Maximize your strength training routine by cutting out these time wasters.Read article
Kai Greene has one of the best backs in the business. Long after he’s officially retired from competition, his will be remembered as among the best backs—alongside Lee Haney’s, Dorian Yates’, and Ronnie Coleman’s—in the annals of this iron sport.
Some guys’ backs have good detail, which makes their rear double biceps formidable, yet they lack width, which leaves their rear lat spreads lacking. Others have a wide lat spread from behind, but don’t look nearly as impressive in a front lat spread. Others have gaps in their backs, especially in the area between where the latissimus ends and the butt begins.
Not Greene. Greene won the jackpot in the back genetics lottery and milked it to the max. His lats are wide and thick, inserting so low into his waist it almost looks like he doesn’t have a waist from behind. He’s got so much muscle tissue back there his lower lats actually hang over his spinal erectors and glutes. Greene’s wide shoulders only help his front lat spread match his rear lat spread; when he hits the pose from the front, he’s got meat hanging down of his frame. In a Kai Greene back double biceps pose, things come alive, fibering out, jumping of back there: his back is crisp, detailed, gnarly—add your own adjective. Greene’s back has been a strength for him since back in the day when he was placing in the top 3 at the NPC Universe, the show he’d win in 2004 to earn his pro card.
So, how did Greene build such a magnificent back, and how does he continue to maintain, detail, and refine it?
For the purposes of this article, let’s stick to descriptions of the exercises we have pictures for. Does Greene actually do these exercises? Greene does them. Does he do all of them each back workout? No. Sometimes. Greene mixes it up. We’ve seen him train using only a few exercises and we’ve seen him seemingly never leave the gym. We don’t have pics here of pullovers, dumbbell rows, lat pulldowns, Jefferson deadlifts, etc. Suffice it to say, Greene has done ’em all at one time or another and still does them when he sees fit.
Whichever exercises he chooses, however many sets and reps he sets his sights on, generally Greene is a volume trainer. He’s also a very smart trainer, attuned to his body. He’s not in the gym to stroke his ego setting a personal record for weight lifted. Yeah, he’s capable of moving some very heavy poundages, but he’s also methodical. His is textbook form. He doesn’t jerk or yank the weight solely to move more of it.
In the photo, Greene is seated with his knees braced under the pad. Usually he’ll bring the bar down to under his chin when he does them seated this way. However, you’ll often see Greene perform these leaning into the seat, his legs out behind him rather than under the knee pads. This forces him to use less weight, but allows him to focus more on the feeling in his back. It also lends itself to pulldowns behind the neck, which Greene regularly does. Greene brings the bar down steady and controlled, squeezing his traps, rear delts, and then lats, rotating his elbows slightly, alternately abducting (opening) and adducting (closing) his scapula. Sure, he might use the whole stack, but it’s not about pulling weight: it’s about contracting the targeted muscles.
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Don’t think this is the second exercise Greene usually does because it’s listed second here. There is no “usual” Greene back workout. You might read this article, go to the gym, see Greene training back there, but doing none of these exercises you’re reading about here. He’s constantly switching it up: reps and sets, exercises and how they’re performed.
When he does close-grip pulldowns, Greene doesn’t lean back like a lot of guys do to yank more weight down. He pulls the handle into his upper chest, squeezing the heck out of his lats, then repeats. Greene envisions his arms as hooks and tries to take his biceps out of his back exercises as much as possible.
Many guys do these Dorian Yates-style nowadays: standing at a near 75- or higher-degree angle, pulling the bar into the lower abdomen with a shoulder-width underhand grip, and really feeling it in the mid back. Greene does barbell rows the old fashioned way, the way Arnold and Lee Haney did them. He bends all the way over, his upper body parallel to the floor. He takes a wide grip, so wide in fact that his hands are within a couple inches of touching the sleeve. He juts his ass out and sticks his chest up to contract his lats as he draws the bar into the area just below his pecs (not his lower abdomen). You’ll see him do these with four plates on either side; Greene could do more if he altered his grip and stance.
But he won’t compromise form, feel, and effect for some meaningless number.
Greene’s stance with these is similar to his barbell rows: he’s bent way over. His reps are fast, but not choppy. He pauses for a brief but discernible moment at the top of each rep. He’s not yanking the weight up. Greene doesn’t load eight or nine 45-pound plates on the bar. With his strength, if he loosened up his form, he could. But again, that’s not what he’s about.
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Greene will change his grip on these between and within workouts to target different areas of his back. He pulls his elbows back as he does before hitting a rear lat or back double biceps pose, squeezing the meat of his mid and lower back together.
Here Greene is doing this movement on a seated cable row station. He also often does them on a machine. Again, it’s about drawing his elbows back, contracting the fibers of his mid and lower lats, then letting his arms go out far enough away from his body that he gets a good stretch in his wings without stretching his upper body out over his toes.
In a previous shoulder training article it was mentioned how Greene will bring the handle into his upper chest to feel these in his rear delts and traps. When he’s targeting his back (as he is here), the handle is brought in toward the abdomen.
Greene likes deadlifts because, much like squats, they work everything. Greene feels trainers who neglect their deadlifts are going to have a lot of empty space between their lats and upper glutes. He gets his butt down at the beginning of the rep like he’s sitting into the movement. His hands are usually both over, not one-over one-under like a powerlifter. Greene wants to feel these throughout the rear of his body, especially in his spinal cords.
TYPICAL GREENE TRAINING SPLIT*
TYPICAL GREENE BACK ROUTINE*
*Greene’s workouts and the order in which he performs them are highly instinctive.