Training

Retro Athlete: Art Atwood

How bodybuilder Art Atwood built a Wisconsin-size back

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Art Atwood peaked early. After winning the super-heavy class but not the overall at the 2001 NPC Nationals, no one could’ve predicted he’d be victorious in his pro league debut. After all, it had been eight years since a rookie did that. And the 2002 Toronto Pro lineup included Markus Rühl, winner of that same contest two years prior. But this time, Rühl had to settle for second, as 28-year-old Atwood grabbed the top prize. It was the high point in Atwood’s career. In his remaining 18 pro contests over five years, he never again finished higher than third. Fourteen times, he missed the posedown.

“Modern Art’s” conditioning was too often blurry, his arms lagged, and his waist was wide. But enough negatives. His physique was modernist, not classical. He was a mass monster. At 5'11", the Wisconsin native competed at 280 and climbed to 330 in the off-season. When it came to lats, pecs, traps, hamstrings, and delts, he had enough size to hang with anyone. His low-draping lats gave such a sail-like breadth to his rear poses that when FLEX ranked the top 20 backs of all-time in 2008, Atwood was No. 14.

Ronnie Coleman was No. 1 on that best backs list. Despite their vastly diferent contest records, eight-time Mr. Olympia Coleman and one-hit-wonder Atwood shared two things other than gargantuan lats. First, Atwood relocated in 2005 to the Dallas area, where Coleman makes his home. Second, they both hit body parts twice weekly and trained twice daily. “I tried to train everything only once per week, but I shrank and gained fat,” Atwood stated in 2004. “I need more workouts to grow. People think what I do is overtraining, but I tell them to try it for six weeks and see for themselves. Some people don’t train hard enough. They don’t push themselves past the level they need to make gains.” Tragically, Atwood died in 2011 at age 37. His career peaked at his pro debut, but, 12 years later, his back remains one of the largest ever unfurled on a bodybuilding stage.

FLEX FACTOID

When he won the 2000 Jr. USA as a super-heavy, Atwood beat heavyweightclass winner Victor Martinez. Six months later, Martinez won the NPC Nationals.

ATWOOD ON BACK TRAINING

  • “Top deadlifs are always in the middle of my back routine. I start every rep with the bar on power rack supports set just above my knees. That takes my legs and glutes out of it and focuses more on my upper back and traps.”
  • “Top deadlifs are always in the middle of my back routine. I start every rep with the bar on power rack supports set just above my knees. That takes my legs and glutes out of it and focuses more on my upper back and traps.”
  • "I found eight reps is best for back. Eight is low enough for me to use heavy weights but high enough for me to get in enough growth-stimulating reps.”
  • “I built my back with mostly rows. People think width comes from pulldowns and pullups, but rows are just as effective for widening your lats.”
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