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On his ninth attempt at gold, Ryan Terry finally became the Men’s Physique Olympia Champion in 2023, and he credits much of this historical win to building up his beast of a back. Excitingly, with his new gym RT FIT opening its doors in 2024, Terry invited this writer to learn more about how he made the grade last year at the “O” in Orlando, coaching me as I attempted one of his epic workouts.
“This place is ideal for that,” explains Terry of his incredible new facility. “Last year, (the back area) was a muscle part that I really needed to grow. That was the defining moment for me… the missing piece for winning the Olympia. So, I designed some pieces with PRIMAL and I’ve put other pieces in which I really like, that (were) already pat of the PRIMAL equipment anyway, and it has really, really helped to bring my back up.” Eager to learn from the iconic bodybuilder, I jumped right in.
I found that the Olympia champ often likes to start his workouts with supersets for a thorough warmup, getting the blood flowing to his muscle tissue and preparing his body for the tasks ahead. Beginning with back extensions and targeting mostly the lower back, this exercise works the erector spinae — the muscles that run along the spine. When executing these, Terry explained the importance of squeezing the muscles in your back as you raise up, in order to avoid a more glute focused extension. In this workout, Terry chose to superset the back extensions with deadlifts because deadlifts will work the erector spinae, but also the rhomboids and lats, making them a great exercise for the upper back too.
Now warmed up and with beads of sweat making their way down my face, we move onto the main workout. RT FIT has a brand spanking new plate loaded, seated, low row machine that is driven by a cam belt, but you can swap this for whatever low row equipment is available at your gym. Here though, we are exercising on a world’s first, that Terry has designed alongside PRIMAL. “This is probably my favorite machine,” he says. “It just gets a really good connection. It humbles you a lot because it’s quite a heavy machine anyway, so you don’t have to be stacking the weight and looking like the strongest man in the gym, it’s a brilliant machine.”
Grasping the handles, I pulled them towards me and squeezed by shoulder blades together at the end of the movement — to engage my upper back muscles. The low row will work much of your back brilliantly, adding the posterior deltoids (located on the shoulders) and lower and middle trapezius to the mix. Terry explains that he likes to work with four sets of ten to twelve reps during the main workout, but he also likes to go by feel, so he might add reps or sets depending on the day.
“I’ve always kept my enjoyment of training because I keep it sporadic,” he explains. As the bodybuilder executed his reps on the low row, it also becomes clear that this is a great way to get a pump from the biceps as he pulls the weight towards him.
Next up is the lat pulldown. At RT FIT, there’s another piece of innovative equipment that is proving popular, and this is the forward facing seated lat pulldown machine with rotating handles for a more comfortable range of motion. When doing a lat pulldown, Terry says that those with longer arms can use a wider grip. You can also experiment with neutral, pronated, or underhand grips with your reps. “I typically like to go shoulder width apart .. because you’re going to target the lat,” he explains, noting that this is also a great way to work on the width of the upper back. The champ demonstrates the move for me, noting that it is important to keep our backs completely straight, rather than arching the shoulders forward. It’s my turn next, and as I do my very best to impress one of the very best bodybuilders of all time, I give it my all. “Awesome,” says my dream gym partner. Someone pinch me!
Finally, we head for the bent over row. “This is typically what has brought my back up, compound lifts,” shares Terry as we stand over the barbell. “Machines are great for isolation but if you really want to hit that back and grow that core strength to keep everything tight, you can’t neglect the free weight work as well.” The bent over row works your upper, middle, and lower back, including the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) and core for stabilization. “It’s a winner all day long,” he concludes. If anyone knows about what it takes to win, its Ryan Terry.