Build A Bigger Back


by Eric Broser Iron Magazine

If you are not in the mood to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe perhaps its best that you stop reading this article now! If you are perfectly content with the fact that your girlfriend can still borrow one of your shirts, than just put this mag down now and slowly back away. However, if you’ve always dreamed of seeing XXL in the label of all your shirts or can’t stand the fact that you never get stuck in a doorway, than read on my friend, cause just ahead lies the cure to your “narrow” condition!

The two bodyparts that are truly responsible for the “width” of the physique are the lats and delts. When these bodyparts are fully developed the physique takes on a look that screams BODYBUILDER… both in and out of clothing. You simply cannot hide WIDTH! A pair of broad shoulders and tapered lats lend an aesthetic appeal to the physique like no other bodyparts and have you stand out in a crowd no matter which direction you are facing. In addition, width up top creates the illusion of a smaller, tighter waist, and thicker, more sweeping quads. This “look” is what made bodybuilders such as Flex Wheeler, Lee Haney, Francis Benfatto, and Paul Dillett look all the more “dramatic” up on stage, and broadening your knowledge on the subject of width can do the same for you!

Ok, enough chit chat. Its time to start adding some Xs to the L on those teeshirts…

Be The Wing Man

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 our past three Mr. Olympias…Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman. 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 are challenging the width of a single doorway. So where does the problem lie? Well, as I see it, there are several…

– WRONG EXERCISES: 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!

-POOR FORM: 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. While this may stroke the ego, it causes all kinds of jerking, swinging, and over stimulation of the biceps and brachialis. Unfortunately little to no lat recruitment occurs and thus, zero growth to the target muscle, 2) Failure to “set the body” correctly during the movement. In order to fully stimulate the muscles of the back responsible for width you must keep your chest out, shoulders back, and a slight arch in your lower back…and you must keep this position throughout the movement. When you begin to pull the weight, immediately begin tightening your lats. When you hit full contraction, bring the shoulder blades together and squeeze forcefully, 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.

-LACK OF ANGLES AND GRIP VARIATIONS: 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. Too many people stick to the same exercises, with the same hand spacing, same body positioning, and often use “overlapping” exercises that are simply hitting the muscles the exact same way over and over. I believe that each back workout should use variations on three angles of pull as well as three distinct grip options. 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. Each of these grips will affect the back musculature differently and cause a change in recruitment patterns. And remember, you can create further variation by changing the width of any of these grips from workout to workout or even set to set. The back is truly a “thinking man’s” bodypart!

-NOT USING PULLOVERS AND STIFF ARM PULLDOWNS: Before I regularly included these exercises in my back routine I had decent width in my lats. However, once I started hitting these movements hard and with decent weight, my lat width took off! 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.

So now that you see that there’s more to back widening than 10 sets on the pulldown machine, and your girlfriend is behind you stealing yet another of your favorite sweatshirts (hey, if it didn’t fit her she wouldn’t take it), I’m guessing that you’re chomping at the bit to put what you have learned to good use. The following is a list of three distinct routines using the principles discussed above. Beginners and intermediates may wish to use each routine for 4-8 weeks before moving onto the next one, while more advanced lifters may enjoy switching back and forth among the three week to week.


1. Underhand grip pulldowns: 2-3 x 10-12 reps
2. Overhand grip barbell bent rows: 2-3 x 8-10 reps
3. V-grip seated pully rows: 2-3 x 6-8 reps
4. Cross bench dumbell pullovers: 2-3 x12-15 reps
5. Full deadlifts: 3 x 8, 6, 4 reps


1. Stiff arm pulldowns: 2-3 x 12-15 reps
2. Overhand grip pullups: 2-3 x 10-12 reps
3. Underhand grip seated pully rows: 2-3 x 8-10 reps
4. One arm dumbell rows: 2-3 x 6-8 reps
5. Rack deadlifts: 3 x 10, 8, 6 reps


1. Underhand grip T-bar rows: 2-3 x 6-8 reps
2. Wide overhand grip seated pully rows: 2-3 x 8-10 reps
3. V-grip pulldowns: 2-3 x 10-12 reps
4. Superset-Stiff arm pulldowns/Dumbell Pullovers: 1-2 x 8-10 reps each
5. Weighted hyperextensions: 3 x 12-15

*Sets do not include warmups
*Feel free to change exercise order
*Slightly less or more overall sets may be needed depending on experience
*Use varied rep ranges as listed in order to tax all muscle fiber types

Next month we will discuss the next muscle group in your physique widening adventure, the deltoids. Just remember one thing! Don’t send me the bill if you suddenly start needing to book TWO seats for yourself every time you fly on a plane…

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