What were your simplest principles for building the back that won eight Sandows?


You ask for “simple,” but that’s not quite possible with the back, although it’s not incredibly complicated, either. For training purposes, I view the back as a complex of three different bodyparts: the traps, the lats and the lower back/spinal erectors.

Each of these muscle groups must be worked from different directions. For traps, you need to shrug your shoulders and trapezius upward. For lats, you need to pull downward for width and pull backward for thickness. And for lower back/spinal erectors, you must extend yourself upright from a bent-over position. Since the back is exceptionally strong and vast, a workout that trains all of its components comprehensively would be too much to ask in one day, in my opinion — thus, I trained the different muscle groups of my back on separate days.

I train traps in my December column with shoulders, doing four sets of 10 to 12 reps of one of my all-time favorite exercises, the behind-the-back barbell shrug.

As for my lower back, on hamstrings/glutes day, I do stiff-leg deadlifts for three or four sets of eight  to 10. Finally, for my lats and middle back, I follow a traditional back day, detailed in the accompanying chart.

My favorite offseason, mass-building pulldownand pullup-type exercises are wide-grip behind-the-neck pullups, V-handle chinups, medium-grip behind-the-neck pulldowns and medium-grip front pulldowns. I usually choose two of these per workout. A performance tip: with any of these exercises, don’t pull with your arms. Instead, lead with your elbows, so your lats flare outward instead of pinch backward. Get a full range of motion.

For rowing-type exercises, my top picks are seated pulley rows, T-bar rows, barbell rows and dumbbell rows. Again, get a full range of motion, letting the stretch pull your shoulders forward; when pulling back, keep your elbows tucked close to your body. I also do some pullover work, such as dumbbell and barbell pullovers or straight-arm pulldowns.

Keep in mind, the exercises I’ve listed are my preferred choices, but not the only ones I use. Others, while not included as frequently — but which are nonetheless excellent for building isolated muscularity and burnishing in separations — are prone two-arm dumbbell rows, one-arm pulley rows and machine pullovers. Use them all wisely, and you’ll soon build your own multitiered and fully developed rear view.


Seated Cable Rows: 4-5 sets, 6-8 reps

Behind-the-Neck Pullups: 4-5 sets, 8-10 reps

T-Bar Rows: 4-5 sets, 6-8 reps

V-Handle Chinups: 4-5 sets, 8-10 reps

Cross-Bench Barbell Pullovers: 4-5 sets, 8-10 reps