How Charles Dixon Built One of Bodybuilding's Widest Backs

The Tank's tips for building thickness and mass over 40.



The last half of his routine is loaded up with free-weight rows and deadlifts. As with the cable rows, he wants to focus these on his upper back and eliminate momentum. At 43, he’s especially conscious of dodging even the kind of minor injuries that can subtly diminish workouts for months. That’s why he’s so strict. With dumbbell rows, he goes up to only 110 or 120, though he could use much more with looser form and a shorter range of motion. “I try to stretch it out as much as possible at the bottom by letting it go forward, and then I pull up and back kind of slow to make sure I keep all the tension on my lat,” he explains. The dumbbell travels at about a 45-degree angle instead of just up and down. “When it comes to back, I want to get the position that creates the most tension and then maintain that tension.”

“I cannot work out by myself. I’m lost,” Dixon says with a laugh. His two partners sometimes assist with forced reps or dropsets. His final set of T-bar rows almost always get the triple-drop treatment. He’ll do 10 reps, reduce the weight, do 10, reduce the weight, do 10, reduce the weight, and then row out as many reps as he can till failure. “Those dropsets are the worst,” Tank states, laughing.

In his initial bodybuilding years, heavy deadlifting and squatting built his foundation. He pulled 605 for a single and squatted similar barbending weights. “I wouldn’t even attempt the weights I was using back then. I used to go crazy. I was blessed not to have any injuries. My whole body cringes thinking about it now.” Today, he does his deadlifts near the end of his back routine, just before back extensions. He always gets at least 10 reps, and he gives them a little bit of a rowing motion. “When I come up, I don’t go all the way. I go about halfway up, and I squeeze my lats and pull my elbows back a little bit to keep that tension on my back.”

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With those caveats, he uses only 275–315, weights that would’ve been warmups for him 15 years ago. “I don’t want to go so heavy that I can’t get my reps in, so I use a comfortable weight.” When I ask what he recommends to younger bodybuilders seeking bigger backs, he answers, “Make deadlifts your best friend. Focus on deadlifts and barbell rows. Those are the best overall back builders. If you just want to get big, concentrate on those basic exercises.”


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