The back is the most important portion of the bodybuilder's physique. It is a vast and complex muscular area that requires the utmost of focus and intensity if it is to be brought to fruition in dynamic fashion. It requires training that is rugged and brutal and at the same time thorough and detail-oriented. It must be beaten into submission week in and week out with an array of exercises from several different angles all with a specific purpose and target area. Think I'm overemphasizing the importance of the posterior portion of a bodybuilder's torso? Let me tell you a little story.
In 1994, less than 9 weeks out from the Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates tore his left bicep. Being who he is, he forged on despite this horrendous injury and not only competed, but won. He won, competing against many of the sport's modern legends, practically missing half an arm because when he turned around, it was lights out. Game over. Yates' back was so much better than the rest of the field, so thick and wide and separated, that a “little detail” like a rolled-up bicep didn't even matter. That is how very necessary it is to have a great back.
The two essential criteria in constructing a dominant back are width and thickness. It is a must to both have the wings of a falcon and at the same time be as thick as well fed silverback gorilla. Both aspects of the ultimate back require specific movements biomechanically designed to directly bring about a desired result. You are going to need an itemized attack strategy to win this battle. But before you lay out your blueprint for victory, you need to know what weapons you have in your arsenal and how to properly utilize them. A great back workout is a war. Will you surrender or will you fight?
We'll first examine the available exercises for lat width and select one from each category for our session. The various categories of back width movements are as follows: pullups, pulldowns and pullovers. The key to effective width training is to stretch the lats against resistance, so if you are not fully stretching the lats on each rep, you are half- stepping and would probably be better off pulling your dick than pulling some iron. Now that I'm done tearing you a new ass, we can get down to business.
The pullup is a jailhouse-simple exercise that, when done correctly, can build broad wings. It is one of the few hardcore movements that can be executed with tremendous results using only body weight. The only real version of the pullup is the dead hang variety, in which you let your body hang completely, creating a tremendous stretch at the armpit insertion and then chin to full contraction. This can be done with any of a number of grips: extremely wide, shoulder width, neutral, reverse, and narrow. Since we are constructing the ultimate back session, we will select one of these exercises and perform 3 sets to failure. To add a hardcore twist to the pullup, upon reaching failure, have your training partner help you back into the top of the movement-at full contraction at which point he will apply pressure to your shoulders attempting to pull you back down to earth. You will have to fight for your life against the power of your training partner and the inevitable tug of gravity. Add a few such reps to the end of a pullup session and your lats will be burnt toast.
The pulldown, at its root essence, is a machine version of a pullup. It allows, however, for the performance of additional repetitions and isolated contractions with weight that is often less than body weight. It is essential to fully extend and completely contract without too much movement of the torso. The intent of the movement is to mimic a strict pullup, not some sort of quasi-high angle row. So bring it, don't swing it… The idea is to train your lats not your ego. When selecting the ideal pulldown, change grips from the one you chose earlier for pullups. If you went wide earlier, go narrow now, or vice versa. Do three sets through a full range of motion of 12, 10 and 6 reps. Right about now your lats should be pumped, flared and you should be ready to hand glide home.
To finish off the width segment of your back session we'll try some dumbbell pullovers. Arnold used these as a chest exercise to expand the rib cage, but we'll perform them in a fashion sure to tear your lats to pieces. Select a moderately heavy dumbbell and lie across a flat bench. Hold onto the dumbbell with two hands and extend it overhead, toward the floor, and accentuate the stretch. You will feel the strain somewhat in your chest, but more on your serratus and primarily in your lats. Raise the dumbbell to just about forehead level with your arms almost completely straight, then lower the weight slowly and repeat. Do not bring the dumbbell past your eyes on the contraction portion, because the lower you bring it, the more you will engage the pectorals in the movement. This exercise can also be executed on machines like those made by Nautilus or Hammer Strength. These variations are absolutely worth their day in court because they are just about the only upper back movements that do not involve the use of the arms. Remember this is back day and your arms are mere levers that enable the back to pull weight. Save the biceps workout for arm day. Pyramid up in weight for 3 sets of 12, 10 and 8 reps.
Now you've got em. The tools you need to be barn door wide. Watch out or they're gonna start calling you “The Human Eclipse.” Don't daydream too long there Swoleback, cuz this train has just started rolling. You've got a shitload of rowing left to do and we're gonna finish up with the granddaddy of all back exercises. So drop that luggage and dig deep Animal. Today we find out what you're really made of.