There’s a scene in Pumping Iron where Arnold Schwarzenegger is checking out his back in a mirror at Gold’s Gym. After visually certifying its jumbo-jet width with an over-the-shoulder glance, he turns around to let his buddy Ken Waller evaluate his rear double-biceps shot. “Looks like a road map back there— fingers running all over it,” Waller remarks. Clearly, Schwarzenegger’s fellow Mr. Universe champ was impressed.

Although Schwarzenegger didn’t consider his back to be one of his stronger features, it was actually quite a remarkable expanse of muscle. From his Christmas tree spinal erectors to the lats that seemed to originate from his hips to the “road map” of his trapezius and rhomboid muscles, his was truly a back for the ages.

Interestingly, to build that great expanse of sinew, Schwarzenegger anchored his back training with an exercise that’s frequently ignored by today’s muscle set: chins. From the very start of his bodybuilding career, the Oak made chinning a priority in his workouts. Chins to the front and behind the neck, with a narrow grip and a wide grip, with a V-bar and a straight bar—Schwarzenegger was a chinning connoisseur, dabbling in the exercise the way a master painter plies his oils, with a little of this, a little of that, all to create a masterpiece.

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Here are three favorite chins that Schwarzenegger relied on during his bodybuilding career.


And we do mean wide! Schwarzenegger loved to use a chinning-bar attachment that was designed by the late Joe Gold. It was nearly five feet long and bent approximately 45 degrees on each end to accommodate the sharp angle of the wrists at that distance. Schwarzenegger would grab the ends of the bar and pull himself up until the bar touched the back of his neck. A word of caution: Many bodybuilders refrain from doing any exercise behind the neck because they believe the angle will compromise the shoulder girdle. We urge you to be extremely careful if you attempt these. 


When doing wide-grip chins to the front, Schwarzenegger thought it was vital to arch his back and pull his body up as high as he could, even touching the bar to his stomach, if possible. Whereas he would perform behind-the-neck chins primarily for his upper lats, he believed that front chins affected the muscles farther down the back, due to the arching.




A V-bar is a lat-pulldown attachment with an inverted V profile. Schwarzenegger would drape one of these bars over a chinning bar and perform close-grip chins, arching his back to the point where his torso was almost parallel to the floor at the top of the movement. He’d use this in alternate back workouts, replacing one of the wide-grip chin exercises. He performed V-bar chins as a way to target his lower and inner lats, as well as his serratus. One interesting point regarding Schwarzenegger’s chins: Whereas for other exercises he employed a set/rep scheme, he often just repped away for chins. For example, he might do 50 reps of chins in a workout, no matter how many sets it took him to get there. Unconventional, yes, but the plan worked well enough to impress Ken Waller. Why not give it a try and see if you can impress your own gym buddies? – FLEX