The answer to this is question is simple:
“Yes, dummy. You can build a bigger back without ever doing deadlifts or pull-ups.”
There may be things in life that are mandatory, but doing deadlifts and pull-ups isn’t one of them. The industry, which is supported by corrupt media spreading politically correct information, has convinced many people that there are irreplaceable exercises. This is not the case at all, and for every effective movement there are three which will get the job done just as good.
It’s amusing how every second article about the deadlift uses the same old catch phrases: “the deadlift is the best exercise to build ‘real’ world strength”, “the deadlift increases your testosterone levels”, “if you are not deadlifting, you are not training”, “real men deadlift”, “deadlift heavy or die trying”, “if you are not deadlifting, you are missing on one of the most ‘anabolic’ exercises”. I am tired of hearing the same nonsense. However, it’s to be expected because people these days do what’s already been approved by the system and rarely questions things. “Don’t point the finger,” says Big Brother.
What will make your back bigger and stronger is not the exercise itself, but the progression. If one person is doing deadlifts and another one is “playing” with weighted hyperextensions, who’s going to build a stronger back?
The answer is: “The person(s) that’s progressing and adding weight.”
What people should be worried about is not which exercises is more “effective”, but how you can safely add weight efficiently without hurting yourself. In order for that to happen we need thinking people instead of zombies who expect the muscle magazines such as FLEX and Men’s Health to do it all for you. It can’t happen and until you are immune to all the tricks, the mainstream media could be considered an enemy.
The deadlift works your back (in isometric fashion), hamstrings and hips. You can replace it with many exercises or combination of exercises. Here are some examples: Romanian deadlifts, weighted back hyperextensions, power cleans, rack pulls, barbell rows plus squats, barbell good mornings, power snatches, sprints and hyperextensions, front squats plus leg curls,…etc. There are many variations which you can use to develop stronger posterior chain and back.
As far as pull-ups are concerned, they aren’t a mandatory exercise for a bigger back either. You can reach your potential without doing a single pull-up in your life. However, what you can’t get away with is not following a progression. You have to get stronger one way or another.
The same principles is observed in real life. Imagine that you want to become a really good piano player. Will buying the “ultimate” piano, which probably doesn’t even exist, get you there? No. What will get you there is your effort and preparation. The materialism which reigns supreme today has convinced everybody that the latest model of whatever is always the answer to your sorrow. “If it hurts, buy an iFone,” they say. The same principle is observed in lifting too. People are starting to treat exercises like material possessions. That’s why it so hard to let go – you want to keep them all.
Of course, you can’t play well on a garbage can, but you don’t need a golden piano either. It’s the same with exercises. Regardless of your choice what will truly make a difference is adding reps and weight to the bar.
The best way to progress in my opinion are training cycles. Training cycles are terribly important for naturals to understand. Steroid users can get really strong doing stupid routines without in-built progression, but naturals can’t. Getting strong without dedicated effort in that direction is impossible for natties.
There are many professional bodybuilders who don’t follow intelligent training programs, and yet they are benching 405 lbs, squatting 600 lbs and doing 10 plates on Hammer strength machines thanks their muscle mass and the hormones circulating in their blood stream.
Even athletes on steroid rely on training cycles to build record breaking strength. A popular example would be elite powerlifters. All of those guys are using just as much drugs as professional bodybuilders. However, they still implement training cycles in their routines in order to reach the limits.