BY ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, Mr. Olympia 1970-75, '80
How big is your chest - 44 inches, 46 inches, 50 inches? That's impressive. I'll bet you do a lot of pec work to build that kind of size! But don't forget that fully half of your measurement comes from your back development. After the muscles in your quads and glutes, the largest muscles in your body - the lats and traps - are behind you.
If you're an experienced trainer, you know that large muscle groups require a lot of training energy. Beyond that, especially when it comes to your back, you need a systematic approach to your workouts because the region is defined by so many muscle groups. No one exercise can hit all the large muscle groups like the latissimus dorsi, trapezius and spinal erectors and smaller groups like the teres major and minor, rhomboids, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, longissimus dorsi and others.
To simplify, I break down my back-training exercises into four areas: those that develop width (or the cobralike V-taper), middle-back thickness, the lower back and the traps (I always preferred to train my traps with my delts). Include movements that emphasize each area to work the multiple layers of muscle in your back that will give you complete development.
Here are some other points to remember when training your back:
Because you can't normally see what you're training in the mirror, developing the mind-muscle connection is especially critical. Learn to feel your lats and middleback muscles working. Concentrating on feel is more important work for your mind than counting reps or thinking about how much weight you're lifting.
Working the lats will help broaden your shoulder girdle and develop the V-taper. Pull-ups (if you're strong enough) and pull-downs are your best choices here. For sure, wide-grip pull-ups coax the upper lats to really come out. For maximum stretch and contraction, lower to the very bottom of each rep and pull up until the bar touches the back of your neck.
Try this scheme to work your lats from a number of angles: Do a series of sets, starting wide and finishing narrow, inching your grip closer with each set. As you move your grip on the pull-up bar closer to your midline, the greater your lower lat and intercostals development.
Aim for a total number of pull-ups you want to do for the entire workout, perhaps 50. (Beginners might want to try 30.) Do as many good reps as you can on your first set, say 10; in the next few sets your reps will fall, perhaps to eight on the second and five on the third, which now totals 23 reps. Continue to add reps until you've reached 50, even though it may take you a good number of sets to do it.
If you aren't strong enough to do pull-ups or chins, start with pulldowns on the cable machine. Increase the weight until you're doing pulldowns with the equivalent of your bodyweight. When you can do about eight reps on the machine, you're ready for the chinning bar.
Rowing and bent-over movements target the muscles of the middle back more effectively, building thickness rather than width. Among your best choices are the bent-over barbell row, T-bar row and seated cable row. Learn to do these movements with weights as heavy as possible and still use good form, always "feeling" the movement. Including such compound exercises will ensure maximum muscular stimulation.
Don't neglect your erector spinae and muscles of the lower back. Not only does a strong lower back protect you against crippling injuries, which now afflict about 80% of all Americans, but it improves your power in many exercises, including the squat, deadlift, overhead press and rowing movements. The No. 1 exercise is the deadlift, which is a bit tricky to learn how to do but well worth the investment. It builds lower-back thickness and overall body power, while also stimulating to some degree the traps, upper back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, forearms and grip. The stiff-legged deadlift, good morning and back extension will also provide a good deal of lower-back stimulation.
In sum, you probably need to give your back workout more attention to build the mind-muscle connection and to work the area from a number of angles to stimulate the many muscle groups that comprise it. Get started today and you'll be halfway home to your 50-inch chest.
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