If you’re not in the mood to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe, perhaps it’s best that you stop reading this article now. If you’re perfectly content with the fact that your shirts fit your girlfriend, just put the mag down and slowly back away. If, however, you’ve always dreamed of seeing XXL on the labels of your shirts or you can’t stand the fact that you never get stuck in a doorway, then read on, my friend, because just ahead lies the cure to your ‘narrow’ condition.
The two bodyparts that are responsible for the width of the physique are the lats and delts. When they’re fully developed, the physique takes on a look that screams bodybuilder’both in and out of clothing. You simply cannot hide width. Broad shoulders and tapered lats lend an aesthetic appeal to the physique as no other bodyparts can and have you standing out in a crowd no matter which direction you’re facing. In addition, width up top creates the illusion of a smaller, tighter waist and thicker, more sweeping quads. That look is what made bodybuilders such as Flex Wheeler, Lee Haney, Francis Benfatto and Paul Dillett appear all the more dramatic onstage. Broadening your knowledge of the subject and putting that information into action can do the same for you. It’s time to start adding some Xs to the L on those T-shirts.
Be the Wing Man
One of the most impressive aspects of a well-developed bodybuilder’s physique is the famous V-taper. You know, the shape that makes it look possible for you to jump off a cliff, spread your lats and do a little hang gliding. Think about the physiques of the three most recent Mr. Olympias’Lee Haney, Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman. They all have one thing in common: backs so wide that each lat has its own ZIP code. The problem is, truly wide lats are a rare commodity indeed, and although you no doubt see dozens of trainees toiling away in the gym doing set after set on the lat pulldown machine, sometimes with the whole weight stack, few of them are challenging the width of a single doorway. Why is that? There are several possible reasons.
Wrong exercises. Although the lat pulldown is a wonderful back movement, it can not replace the true back builders’chins, pullups, bent-over rows, seated pulley rows, T-bar rows, dumbbell rows and deadlifts. Trainees who don’t make those exercises the foundation of their back routines are not only narrow-minded, but they’ll always be narrow, period.
Poor form. This is perhaps the most prevalent problem in back training and the number-one reason, in my opinion, that spectacular back development is so rare. People usually make one or all of the following mistakes when training back:
1) Using too much weight. While it may stroke the ego, it causes all kinds of jerking, swinging and overstimulation of the biceps and brachialis. Unfortunately, little to no lat recruitment occurs, which means zero growth in 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, your shoulders back and a slight arch in your lower back’and hold that position throughout the movement. As you begin to pull the weight, immediately begin tightening your lats. Then, when you hit full contraction, bring your shoulder blades together and squeeze forcefully. 3) Not using a thumbless grip. By keeping your thumb on top of the bar with the rest of your fingers, you 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 to reap the benefits that using different grips provides. Too many people stick with the same exercises, the same hand spacing, the same body positioning and often use overlapping exercises that hit the muscles the exact same way over and over. I believe that each back workout should include variations on three angles of pull as well as three distinct grips. You should use one exercise in which you pull vertically (pulldowns, pullups), one in which you pull horizontally (seated pulley rows, seated machine rows) and one in which you pull from the floor in a bent-over position (bent-over barbell rows, T-bar rows, dumbbell 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 those grips affects the back musculature differently and causes a change in recruitment patterns. And remember, you can create further variation by changing the width of any of those grips from workout to workout or even from set to set. The back is truly a thinking man’s bodypart.
Not using pullovers and stiff-arm pulldowns. Before I regularly included those exercises in my back routine, I had decent lat width; however, once I started hitting those movements hard and with decent weight, my lat width took off. They isolate the lats and teres muscles right where they tie into the armpit, and they do so without any biceps or forearm activation. That’s very advantageous, as you can use them to preexhaust your lats before you perform rowing and pulldown exercises. Or you can use them at the end of a back workout to get just a bit more out of those lats when your biceps are beginning to tire. ALL So now that you see there’s more to back widening than 10 sets on the pulldown machine, and your girlfriend is 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’ve learned to good use. Here are three routines that incorporate the principles discussed above. Note that they each use a variety of rep ranges in order to tax all types of muscle fibers. Beginners and intermediates may wish to use each routine for four to eight weeks before moving on to the next one, while more advanced lifters may enjoy switching back and forth among them from week to week.
Undergrip pulldowns 2-3 x 10-12
Bent-over barbell rows 2-3 x 8-10
V-handle seated pulley rows 2-3 x 6-8
Cross-bench dumbbell pullovers 2-3 x 12-15
Full deadlifts 3 x 8, 6, 4
Stiff-arm pulldowns 2-3 x 12-15
Overhand-grip pullups 2-3 x 10-12
Undergrip seated pulley rows 2-3 x 8-10
One-arm dumbbell rows 2-3 x 6-8
Rack deadlifts 3 x 10, 8, 6
Undergrip T-bar rows 2-3 x 6-8
Wide overhand-grip seated pulley rows 2-3 x 8-10
V-handle pulldowns 2-3 x 10-12
Superset Stiff-arm pulldowns 1-2 x 8-10
Dumbbell pullovers 1-2 x 8-10
Weighted hyperextensions 3 x 12-15
‘These routines don’t include warmup sets.
‘Feel free to change the exercise order.
‘You may need slightly fewer or more overall sets, depending on your experience.
In the next installment of this series I’ll take you on the second phase of your physique-widening adventure, the deltoids. Just remember one thing: Don’t send me the bill if you’re suddenly required to book two seats every time you fly. On second thought, with wings like you’re gonna have, who needs planes? IM