Training for the Classic “V” Shaped Back
Mother Nature has arranged the human body to show two of the biggest muscles of the back from both the front and back view. When the two largest muscles of the back are fully developed, the Latissimus Dorsi and the Trapezium, they make up The Art of the Back an absolute impression of strength and virility. A well-developed back will enhance the appearance of your whole physique. In the late 70’s and early 80’s bodybuilders such as Robby Robinson, Sergio Alive, Arnold and Franco Columbo inspired me. They had such amazing backs. They left such an impression on me, every time I saw a pull up bar I had to stop and do a set, I didn’t care where I was, I just desired the look of a powerful back.
Today we have a host of pros with incredible back development. When I speak with today’s top pros, they all seem to agree that superior back development is an absolute necessity when it comes to achieving victory. The holders of the Mr. Olympia title all share a reputation for awesome Latissimus muscles. Ron Coleman, Phil Heath, Jay Cutler, Dorian Yates; with their thickness and width I believe they have the most massive backs of all, it actually looks like a “W” instead of a “V” shaped back. In order to achieve this look one must think of the body as a sculpture. This consists of working and molding the back from top to bottom. There are some bodybuilders that believe training the trapezius muscles will distract from the visual width of the body. This is NOT SO. What distract from the visual width of the back are under-developed shoulders and a wide waist and hips. The only time one should refrain from trapezius exercises is when there is an inherited short neck; the appearance of big traps on a short-neck bodybuilder will make them appear with a lack of symmetry.
The lat’s are the biggest muscle of the back. They are the “wings” that can be seen from the front under the arms. There are a few ways that I approach lat building. First the scapulas (shoulder blades) must be stretched out. This is done with wide-grip chin pull ups performed in the “front” of the neck, this will allow me to strap a weight around my waist; I prefer this method because there is less stress on the shoulder joint and less chance of injuries. The next step is to work the thickness in the area with rows. The trapezius muscle extends down along the spine to the erectors; when this muscle contracts it affects muscles throughout the back. I usually perform rows with a barbell, sitting cable rows or machine T-bar rows; this works the “meat” of your back. Some body builders have high lats and others low lats. As for most it is somewhere in-between. Therefore, to correct this, bodybuilders who possess high lats should perform plenty of rowing movement and the ones who possess low back need to perform more wide pull ups, pull downs and stretching the lats. If you are fighting against Mother Nature and you do not have the genes for a massive “V” shaped back there is still hope. Train according to your body along with hard work can bring a well-developed symmetrical back. Before I begin my back workout I warm up and perform various back stretches making sure I get everything loose; traps lats lower, middle, and upper back are all included. Like most professional bodybuilders I often vary my back workout using different principals of training each time, I also try to cycle my back workouts in a three-way rotation, performing a heavy back day, followed by a moderate and then a light day emphasizing more on the Squeeze. This method of training gives the joints and ligaments a rest. Effective back training requires excellent technique and good nutrition to fuel your workouts and promote muscle growth. To get the best development, you’ll need to use a variety of exercises. Your back consists of many muscles, when working the back I always suggest split training. I work lats and lower back one day and traps with delts another day.
Off season schedule
In the Off-season I perform more Power Movements with fewer reps.
4 sets of Pull ups or pull downs 6-10 reps*
4 sets of barbell Bent over rows or
seated cable rows
3 sets of T- bar rows 6-10 reps
3 sets of Prone Hypertension 6-10 reps
4 sets of Death lifts(heavy low reps 3-6 reps)
On seasons schedule
In the “ON” season schedule, I mostly use machine and cable. This allows me to contract, squeeze and concentrate on the muscle with higher reps; bring the muscle to failure.
10-15 reps of the following:
4 sets of Pull downs*
4 sets of Machine or cable rowing
4 sets of Machine T-Bar
4 sets of Arm rows or cable V-Bar pull downs
3 sets of Prone Hypertension
4 sets of Barbell/Dumbbell shrugs 8-10 reps
4 sets of Upright rows 8-10 reps
Tips: Do not forget to warm up and stretch the muscle; this is just as important as the training itself. Proper technique and by stimulating the muscle fibers, it will be the key to a great work out Maximizing best results; loose lifting and heaving of the weight won’t work the muscle sufficiently and can lead to potential injuries. For the best results remain strict and contract completely. *To avoid shoulder or neck injuries, I prefer to perform Pull down or Pull up in the front of my body. Studies have shown not only will this prevent injuries it will actually stimulate the Latissimus Dorsi muscle (lats) more so than pulling the bar down behind the neck or doing pull ups from behind the neck.