Arnolds back workout

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I have always liked back workout, because for me, this was the muscle group that responded best to training. For beginners this might not be an important body part, because the back muscles are not as visible as, say, the pecs or the biceps. Freshmen usually “notice” they have back muscles, too, when they see the long-desired V-shape taking shape. However, they keep checking their shape on the front only, so they pay more attention to the lats instead of developing the entire back musculature.

I was lucky because I had Reg Park as a perfect example from the beginning. His back was massive, wide and thick. Huge bundles of muscle were bulging out all over his back from the traps way down to the spinal erectors. His legendary back became a trademark of his Mr. Universe title. When I saw a picture of Reg Park’s back musculature for the first time, I decided that one day I’m going to have a back like that. I have always been aspiring to be the best and would set goals everyone thought were impossible. Of course my close friend and training partner thought I was a complete idiot.

“You’re never gonna have a back like that, no matter how much or how hard you train”, he said. But I simply didn’t hear him. The word “never” meant a challenge to me: To show my smart-ass friend that he was wrong. My determination to grow huge back muscles became a key factor to my training from that day on. I would read everything I could lay my hands on about bodybuilding. I read champions’ training programs, their favorite exercises, the number of sets and reps they used and the training methods they used for each muscle group. I applied many of these techniques in my own workout. That was the time when I laid the foundation of my future training.

One of the most important things I already learned in the early years was about the importance of rows. The term “rows” may refer to a variety of exercises. They can be performed in various ways and on various machines. The rowing move primarily works the back muscles, and its different variants are targeted to different regions of the back: the lower, the middle, the upper or the exterior part. It’s important to know what effect each exercise has on a certain body part.

Back training should basically target the back musculature from three directions: with bent-over rows, with vertical pull-down moves and with horizontal pulling moves. Pull-ups are excellent exercises. They are kind of reverse rows, when you are pulling your body towards the bar instead of moving the weight towards your body.

My favorite row exercise is performing wide-grip bent-over rows standing on a platform, pulling the barbell towards my waist. This works the medium region of the back, plus the lats and the teres major to a smaller extent. You can get the most out of this exercise by lowering the weight way down to your toes, thus enabling your muscles to stretch out fully.
The whole move should be done slowly. I prefer to pull the weight towards the waist rather than the chest because pulling it towards the waist, the elbows will move backwards, and this triggers the middle back muscles to work. Too many bodybuilders are lacking those thick bundles of “cable” that run near the spine in the upper regions.


I perform this exercise in a unique manner, which leaves room for different versions. I begin the move with the widest grip possible and reduce grip width with each set until my hands touch. This way I can work both the exterior and the interior parts of my back musculature.
I like to do this exercise with palms up, too. I learned this from Reg Park and it works the lower back for real.

My other huge favorite is the T-bar row. You will need a barbell that is fixed to the ground at one end. You will stack the weight plates up to the other end. Stand with your back towards the fixed end of the barbell and grab the bar under the plates (editor’s note: a V-shaped handle will make it a lot easier). Pull the barbell up until the plates touch your chest. Since quite a close grip is applied here, you cannot pull your elbows so far backwards as you would do in the case of traditional rows. This makes this exercise perfect for developing the lower-exterior areas of the lats in the middle area of the back. I like to do this exercise standing on a platform, too. This enables my back muscles to stretch fully at each rep when I am lowering the barbell down in line with my toes. Plus, you do not need to worry about balance, since the barbell is fixed at one end, so you can focus fully on the move.

Many gyms have a separate handle for T-bar rows. But if there aren’t any in yours, you can easily grab the barbell in a way that in one set your right hand will be closer to the plates, and then you can switch hands for the next set. Keep your back straight all along. It should not bend. I stack up some more weight to the barbell at each set.

Another fantastic back exercise is seated cable row. Make sure the cable is fixed in line with (or lower than) the line of the move. This exercise may be done with wide or close grip. Wide grip will work the middle area, while close grip will primarily target the exterior and lower areas. I prefer close grip because this enables my back muscles to stretch fully when I am stretching my arms. No need to worry about balance here either, as you are sitting on a bench. So feel free to use heavy weights. I usually do 10-12 reps of rows, but sometimes I move up to 20, especially before contests or shows.

You might do this exercise with a Y-shaped cable as well, with separate handles at each end. While performed in the traditional way, your chest will stop the barbell or handle, this cable variant will enable you to pull your elbows behind the line of your torso. This way you can work your back in a whole new way.

Another great exercise is the bent-over one-arm dumbbell row (chainsaw). It is very popular among people with back problems. Leaning on the bench with one arm will take the load off your lower back muscles. Pull the weight up in line with your waist so your elbow gets behind the line of your back. This will effectively work the spinal erectors (also mentioned as the middle area of the back earlier in this article). It is also a perfect shaping exercise, as it gives a nice curve to the exterior of your back muscles.


You should always use the full range of motion: pull the weight up until it is in line with your waist and let it down until it stretches fully at each rep. Flex your back muscles hard at the top position, then lower the weight back slowly. You should rest as short as possible (preferably not at all) before doing the next set with the other arm.

