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Ever since Lee Haney, a big, detailed back has been an Olympia requisite.  Eight-time champion Haney, six-timer Dorian Yates, and eight-time winner Ronnie Coleman each upped the ante in dorsal development, pushing the boundaries of what was possible (and what came to be expected) when we’re talking Olympia-level back building. The Mr. Olympias since—Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, and Phil Heath—have built on and refined what the TotaLee Awesome One, the Shadow, and the Big Nasty ushered in.

The guys with the best, most complete backs today—three-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath and two-time Olympia runner-up Kai Greene immediately come to mind—have been in this game for more than a decade. They’ve mastered advanced techniques like dropsets, rest-pause, and static contractions.

But then there’s Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay. Big Ramy hasn’t. He hasn’t needed to yet.

“He’s a newbie,” Dennis James says of Kuwait’s Elssbiay. “Last November was three years he’s been training. Three years!” Sure, when Elssbiay gets together with James, the Menace schools the relative youngster in a thing or two: “Every time I train with him, I get him to do something he hasn’t done before.” But the thing of it is, Elssbiay is still growing from basic nuts-and-bolts exercises, from typical sets-and-reps schemes.

And what growth it’s been! “He’s unbelievable,” says James, the awe apparent in his voice. “I have no explanation for it. There is no explanation for it. He must have a severe myostatin deficiency, and grows just looking at the weight.”

Elssbiay’s back is wide and detailed. There’s been no HIIT, no Doggcrapp or Mountain Dog, no Y3T or FST-7. There have been just rows and pulldowns; barbells, dumbbells and machines; set after merciless set; and growth—lots of growth. Elssbiay’s got the size. The detail and the graininess will come as this 29-year-old’s muscles mature.

Here, James walks us through a typical Big Ramy back workout, giving us a glimpse of the greatness unfolding before bodybuilding fans’ eyes.

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Reverse grip


4-5 sets, 8-15 reps

“One week we’ll do a free-weight and machine routine, and the next week we’ll use only machines,” explains James. Elssbiay will perform 4–5 sets of each back exercise for 8–15 reps, pyramiding up in weight for each set and lowering the number of repetitions as necessary. “He rests enough between sets to catch his breath,” says James, “till the breathing goes back to normal.”

Elssbiay stretches his lats at the top of this movement, contracting his back muscles at the bottom. He uses a weight he can control— one he can feel working the muscles. He’s not yanking the stack down in a sloppy fashion.

Click NEXT PAGE to see Big Ramy's next back exercise! >>

Seated cable row


4-5 sets, 8-15 reps

“We’ll perform these

Seated cable row2
a few different ways,” James says. “I’ll get him to sit on top of a box or on some 45-pound plates to hit his lats at different angles.” If he’s raised up of the padded cable-row seat, Elssbiay’s able to pull the attached handle lower into his abdomen, further stimulating his mid and lower lats.

When he trains with James, Elssbiay will pause briefly at the concentric point of this exercise, when his hands are in close to his stomach. “I get him to pull his elbows way back,” says the Menace. “He has to feel every movement. We’re into a lot of holding and squeezing right now.”

Click NEXT PAGE to see Big Ramy's next back exercise! >>


4-5 sets, 8-15 reps

Elssbiay positions his body between 45 and 60 degrees for this third movement. “He mixes up his grip,” James explains. “One week when he does barbell rows, he’ll grip the bar with an overhand grip. The next time he does them, he’ll use an underhand grip.” At an off-season 340 pounds, Elssbiay easily handles four 45-pound plates on either side of the Olympic bar. “He could go heavier, no doubt,” admits James. “But again, I’m a believer in squeezing and contracting so he’s feeling these reps. He does them the way I suggest, and sees what I mean. It’s working.”

T bar row

Other times Elssbiay’s free-weight and machine back workout will incorporate the pictured T-bar row. Again, it’s about stimulating the muscle, not seeing how many plates he can slide onto the bar.

When their back workouts center on machines, James has Elssbiay perform Hammer Strength high or low rows. The Menace doesn’t let Elssbiay sit in the machine. He uses pads to create different angles,

Ramy training split
and has Elssbiay lean into the apparatus and perform these with both arms at one time.

“Everybody’s got one side of their body that’s stronger than the other,” says James. “I think it’s a waste of time to do these one arm at a time. The temptation there is to focus more on the stronger arm or side. You do them with both arms at the same time, and you can focus better on the entire back.”

Click NEXT PAGE to see Big Ramy's next back exercise! >>

Close grip pulldown


4-5 sets, 8-15 reps

By now Elssbiay has performed anywhere from 12 to 15 sets for his back. For close-grip pulldowns, he’ll lean his trunk back slightly so he’s pulling the handle down level to his chin, above his upper chest. Again, it’s pause and squeeze at the bottom, stretch at the top.

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Dumbbell row


4-5 sets, 8-15 reps

“Whether he does a fifth exercise any week is going to depend on how he feels,” James says of Elssbiay. “When I’m training with him, his pump is good and he’s done after four movements. A lot of times when he’s on his own he’ll do a fifth exercise for his back. If it’s free-weight and machine week that’ll be dumbbell rows.”

Again, Elssbiay handles a dumbbell he can perform a strict 8–15 reps with, anywhere in the range of 150 pounds or higher. Elssbiay performs these bent over the dumbbell rack or bracing his leg on a bench, as pictured.

Back workouts

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Among others, Dennis James has gone on record to say he thinks Mamdouh Elssbiay will be Mr. Olympia one day. Not “has the potential to be.” Not “might be.” Will be. Elssbiay won his pro debut in New York and placed eighth in his first Olympia. Now, eighth in your rookie showing at the world’s best bodybuilding contest is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when, going into the show, you were considered in many quarters a legitimate threat to win the whole thing. Consider: In his frst Olympia in 1994, Coleman was 15th; Olympia rookie Cutler placed the same in ’99; and, Jackson, also in his debut O in ’99, was a more auspicious ninth. So, should Phil Heath be looking over his shoulder in Vegas? Time will tell. FLEX

Big ramy meal plan

IFBB Olympia Weekend 2014

IFBB Olympia Weekend 2014