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One of the most impressive aspects of the bodybuilder’s physique is the infamous “V” taper. You know, the type of shape that makes it look possible to jump of a cliff, spread you lats, and do a little hang gliding. Think about the physiques of some of our most massive Mr. Olympias…Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler. They all shared one thing in common…backs so wide that each lat had its own zip code! Problem is, truly wide lats are a rare commodity indeed and although I see dozens of trainees toiling away in the gym doing set after set on the lat pulldown machine, sometimes with the whole weight stack, so few of them are challenging the width of a single doorway. So where does the problem lie? Well, as I see it, there are several.
Although the lat pulldown is a wonderful back movement that certainly has its place, it can not replace the true back builders like chins, pullups, bent rows, seated pully rows, T-bar rows, dumbell rows, and deadlifts. Those that do not make these exercises the foundation of their back routine are not only narrow minded, but will always be narrow period!
This is perhaps the most prevalent problem in faulty back training and the number one reason, in my opinion, that spectacular back development is so rare. Usually one or all of the following mistakes are made by most when training back…1) Too much weight is used! Stop swinging and jerking and control the exercise throughout the entire ROM, 2) Failure to “set the body” correctly during the movement! Keep your chest out, shoulders back, and a slight arch in your lower back…and you must keep this position throughout the movement, 3) Not using a thumbless grip! By bringing your thumb to the same side of the bar as the rest of your fingers you will effectively take some of the forearm flexors and biceps out of each lat exercise. Reinforce your grip with lifting straps if you must.
The back is a very complex group of muscles and for full development you must assault it from unique positions and angles as well as utilize the effects that different grips provide. You should include one exercise in which you pull vertically (pulldowns, pullups), one in which you pull horizontally (seated pully rows, seated machine rows, Hammer rows), and one in which you pull from the floor in a “bent” position (bent barbell rows, T-bar rows, dumbell rows, spider rows). In addition, perform one exercise with an underhand grip, one with an overhand grip, and one with a parallel grip.
Both of these exercises isolate the lats and teres muscles right where they tie into the armpit, and they do so without any bicep or forearm activation. This is very advantageous as they can be used to “pre-exhaust” the lats before rowing and pulldown exercises are performed, or, they can be used at the end of a back workout to get just a bit more out of those lats when the biceps are beginning to tire.