Best GVT Back Workout For Thickness & Width

GVT Back Workout Routine For Hotel and the GYM
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TLDR: In this guide we take a look at a GVT back workout plan. I’ll discuss why you should consider it for developing thickness and width and I write with experience. I use the German Volume Training method for back training frequently and want to share what’s worked for me.

Highlights: An experience led write-up of my own GVT back training routine

Highlights: This article focuses on GVT 5×10 and 10×10 back workouts that target thickness and width.

Back Workout For Width

Back Workout For Thickness

Intro – GVT Back Training

The 10×10 system is both a brilliant time saver workout plan and a proven results delivery method. We spoke about it at length in our guide to German Volume Training but in short, GVT originally hails from Germany (as the name suggests) and was made famous by weightlifting coach Rolf Feser [1].

In this guide we wanted to share our GVT back workout plan and how you can modify it for slightly different goals.

What’s the benefit of trying GVT back workouts?

For most who incorporate a GVT style back workout, is the time saving, but it’s not just that. Here’s a few reasons to save this back training plan and give it a spin.

  • Great hotel back workout – You need limited equipment and can work with lighter weights
  • Speed of completion – Slow reps are the order of the day, but that doesn’t mean needing to spend hours in the gym. If you’re on holiday and want to keep your back ticking over, our GVT back workout is a great travelling back pump.

    That means more time to sip cold San Miguels by the pool, or ripping up the desert dunes in a quad bike.
  • Burn Calories – High volume workouts like GVT are excellent for boosting your metabolism. The increased metabolic demand from the workout means you’ll be burning calories not only during the session but also for a period after you’ve finished working out [2].
  • Improved Muscle Endurance – GVT demands a lot from your muscles, making them work hard for an extended period. This increases muscle endurance, so over time, you’ll find you can perform at a higher intensity for longer [3].
  • Pump City – While Mike Mentzer often spoke of not needing a pump to see results, it still feels nice. With the high volume of working reps, you’re going to leave the gym with a back full of flex. Nice way to feel, if you’re about to head down to the pool for some rays.

My Own GVT Back Training Experience

You see a blog post on a workout, and wonder what value it will be to you, does the writer even lift etc. Well I do and have done for 2 decades. It’s the only peace and quiet I can get sometimes with a wife and son, but with juggling that, travelling a lot and working you are sometimes limited by time.

I also find I need that new workout that can kick my arse out of training for just power/strength and eating too much. Opting for a GVT approach tends to force me to work harder, sweat more and just feel like I am in the mindset to shift some pounds off my midline.

A GVT back session has formed the core of my summer training when I want to bring my fat percentage down and still feel pumped to the 9s.

gvt back

Why I like GVT For Back Workouts

GVT isn’t right for every muscle group, I don’t love it for hamstrings for example, and you aren’t about to run it for calves, but it does sit nicely with back. I even superset it into my GVT chest sets too sometimes, gym space permitting.

First Up – The GVT Back Workout Exercises

I’m going to touch on what creates thickness and width in training and then we will jump into the back exercises to bring into your GVT back workout for each. Some exercises I use for my own GVT back routine will lead me to vary if I opt for 5 x 10 or 10 x 10, this is just down to the impact on other parts of my body.

Eg: I love the Pendlay row, but it can put strain on the lower back, so I tend to work this in the 5 x 10 range, rather than 10 sets. Bent Row I’ll go for the full 10, same as I would with Lat pulldown, or pull-ups.

Anyway, let’s move on.

What Creates Back Thickness?

Apart from good nutrition and even some water retention, there is a type of ‘jacked’ look which has a sensation of back thickness. This is where the muscles look deeper and more fuller. Arnold is one classic example of the thicker back look as is one of our favourites, Reg Park.

If you want to train to target back thickness, then you’ll want to focus on specific weight-training, which targets muscle size and thickness [4]. According to a study by the American Council on Exercise, the key back muscles contributing to thickness are your lats (latissimus dorsi) and traps (trapezius) [5].

This means heavier lifts, pulling for power and strength gains. Anecdotally it has been noted that many of the elite bodybuilders who have previously powerlifted, tend to have that thicker look. Almost as if they have a layer of extra muscle on them.

