You Need Just Four Moves And 30 Minutes To Build A Stronger Back And Shoulders

Three people in the gym performing the reverse-grip bent-over row exercise with barbells
(Image credit: Bernard Bodo / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to get a great workout. You can build strength and muscle in as little as 30 minutes if you’re savvy about the moves and sequencing. Luckily Sweat app fitness trainer Kelsey Wells has done the hard work for you and created this four-move workout for stronger back and shoulders.

Wells says this workout is designed in the style of her PWR Fusion program—a 12-week strength training plan with three weekly weights sessions and one cardio-focused one—which is available on the Sweat app

It’s best to complete the workout at a gym as you’ll need a barbell and a selection of weight plates, two sets of dumbbells (light for the shoulder exercise and medium-heavy weights) and a weights bench. At a push you could do this routine at home with just a pair of adjustable dumbbells, but because you should aim to lift heavy with both the row exercises to build muscle in your back, your dumbbells may not quite be heavy enough.

Make sure to follow a warm-up routine before beginning this workout, and since you’re targeting your shoulders, including a shoulder warm-up as well is wise.

The workout begins with a reverse-grip barbell bent-over row, which is a pull exercise that recruits your lats, rear delts and biceps. Wells has programmed this exercise as a pyramid set, which means in each subsequent set you decrease the number of reps but increase the weight you use. They are a great way to target both muscle size and strength gains in just one sequence, because pyramid sets work in rep ranges associated with both hypertrophy training (8-12 reps) and strength training (2-6 reps). Aim to use a weight that makes the last few reps of each set a challenge.

After the bent-over row, the workout moves on to a muscle-building superset of the Arnold press and one-arm dumbbell row. Perform 12 reps of the Arnold press, then 12 reps of the one-arm row. Rest, then repeat that sequence until you’ve completed four sets. By pairing exercises that work different muscle groups, and performing them back-to-back with no rest in between, you can increase the intensity of your session.

The routine ends with as many curl and press reps as you can squeeze into a minute.

While Wells doesn’t provide rest times, I’d aim to rest for two minutes between the bent-over row sets and for 90 seconds after each superset. However, rest is one of the main training variables you can use to adjust this workout to your level.

A workout focusing on one or two muscle groups is normally best for people who are confident in the gym, have been training for a few years and go to the gym three or four times a week. If you’re newer to lifting weights, less frequent full-body workouts might be best. Try this gym workout plan for beginners which is built on the one set of 20 reps principle.

Try the Sweat App

Try the Sweat App with 10% off monthly memberships plus a seven-day trial.

Harry Bullmore
Staff writer

Harry covers news, reviews and features for Coach, Fit&Well and Live Science. With over a decade of training experience, he has tried everything from powerlifting to gymnastics, cardio to CrossFit, all in a bid to find fun ways of building a healthy, functional body.