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“We control our muscle clock.” That’s one major motto on which Branden Ray has based his current off-season workout schedule. While most bodybuilders will stick to the “one body part a week” mantra, the Brooklyn, NY, native has broken it down a little further. “The recovery time of a muscle depends on how disciplined one is with diet, rest, and supplementation,” Ray says. With that in mind, Ray designed a seven-day split routine to grow with balance and keep everything in proportion.

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The IFBB 212 competitor is looking to add size to every body part and hits each one every five days, working his back on both the second and seventh days.

Having that much rest between lat workouts is essential for Ray, 30, who also undergoes a session of Thai deep-tissue massage the day before that second round. “It helps get rid of scar tissue and allows the blood to flow,” he explains. “After blasting my back that first time, it feels brand new after the massage, and by the time I have to work it again, it’s ready for another beating.”

And Ray wasn’t exaggerating when he used the term beating. “It isn’t limited to one area, either,” he says. “Every single muscle in my entire back takes an ass-whipping because I make sure that I do one exercise specifically targeting each muscle.”

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Once entering through the doors of the West Coast mecca (also known as Gold’s Gym of Venice, CA) on back day, the Los Angeles resident starts with neutral-grip pullups, knocking out four sets to failure. “I prefer doing these over lat pulldowns because it’s easier to keep my body straight,” Ray points out. “This also allows me to work my lats from top to bottom, and I get a different stretch with my own body weight as compared with the stack on the pulldown machine.”

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Talk about coming out of the gate strong! With Ray doing one of the old favorites as his lead off back exercise, he takes it to another level by blowing out the reps until he can’t do another. This works not only his lat spread but also his grip strength as he squeezes out those last few reps. Next, Ray will bang out three sets of 10–12 reps on the reverse-grip pullover machine. This is an important movement to work the lower lats, and he takes the rep deep at the bottom to really hit those hard-to-feel muscles. Getting a full contraction and squeezing it can help bring out that area and make the rear-lat pose a strength onstage.

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Dumbbell rows are a staple of many bodybuilders’ back routines, but Ray put a different twist on the trusty old movement. “I keep my feet even while doing them as opposed to one foot in front of the other,” he describes. “It really engages the lower lats in this fashion and —more important— limits the momentum caused by the twisting of the torso during the row motion.” After three sets of 8–10 reps, Ray is ready to move on to the next exercise.

“I then go over to the Smith machine and do four sets [of 8–10 reps] of reverse-grip rows,” he says,” and I prefer them to using a free-weight barbell because there is not as much stress on the lower back for stabilization.” By not having to be concerned with that, Ray is able to position his torso nearly parallel to the floor. With this body angle, he is able to engage not only the upper back but also the lower back and rhomboids.

“You simply recruit more muscles in your back the more parallel your upper body is to the floor,” Ray says confidently. “Not bending over enough is a problem, and using more of a snatching technique rather than a smooth and controlled rowing motion is a sign that the weight is too heavy Plus, you’re just going to end up injuring your lower back in the long run.”

Getting isolation on a movement that is typically not known for that is a huge plus here. Ray gets the benefit of bentover rows but can accentuate it even further with the guide rails on the machine, plus he has a greater range of motion with the reverse grip.

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Last but not least are deadlifts, and Ray prefers to use the hexagon-shaped bar instead of the standard Olympic barbell. Again, he gets a greater range of motion and, as an added benefit, does not have to be concerned with the bar hitting against his body. “I do four sets of 6–10 reps and don’t worry about a one-rep max like a powerlifter would do,” Ray says. “I do deads for repetitions to develop every muscle in my back, especially the spinal erectors and lower back.”

By performing deadlifts last, Ray allows himself the opportunity to go as heavy as he wants, as long as he can get a full set out of it. This power movement is very taxing to the entire body but a necessary one at this level, and Ray knows that doing it properly will shape his entire back and give him that winning formula.

By breaking down each movement, Ray has been able to turn back into one of his strong points. And his routine allows each muscle the proper amount of time to rest and recover, time and time again. 

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B-Ray Training Split

B-Ray Back Routine