How many bodybuilders can you name with a really outstanding back development?
Of the present crop and amongst those that I have seen, I can only think of Len Sell and Joe Abendda.
Isn’t it strange that with all the mass of muscle situated in the back there are (in my opinion) so few current top bodybuilders with really good backs.
Strangely enough, about 10-15 years ago there were quite a few bodybuilders whose back development impressed me, such as Pete Farrar, Reub Martin, Spencer Churchill, Malcolm Brenner, Jack Delinger, Steve Reeves and Juan Ferrero.
The sight of a back development like that possessed by the late Juan Ferrero was startling.
I recall the impression he made at the 1950 ‘Mr Universe’, and how his latissimus dorsi muscles almost hung, because they were so massively developed even when he was standing relaxed.
I understand Juan did a lot of gymnastics before taking up bodybuilding. Pete Farrar possessed with Joe Abendda the deepest back development I have seen. Pete was very strong on bent over rowing and other pulling movements.
With today’s over-emphasis being on arm development, other parts of the body such as calves, thighs and back are very often noticeably under par. When we look in the mirror we cannot see the back, so we don’t bother to work it, or if we do, we don’t work it enough.
My foregoing comments and the title of this article infer that I consider that I have a good back development, to which I add, that if I have not got the best back, at least I have one of the best back developments of the moderns, or should I say ‘old-timers’?
Today I do not have the time to devote to my training as much as I should like to, due to pressure of business I am obliged to train at 6 a.m. daily, and so many exercises that I should do get left out.
Where should one fit back exercises into a training routine? The answer to this is dependent upon how poor or good your back development is in relation to the rest of your physique. If your back development is poor, then I believe you should perform your back exercises first in your schedule, whilst you are fresh and can give it the utmost concentration, effort and strength.
I think it is essential to handle as near maximum poundages as possible, in order to develop not only a broad but also a deep muscular back, but ALL exercises must be done in strict style, so that you can feel the back working and responding.
If your back development is reasonably good, then you can fit it in anywhere. At the present time I prefer to work back and biceps together, working back first and then biceps, the reason I do so are because I use the back exercises to warm up the biceps. As regards the actual exercises I perform, they are as follows :
1. Bent Over Barbell Rowing. I know that you are all conversant with this exercise so I will not trouble to explain its performance, other than to mention a few personal habits which experience has shown me to be beneficial.
(a) I take a grip about 15 ins. apart. I know others prefer wide grips, but a close grip enables you to handle heavier weights.
(b) Due to an old back injury I perform the exercise with a slight knee bend which takes the strain off the lower back.
(c) I pull the bar into the stomach, not the chest, and when doing so keep the elbows close to the body.
2. One Arm Rowing. This can be done either with a dumbell or a bar fixed at one end to the floor. This is a particular Reeves favourite.
(a) When using a dumbell I keep the supporting arm resting on a bench straight as well as keeping both legs straight.
(b) I pull the dumbell up until it touches the body, keeping the elbows at the side of the body.
(c) When using a fixed bar I do not stand parallel to the bar but at approximately 30 degrees to the bar.
(d) The leg nearest the bar is straight and the other slightly bent with the free hand resting on it just above the knee.
3. Chins. This exercise also requires no introduction. I use a grip about 12 ins. wider than shoulder width.
4. Sitting on the Bench, Base Pulley Rowing. Sit on the bench with your legs straight, feet pushing against a block approximately 12 ins. in width, supported at the other side against the base pulley.
Pull the handle into the waist, then allow it to pull your hands forward between your legs in order to get a good stretch on the back.
5. Prone Hyperextensions. Lying on your stomach on a sit-up board, feet under the straps, hands on the back of the neck, raising backwards from the waist as far as possible.
I perform five sets of each exercise, usually ten repetitions per set and averaging two back workouts per week.