Back Attack: Back to Basics

Written by Dana Bushell

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Back to Basics: Old school movements for Barn Door Lats

“Rear, game over, lights out lat spread!”

-Ronnie Coleman 8 X Mr. Olympia


You may remember that phrase used by Ronnie Coleman during a Mr. Olympia challenge round in which he finished off his closest competitor with a lat spread so wide it cast a shadow over his rival essentially ending any and all hopes of anyone else snagging the title of Mr. O. It has long been said that bodybuilding competitions are won from the back and this has led many to pound away at a collection of muscles which can hardly been seen when training unless you have the right angles in the mirrors at your gym. To fully develop your back, it takes time to first develop a mind muscle connection with the series of muscle groups which comprise the area and then you have to work feverishly at pounding away at them with heavy weights and from every angle you can imagine. Be forewarned though, if you try to get too fancy with your approach to back training you may end up being less than satisfied with the results. For this reason I believe it’s best to stick with the old school, tried and true movements to pack on thickness and width to a body part considered to be the key ingredient for bodybuilding greatness.

Chin Ups

This exercise is as old school as it gets. Pulling your body up and against the pull of gravity has been used probably since the dawn of time. Chin ups are an excellent choice to begin a back workout with as it really hits on all of the muscles in the back from top to bottom and side to side providing you with a solid warm up. You can achieve this through changing up the grip you use; wide grip, close grip, overhand, underhand and even the neutral grip will help you target the entire range of muscle groups in the back. Once you get really good at performing bodyweight chins, you then have the option of performing weighted chins by utilizing a belt and chain with a weight hanging from it. If you can’t even perform a single bodyweight chin up, then the assisted chin up machine is also available.


Deadlifts are King

You want a back so thick and lats so low that you look like a king cobra when blowing out a lat spread? Then look no further than the deadlift. This is another one of the most primitive exercise you can perform and something that has also been done for centuries. Picking up a weight off the floor is as simple in nature as it comes. While there are many different techniques and postures which you can use to perform this exercise, the act itself of bending over and picking the bar up until you are in a standing position is enough to pack on serious muscle in itself. You can try a regular bodybuilding style stance with a close foot position which will require a larger range of motion or you can go more powerlifting style with a sumo stance and shorten the range of motion. However you do it is all good. Make sure you keep your head up, back flat, use a standard or staggered grip and pull with everything you’ve got. The thickest backs out there stemmed from years of performing this movement on a regular basis.


 Bent barbell rows

This exercise is considered the meat and potatoes of back thickness development for bodybuilders and trainers alike. You have the option of playing around with the angle in which you bend over to help better target a certain area of the lower lats. You have the option of using an overhand grip or underhand grip (the underhand grip will give you a better stretch in the lats whereas the overhand grip may allow you to use more weight with less stress on your elbows and wrists) and by utilizing the free standing nature of the exercise to your advantage, you’ll recruit more muscles during the movement for a better overall muscle making experience. Use a belt to help support your lower back, use wrist straps to help with grip (your grip will give out before your lats do) and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together during the peak of the contraction.


One arm dumbbell rows

I personally love this exercise and it really takes a lot out of me as well. Hitting each side at a time allows you to really focus in on the stretch and contraction of each lat and really develop that mind/muscle connection that is important for back development. With the dumbbell you have freedom of movement at the wrist and elbow and best of all you can pull the weight up further than what you can with a barbell for an even greater contraction. The key things to remember here are keep your shoulders square and avoid the temptation to tilt right or left as the weight comes up and drive through with the elbow nice and hard to emphasize the movement. For an even greater experience, try performing dead stop one arm rows where you completely eliminate any momentum!


Cross bench dumbbell pullovers

You may have used or seen this exercise performed for hitting the chest. That’s definitely a possibility but you can also use it for stretching out the lats. To do this, you have to exaggerate your range of motion so that the dumbbell goes past your head and even past the bench. This will open up the lats, almost feels like they’re going to rip off your rib cage, and drive a ton of blood in there. I personally like finishing off back day with these as I tend to look at this movement as a type of therapy as well.

arnold pull overs

You can by all means go into your gym and perform a plethora of back exercises without even touching a single free weight or performing any free standing movements. This may be a good idea for someone short on time or someone who just wants to go in and get a good pump. But, if you are serious about beefing up your back, adding width and thickness and casting shadows like Ronnie did when you hit a lat spread, you better be prepared to put in some time on the old school back movements.

Two of the greatest backs ever in our sport were developed in what many would consider primitive dungeons, so get used to the idea of blood, sweat and tears when training back and less about fancy air conditioned environments and shiny new equipment. One avenue will make you pretty and the other will turn you into the beast you’ve always wanted to be. Get back to basics for a bigger back!

 Author: Dana Bushell

AST Sports Science sponsored athlete/writer, ENDEVR Brand Ambassador, SKECHERS Brand Ambassador, Sponsored by Schiek Sports Inc.

Online training:

Contact: [email protected]

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