GVT Back workout to showcase thickness

Arnold Schwarzenegger was one known for early years powerlifting and on match day would showcase an insane back thickness and width.

GVT Back workout to showcase width

The more pronounced traps (and the lighting) make the back appear thicker.

What Creates Back Width?

As for width, slimmer waist and lat training is the order of the day. The V-Taper up the back comes from building out your wings. So if you want to tailor your GVT back workout for one over the other, I’ll mark out a routine that’s best for each.

Calculate Your GVT Back Working Set Weights

Part of the German Volume Training back workout routine is to train at a weight that you can complete the 10 reps for, but the short rest duration and quantity of slow controlled lifts leads to a sensation of failure as you hit the later sets.

If you calculate your working set weight accurately, you may find you can’t get past 6-8 reps in the later sets. What you don’t want is to just go through the motions, this should feel tough towards the end.

So how do we work out the working set weight? Have a play around :) Seriously, what I tend to do is take a day to check my 1 rep maxes across a number of lifts. From here you multiply the number by 0.6 (60%) and this is where you should set your working set weight from.

Mark this number down and if you can get through your GVT back workout with no failure even on slow controlled reps, increase the weight next time.

BUT….don’t be fooled by how the weight feels in the first set, it will often feel too light in that set. So if you’re 1RM for Pendlay Row is 100kg, aim for 60kg, 1 plate either side.

10 x 10 GVT Back Primary Lifts

  1. Bent-Over Rows: This is a fantastic compound movement that is a thickness party, as it lets you work heavy, and hits your lats, rhomboids, and traps. This helps work on the width but also that big diamond in your upper back and at the base of your neck.

    Keep your back straight and pull the barbell towards your lower chest for the best results.

    To modify, you could go with an underhand grip that targets the lower lats a touch more. Personally, I keep it classic.

    Best for: Thickness

    Swap with: T-Bar Row – Machine Row – Prone Bench Row Barbell/Dumbbells

  2. Pendlay Rows: A variation of the bent-over row and my personal flavour of the month. I saw Mike O’Hearn showing these off and I loved the range of motion and how tiring they are.

    Not seen a Pendlay before? Think of a bent row, but stand on a small platform so you need to reach below your feet. Hit the ground pause for a second and re-engage.

    This move tends to feel more explosive, but I do feel it in my erector spinae and for this reason I shift the GVT back range to 5 x 10s.

    Best for: Width – Thickness

    Swap with: Wide Grip Cable Row

  3. Deadlifts: While often considered a full-body exercise, deadlifts can significantly contribute to back thickness when executed correctly. It engages your lower and upper back, glutes, and hamstrings.

    I have included them to showcase they can be used in a back plan. I don’t tend to run with them on a back day personally, but you might love them.

    Best for: Hating back days (They are an alpha move but I think they are not isolated enough)

    Swap with: Rack Pulls

  4. Pull-ups: A stellar bodyweight exercise that’s best for back width. It targets your lats, and hits the rhomboids, and traps too. You’ll get a forearm and bicep pump as well. It’s a desert island exercise move.

    To increase width targeting, use a wider grip than normal.

    Now, not everyone will be able to nail 10 reps of pull ups, or they may struggle past a couple of sets. I recommend using a band to take a little weight off and going wide but super slow.

    BUT….do not start the band until you can’t get past 8.5 reps.

    No cheating

    Best for: Lord levels of back width.

    Swap with: Lat Pull-downs

Finishing Moves / After the 10 x 10 sets

After I have smashed the granny out of one of those primary lifts I like to throw in a couple of accessory moves to deplete the back muscles and then send me on my way. Again, I’m looking for best bang for buck. I don’t want to spend time dealing with isolation but instead look for exercises that are a hybrid isolation.

Hybrid isolation moves are those that work more than one muscle type but are done in higher volume. Think Cable Pulldown, Dumbbell Pullover, Upright Rows.

  1. Dumbbell Pullover: This move works the lats, the intercostal muscles (the sheath of muscle around the ribs) and rear delt.
  2. Face Pulls: I love the way these hit the upper traps, the rear delts, a touch of bicep (not much) and rhomboids.
  3. Upright Rows: Similar to the Face Pulls in truth.
  4. Shrugs: I tend to ditch the heavy weight low reps and opt for a weight in the 20 rep range, then aim for 100 reps and pause only as required.
  5. Rear Flyes: I generally only throw these in as part of a superset.
  6. Single Arm Pulldown: Lovely move. Get to a cable station, get on your knees, and pull down till your fist is at shoulder height then back up again.

