How to Build a Wide “Cobra Back” as a Natural Lifter

By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018

Medical Review by Dr. Stefano Pizzo, MD

You can’t have an impressive physique without an impressive back, and more importantly, the true strength of lifting and pulling objects originates from, well… strong back muscles.

Together with broad shoulders, a thick, cobra back gives you the ultimately manly V-taper that demands respect among men and drops panties among women. Not to mention the fact that being strong at pulling is a big advantage if you ever encounter a situation where you have to fight and wrestle with someone.

So not only it is aesthetically pleasing to be able to pull big weight, but it’s also beneficial in other forms of life, be it a physical job or a bar brawl.

In this post you’ll learn how to build a wide back using true and tested, scientifically valid methods of building that wide cobra back.

Back Training: Know the Muscles to Work With

Cobra back muscle anatomyThe bulk of the back muscles can be divided into four distinct groups of muscle fibers:

  • Trapezius muscle (or “traps”).
  • Latissimus dorsi muscle (or “lats”).
  • Rhomboid muscles (minor and major).
  • And erector spinae muscles (lower back muscles).

Building a great looking well proportioned back is not rocket science, you just simply have to make those four groups of muscle fibers strong as well as increase their mass by expanding the glycocen stores.

NOTE: There are few smaller muscle fiber bundles in the back that are somewhat important too, however when you focus on the four groups above you will simultaneously work the smaller bundles of muscle too.

The questions that remain are: What is the optimal set/rep pattern and frequency for training back? And what about the heaviness of the weights as well as optimal movements?

Back Training Frequency and Optimal Set/Rep Patterns

Cobra back exercises and movements to build a wide backMachine training and high-rep “pump” work will never allow a natural trainee to build that thick wide back, as it is a fact that the main muscles of the back are multi-sided large bundles of muscle fibers which respond best to heavy pulling work.

Also, the fact that the back has so many isolated muscles, makes isolation work for the back not only ineffective but also incredibly time-consuming. It’s much more effective if you pick 1-2 “main movements” that you lift with a rep range of 2-6 per set and 2-3 “assistance movements” which you work with 8-12 reps per set to expand the muscle glycogen stores and add some mass.

When it comes to the number of sets, anything between 2-4 is good, more than that and you’re just going to overtax the central nervous system (CNS).

Here’s the cobra back workout template;

  • Main exercise 4×3
  • Another main exercise 6×2
    • Assistance exercise 8×3
    • Another assistance exercise 10×3
    • Yet another assistance exercise 12×3

Pick one or two big multi-joint main movements to work on your strength (2-6 reps/set), and two to three assistance movements to work on your mass (8-12 reps/set), follow this through 2-3 times a week and as you progressively get stronger, your back will grow as well, it simply has no other way to go.

The Best Back Workout Routine

Cobra back workout routine and exercisesWhen we combine time-proven back builders for strength work and throw in assistance movements for mass that are proven for maximal muscular activation is seen in studies using EMG (electromyography), we should have ourselves the perfect recipe for a cobra back workout routine. 

If you’ve spent any time in the big boy side of your gym, you already know that there are two huge pulling movements that are absolutely ESSENTIAL for building a thick, cobra back.

We will use those two as the main cobra back exercises, as they are absolutely amazing in building that pulling foundation and growing nearly all of the main muscles, as well as stabilizing muscles of the back…

…and then we will throw in the following assistance lifts to further adding mass to more specific parts of the back (these movements are proven to activate large amounts of muscle in the right places by the studies of Wolfgang et al.

NOTE: click the above links for instructional videos.

Male upper body, especially the trapezius muscle, is extremely dense in androgen receptors, thus it responds well to high testosterone levels. Therefore a smart training program would be the THOR Testosterone Training Program, our most recommended manual for training that maximizes hormonal output.

Last but not least, here’s a sample cobra back workout routine for building a thick back using the above guidelines (reps/set, rest time 60-90 seconds between sets);

  • Deadlift 5×2
  • Weighted chin-up 5×3
    • Dumbbell shrugs 12×3
    • Barbell front-raises 8×3
    • Dumbbell rows 10×4

Conclusion on Building a Cobra Back

Building a thick, cobra back naturally is not rocket science, and you definitely don’t need any BS high-rep pump work or isolation machines.

Your multifaceted back muscles respond best to big pulling multi-joint movements, such as the weighted chin-up and deadlift, if you use assistance work, just hit some DB shrugs and front-raises to hit the traps, and DB rows or lat pulldowns to further stimulate the lats, your rhomboids, and the erector spinae muscles, as well as all the smaller stabilizing muscles will get plenty of work with those movements too.

And of course, if you want a full training program designed to build a strong aesthetically pleasing masculine body, take a look at the THOR Testosterone Training Program.

Ali Kuoppala

Ali Kuoppala is the founder of Anabolic Men. He has authored and co-authored multiple men's health books and focuses on uncovering the methods of optimizing hormonal health. To date, his articles on various websites have been read more than 15-million times. To read more about Ali, visit his Medium article.