The above exercises present the most basic types of rows. There are other variants, too, but these are my personal favorites. I usually do 5 sets of 10-12 reps for each type of row. I do the first few sets with less weight to warm up, then I add more weight at each set.

Although my back training is made up mostly by rows, I also apply other exercises to facilitate overall development. I recommend to pick one exercise for each of the four areas of the back musculature. The first one should be a widening exercise. The second one for developing the lower part of the lats, the third one for the upper-middle areas, and finally, one for the lower back.
To increase width, I do both pull-ups and wide-grip pull-downs. I do these with close grip for the lower part of the lats. For the upper-middle area, the bent-over wide-grip row is the best (middle areas), and for thickness and exterior, the T-bar row is the most suitable. These exercises also work the lower back to a certain extent, but you might include hyperextension to achieve maximum development in this area.

Deadlift is another excellent exercise for the development of the lower back. I would do it a lot back then, when I trained with Franco Columbu. We would do deadlift once or twice a week with no more than 3 sets per workout, and we increased the weight at each set. For example, one set with 180 kg, one with 225 and finally, one with 270 kg. We would always do deadlifts following the rows. Deadlift got quite a massive appearance to our backs, and maybe it contributed to the development of our lower back muscles, too, both in depth and separation.






Below you can read some instructions to more of my favorite exercises:

Wide-grip pull-ups behind the neck

This move is perfect for widening the back. Use a wide grip and do 15 reps slowly for warmup. Do not cheat. And for the next set, tie some weight around your waist. I hang 10 kilos for the first time and add 5 kilos for each set. I do 10-12 reps per set, with about 1-minute rest breaks. If I cannot do 10 reps in the last set, I do as many as I can, and finish off with partial reps.

Close-grip pull-ups

You might as well do pull-ups by hanging a narrow handle on the pull-up bar. This will work the lower parts of the lats and the front saw muscles on the chest. I like it when my shoulder blades are pulling aside at the lowest position of the move. I pull myself up to the line of my belly rather than to my chest. If there is no narrow handle in the gym, do close-grip pull-downs instead.

Bent-over rows with medium grip width

This exercise is somewhat different from the wide-grip rows I mentioned earlier. Grab the barbell with a grip somewhat wider than shoulder width and bend over so your torso gets parallel with the ground. Keep your elbows pointing outwards and your back straight all along, and pull the barbell to the solar plexus (the pit of your stomach) instead of your chest or hips. This way you can work the upper-exterior areas of your back muscles heavily, especially the teres major. You might involve your rear delts, too.

Pull-down behind the neck

Grab the bar with wide grip and pull it down behind your head to your neck. You should push your chin down to your chest while pulling. Let the weight back up slowly while lifting your head, and let your arms stretch fully so your back muscles can stretch fully, too. I usually do 10-12 reps and increase weight in a pyramid at each set. This is one of the best exercises for the upper area of the lats.

Straight-arm pullover

This exercise is performed on a horizontal bench. Grab a barbell and lie across the bench. Hold the barbell above your chest with your arms straight. Lower the weight backwards below the line of your head while inhaling, then lift it back again with a crisp exhalation. This is an excellent exercise to make your chest wider. Plus it works the intercostal muscles and the lower fibers of the pecs. Here I prefer a somewhat higher rep count, 15 reps.


  1. Train your back two or three times a week, together with your chest. (The team of doesn’t agree.)
  2. If you are a beginner, you should rather do a full-body workout three times a week, based on bent-over rows and stiff-legged deadlift as back exercises. After a few months, add wide-grip pull-downs or replace the bent-over rows with them.
  3. After 9 to 12 months of training you should switch to the below back program:

Wide-grip pull-down behind the neck:

3 x 8-10
T-bar rows: 3 x 10
One-arm dumbbell rows (chainsaw): 3 x 10

On intermediate level you may do four exercises, as follows:

Wide-grip pull-down behind the neck:

4 x 10
Bent-over rows: 4 x 10
T-bar rows: 3 x 10
Straight-arm pullover: 3 x 15

And on advanced level, you might add one more exercise:

Wide-grip pull-down behind the neck:

4 x 10-12
T-bar rows: 3 x 10-12
Bent-over rows: 4 x 10-12
Close-grip pull-ups: 4 x 10-12
Seated cable rows: 4 x 10-12

Below you can read one of my best back programs. I used it when I was preparing for Mr. Olympia. This is a chest-back superset program and it is so hard that I only used it in the last two months of the preparation phase.

1st superset:

Bench press
Wide-grip pull-ups behind the neck

2nd superset:

Incline press
T-bar rows

3rd superset:

Dumbbell flyes
Bent-over rows with medium grip width

4th superset:

Dips on parallel bars
Close-grip pull-up
Pullover with straight arms

Chest-back supersets will save you time, pump your muscles and improve depth in both muscle groups. I always do 5 sets of 10-12 reps of each back exercise, except for the pullover, which is 15 reps.
I have tried several combinations of the above exercises in my training regimen. In this article I highlighted the ones that proved to be most effective for me. Use the exercises you feel the most effective and which bring the best results for you personally. Give a try to my methods and your back will show incredible development both in width and thickness.

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