Juan Morel's Back Blast

Photos by Per Bernal

What's the most demading muscle group to train? We can all probably agree that it’s legs. How about the second most demanding muscle group to work? That’s up for debate. Some may say delts, others abs. IFBB pro Juan “Diesel” Morel says it’s back, hands down. If you vehemently disagree with him, that might say something about your work habits.

“When I train back, I know the next day I’m going to have problems getting out of bed because my back is going to be so tight and so sore,” says Morel. “People talk about their legs hurting and being sore from training, but you rarely hear that about back. When you do it properly, back training takes a lot out of you.”

“A lot of guys have good fronts,” says Morel. “It’s back that separates the good athletes from the great ones. It can make or break you.”

For bodybuilders, the back can never be too good or too strong. If your biceps get too big, you dial them down to make sure they don’t throw off your symmetry. Some athletes even have the genetic fortune to switch quads to “maintenance mode” by ditching barbell squats and sticking to machine exercises.

That doesn’t fly with back. Machines have their rightful place in the weekly rotation—lat pulldowns and cable rows being the prime examples—but even so, hard work and high intensity must remain constant.

“You can’t let up on back,” says Morel. “Got to keep pushing it.”


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  • MAKE A CONNECTION: “A lot of guys have a hard time getting a strong connection on back. There are certain things you can do to help that, like leading with the elbows. I may be doing heavy rows, but I’m still contracting my back muscles hard because of that strong mind-muscle connection. I’m not just throwing the weight around.”
  • EXPLODE FOR GROWTH: “Even though I’m focused on muscle contractions, I still prefer explosive movements. I’m not big on slow reps or anything like that. It’s kind of that Ronnie Coleman mentality—go in there and battle the weights.”
  • STICK WITH NO-NONSENSE MOVES: “I don’t get too cute or creative. It isn’t a back workout if it doesn’t have deadlifts, pullups, and bentover rows in it.”
  • FOCUS ON WIDTH AND THICKNESS: “Both of these aspects are critical. Bentover rows and deadlifts are best for thickness, and pullups and wide-grip pulldowns are for width. I train back twice a week. One of those days is more focused on width and the other on thickness.”

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  • Deadlift | SETS: 6 10-15
  • superset with
  • Wide-grip Pullup | SETS: 6 | REPS: 10
  • Barbell Bentover Row (overhand) | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10-12
  • superset with 
  • Wide-grip Lat Pulldown | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10-12
  • Barbell Bentover Row (underhand) | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10-15
  • superset with 
  • Seated Cable Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10-15
  • T-bar Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 15
  • superset with 
  • One-arm Dumbbell Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8

Rest periods: Morel typically rests two to three minutes between sets during the off-season; pre-contest rest periods shorten to 45 to 60 seconds.


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START: Stand on the platform with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Lean forward and grab the bar with your choice of grip (wide, narrow, or in-between) and begin with your arms extended below you and your torso roughly 45 degrees with the floor.

EXECUTION: Pull the weight in toward you by contracting your back muscles and bending your elbows, keeping your chest out and lower back arched. At the top of the rep, squeeze the contraction in your back hard, then slowly lower the weight back to the start position.

MOREL SAYS: “Experiment with the different grip options available on the apparatus to find what feels best to you. It may be the narrow grip for some and the wider grip for others—whatever you feel gives you the better contraction.”


START: Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and your knees slightly bent. Bend at your waist until your torso is between parallel and 45 degrees with the floor. 

EXECUTION: Contract your back muscles to pull the bar up to your navel. Squeeze at the top. 

MOREL SAYS: “Keep your back arched. You don’t want to round your lower back—you’ll end up getting hurt. Make sure your lower back is flat with a slight, natural arch in it.”

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START: Hold a dumbbell in one hand with the opposite hand on a stable structure for stability. Bend at the waist so that your torso is between 45 degrees and parallel with the floor, and begin with the dumbbell hanging straight toward the floor with your arm extended.

EXECUTION: Keeping your torso stationary, pull the dumbbell up to your waist by contracting your back muscles and leading with the elbow. At the top, squeeze your back muscles hard at full contraction, then slowly lower the dumbbell to the start position.

MOREL SAYS: “Pull back with your elbow to better contract your lower lats. A lot of people just yank the weight up without thinking about the path of motion. When you do it right, your hand should be coming up to your waist, not your chest.”


START: Grasp a pulldown bar with an overhand grip outside of shoulder-width apart and sit on the seat with your knees secured underneath the pads. Begin with your arms extended upward and your torso leaned back.

EXECUTION: Leading with your elbows, pull the bar down by contracting your back muscles until it touches your upper chest, or the back of your neck for the behind-the-back version. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for a count at the bottom.

MOREL SAYS: “A lot of people lean too far forward on lat pulldowns. Lean your torso back so that it’s at around a 45-degree angle with the floor. And pull your elbows to contract the lats.”