My GVT Back Training Plan

So let’s break this up into 2 German Volume Training back workouts. One for width, one for thickness.

Width focused back workout

  1. Burn up – Grab a Lat pull down / machine row with a selector feature. Start on the lowest setting and hit 6 reps.
  2. Immediately increase the weight and go again.
  3. Keep going with the ‘6 rep then increase’ sequence until you can’t complete 6 reps.
  4. Now you’re warmed up and possibly a little pre-exhausted…..nice
  5. Pull-ups (Wide grip) @ 60% of 1RM x 10 Reps – Use band if needed. 10 Sets
  6. After each set – walk around feeling slightly more wide for 60 seconds.
  7. Repeat.
  8. Finishing Moves

    Superset: 4 x 15 Dumbbell Pullover / Rear Dumbbell Flye

    Finish up with: 3 x 12 + 1 x 24 (At 12 rep weight) Face Pulls

Why does this workout lean toward being a back width session?

With the pre-exhaustion burn-up set, then pull ups, followed by lat smashing pullovers, you give your middle back more of a maintenance mode focus. There is definitely trap and rhomboid stimulus but not to the same degree as the attention your Latissimus is receiving.

Still, if you run the Face Pulls and Rear Dumbbell Flyes to failure you’re not really short changing things there that much.

If you’re at a hotel….

If this is your hotel back workout, the pull ups are usually a given, in fact most hotel gyms have a pull-down, which can make a good swap in/out here. If they have a cable column which nearly all of them do, the Face Pulls are achievable. And the Dumbbell Pullover/Dumbbell Flye can be swapped out for a straight bar pulldown and single arm cable rear flye.

It’s just a bit of agg, but completely doable.

Difficulty Booster:
Try doing the back workout with a dumbbell between your feet for extra resistance.

Thickness focused GVT back workout

  1. Burn up – Grab a Machine Row/Low Cable Row Column with a selector feature. Start on the lowest setting and hit 6 reps.
  2. Immediately increase the weight and go again.
  3. Keep going with the ‘6 rep then increase’ sequence until you can’t complete 6 reps. Focus on squeezing the middle of that back. You’re pulling with your back not your arms.
  4. You’ll be warmed up and ready for action.
  5. Pendlay Rows @ 65% of 1RM x 10 Reps – 5 Sets
  6. Rest for 60 seconds.
  7. Repeat.
  8. GVT Back Move 2: (Yes I like 2 moves for this session)

    Barbell Bench Row OR T-Bar Row (Something chest supported)

    As before 10 reps – 5 sets – 60 seconds break between
  9. Finishing Moves

    Superset: 4 x 15 Upright Rows / Rep To Failure Shrugs

    Finish up with: 3 x 12 + 1 x 24 (At 12 rep weight) Face Pulls

Why does this workout lean toward being a back thickness session?

The cable rows, the explosive work on the Pendlay rows, paired with Shrugs and Face Pulls, and you have a lot of middle of upper back work. T-Bar depending on grip will favour the centre of the upper back too, while the Barbell Bench Rows have a tendency to favour Lats, so you can still ensure you don’t neglect your wings.

For me, this second workout is the best of both worlds.

If you’re at a hotel….

Perhaps a little harder if you’re in a standard hotel fitness centre and a barbell is called into play.

Most of the time, they don’t carry barbells, but if they have a Smith Machine, you’re in luck.

As alternatives, you could drop the 2 x 5 x 10 GVT back exercises and opt for one move instead, which is most likely to be a machine row. Not as fun but still credible for the job.

Difficulty Booster:
Do it while listening to Abba.

Outro // The Wrap Up

That’s it. That’s my GVT back workout for thickness and for width. Whether you’re in a hotel or back at home, hopefully you’ve got some inspiration on a good session you can follow to keep within the German system.

It’s easy to remember, it doesn’t require a ton of gym equipment and once you understand what’s involved, you can make one up anywhere you go.

Thanks for reading – give us some love on our Insta @barbellsabroad Lee manages it, so it will make him feel good if you follow.

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