Back Construction!

A Hard-as-Hell, Tough-as-Nails Workout Program for Constructing Monstrous Back Width and Thickness!

by Jared Smith
The massive back of Dorian Yates!

       Some things in this world are a dime a dozen. The lifting world is no different. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in the gym and watched guys prance around with a half decent chest, but their shoulders protrude forward and their backs are narrow—not to mention completely lacking in thickness. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that chest development is not impressive. However, one can have a much stronger and larger chest if the foundation from which they press is carrying a considerable amount of beef!
       The back has always appealed to me more than any other muscle group. As a kid, I associated a wide, thick back with power and strength, though at the time I had no clue why. Louie Simmons—one of the greatest powerlifting coaches to ever load a barbell—said that he could tell who the strongest guys in any gym were based upon how much muscle their backs carried. In addition to adding that “powerful” look, the back has always been my favorite body part from a visual perspective. The way each muscle is pieced together, resembling a mountain range or a road atlas, has always been in my eyes something awesome to behold.
The Tools for Back MASS Construction
      To build any muscle, one must learn how to contract it optimally. To ensure a muscle is stimulated to the max, you must train it through the entire contractile range. You may be aware of what some call the “all or none” principle, and I am not disagreeing with it. Yes, a muscle will contract regardless of which exercise you choose for it. What this principle fails to cover is the fact that the muscle is actually never going through the entirety of its range of motion in a single exercise, thus never being taxed from the mid-range, stretch, and contracted position. While it is very true that you can put a significant amount of mass on your back by performing just the basics, once you’ve attained a base of mass, the more complex work begins. The back can handle insane amounts of volume compared to any other muscle of the upper body. This presents us with a great opportunity to stimulate growth on a systemic level. Back day is just as important as Leg day! The tools you will use to build your back will include at least one exercise to cover each portion of the muscles contractile range:
Mid-range: Rows, Palms-in Pulldowns
Contracted: Straight-Arm Pulldowns
Stretch: Pullovers (Dumbbell, Barbell, or Machine)
     What about the Deads? Deadlifts will be done on this day as well, but only after the upper back has been taxed to the max! You will be amazed at how hard each and every muscle in your upper back will contract by doing deadlifts at the end of the workout!
Go Mental!
      Any time you train, it is as much mental as it is physical, but this is more important on back day than any other. You cannot see your back, so you must put your mind there instead. You must think of stretching and contracting the entire time, and never losing the much-needed tension on the muscle. A great way to maintain tension on the muscle is through a technique I learned from the work of IFBB pro Ben Pakulski called “intension”. This is a practice of applying force in certain directions, depending upon the muscle being trained, which will keep that muscle under tension and screaming for mercy! As I lay out the program, I will explain how to apply intension to each exercise, allowing you to really connect your mind to the muscle, and get the most out of each and every rep. Remember, exercise is movement, and movement is physics, so let’s make each movement count!
Let’s Hit It!
     We start off with a midrange exercise where we can move some weight. We will begin with bent-over barbell rows. After you’ve warmed up, you will perform four sets of 8-12 reps. Keep everything tight with no swaying of your back. On this exercise, you will use inward intent, which means you will attempt to “shorten” the bar with your hands. As you perform the row, push as if you are trying to put your hands together, thus bringing the ends of the bar together. If you can’t hold the contraction for a two count, the weight you selected is too heavy, so check the ego at the door and let’s contract some muscles! This will keep your elbows glued to your sides, and your lats will contract like crazy! Shoot for a three count on the negative.
Arnold—in his heyday—performing a set of barbell rows.

     Next up, we will perform a superset of straight-arm pulldowns and close-grip, palms-in pulldowns.  What I love about this combo is that the contracted position movement really makes you aware of the lats and how they feel, thus making the subsequent movement more effective. To apply intent to the first exercise in the superset, think about bending the bar into a horse-shoe shape, which will keep your elbows traveling close to your sides, making sure your lats are “firing”.
     On the close-grip, palms-in pulldowns, practice inward intent as with the barbell rows above.  As always, make sure to hold each contraction for a two count. Once you are unable to hold the contraction at all, the set is done. Perform this superset three times for 8-12 reps per exercise! Make sure to get a three count on the negative phase of each rep.
     Next, we will go to the stretch position exercise—the pullover. The reason for doing this movement last in the sequence for upper back training, is because I believe it is dangerous to put a cold muscle in a stretched position. Once there is blood in the muscle, the tissue is more pliable.  No matter the variation of pullover you choose, practice inward intent by attempting to get your elbows as close as you can. Notice how all versions of intension for lats keeps your elbows traveling close to your body?  The idea by practicing intension is to keep your form locked in, and to keep the tension where you want—and need—it! Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps, and keep the tempo slow.
Mike Mentzer was a big fan of Nautilus machine pullovers for the lats.

     Finally, we come to the end. Deadlifts. The man maker! Before I even get into this exercise, let me say that if back development is your primary concern, use straps! I couldn’t care less how bad-ass you believe yourself to be; your grip WILL give way before your back does! As for form: Strap in, lock down your upper body as upright as you can get it, drop your ass, drive your feet through the floor, and try your damnedest to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Keep the tempo controlled, with around three seconds on the decent, and perform four sets of 6-8 reps!
     There you have it: Your formula for widening your wings, and thickening all of your back muscles. It’s time to stop reading, and get to the gym. Let your mind fill with a controlled rage, and let the rage consume your entire workout! Go forth, conquer, and destroy your back!!


  1. Pull ups are awesome for back width! I like to alternate them with pulldowns.

  2. Great article...keep up the good work


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