. While your hips do the work to move the weight during the deadlift, your back is assigned the task of stabilizing everything from your neck to your ass. That’s a boat load of stress put on your traps, rhomboids and lats, the muscles responsible for serving as the antagonist during your pushing movements. Building a ton of general strength in these muscles by deadlifting will go a lot way of matching the magnitude of your pushing.

2) Do Heavy Rowing: Your pushing heavy, so you should be pulling heavy! Not only will heavy rowing movements balance the magnitude of training in your upper-body but they can put some serious mass on your upper-back and lats. Do you wantt to do heavy rows the same day that you are benching for max effort? Nope, that wouldn’t be a great idea because your CNS would tell you to piss off. But, heavy rows fit great as a first or second exercise on an upper-body assistance day. So, after your sets of speed bench instead of heading over to the cable machine and doing 6,000 pushdowns, put some weight on the barbell and hit some Pendlay rows or grab a heavy dumbbell and 1-arm row that bad boy. This will help train your body to appreciate pulling heavy things and not just pushing them.

It’s also a great idea to spend a training cycle building your upper-body training around a pulling movement rather than a pushing movement. A great example would be using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program for the Pendlay or bent over row. Your body will get systemically stronger and you’ll lay a great foundation to press off of.

3) Overwhelm Your Back with Volume: This idea comes from the philosophy of Joe DeFranco. Joe has his athletes train their pushes like a powerlifter and their pulls like a bodybuilder. I can’t quote him on this, but I’m pretty sure that is so his athletes can achieve not only balance in volume but also in magnitude of training. Exercise selection is still a key, though. So, instead of 30 half-assed face pulls hit kroc rows, high-rep pull-ups or rope prowler rows. Not only can these exercises be done for high volume but they also add a level of intensity, helping to balance magnitude.

The result is some serious back hypertrophy and upper-body work capacity to handle greater training volumes. You’ll handle the heavy pressing as well as squatting, deadlifting and any odd object training you might do with much more efficiency. Not to mention you won’t wear your back out raking leaves in November.

Developing a Concurrent Strategy

We know that balancing training magnitudes is important and that we need to train our backs like beasts, but how can we program heavy pulling, high rep pulling and deadlifting into one cohesive plan that makes sense? Like most things in the strength and conditioning world, simplicity rules.

First off, simply have a training day devoted to deadlifting (I told you it would be simple). It wouldn’t hurt to throw one other pulling movement in on this day, say of medium intensity. It’s a good idea to program this day at the opposite end of the training week in relation to training the squat.

Do your heavy pulling in the middle of the week with either your upper-body assistance work or as a standalone main exercise. You’ll have time for your back to recovery from squatting and deadlifting.

Hit your high volume back work on the days that you train your heavier pushing movements. If you’re benching heavy throw in some prowler rope rows, a ton of pull-ups or both. Unless, of course, you are close to a meet and your pushing volume is through the roof. Adding a bunch of pulling volume will only be detrimental. Remember to build the platform early in the training cycle!

Todd Bumgardner is a Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Beyond Strength Performance. He enjoys the lifting of heavy things and is somewhat of a beer snob. He’s had the privilege of working with various athletes, ranging from teenagers to professional football players. Todd is certified by the NSCA as a CSCS and currently lives in Waterloo, NY. Learn more about Todd by visiting, or email him at

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