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Wider Lats for the Win

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Building an impressive V-taper in your lats involves a dedicated approach to variety

By: Mark Dugdale, IFBB Pro; Photography by: Michael Butler / Jason Breeze; Model: IFBB Pro Mark Dugdale

[Q] Mark, my training partner and I have differing opinions on the way to build lat width. I say pulldowns are superior because you can handle more weight. He says pull-ups. Who is right?

[A] First, there is no single-best exercise for lat width, so there’s value in both pulldowns and pullups. My personal opinion is that pull-ups are a superior exercise because they recruit more muscle. In terms of lat width, I think the longer the range of motion, the better lat development you can create. I’d stick with pull-ups, adding a weight belt for increased resistance once you can get 12 good reps; then go to pulldowns, but use a reverse (palms facing you) grip for better range of motion.

[Q] There seems to be a lot more talk these days about that lower-back “Christmas tree” as a key to winning shows. How do you work on it? Do you focus more on your lower lats or erectors?

[A] I don’t specifically train my erectors, but my “Christmas tree” has never been lacking (see pic from Olympia). Seeing it onstage is a matter of obtaining a very low bodyfat percentage. For building the erectors, I think heavy barbell squats and heavy partial deadlifts — focusing on the top third of the range of motion — will simulate all the growth necessary for a well-developed lower back.

[Q] I know you have to row big to develop an impressive back, but I’m sick of my lower back getting tired first. Can I improve my back with seated moves like cable rows or machine rows?

[A] If your lower back gets tired too quickly, there’s a reason for it — namely, that it’s a weak area in need of improvement. Therefore, I wouldn’t eliminate big rows entirely but work to build up the muscle endurance of your lower back. Save seated movements or chest-supported movements for later in your training session once your lower back becomes fatigued. Another factor to consider is that lower-back issues are often a result of poor core development. Notice, I didn’t say abs, but core. Your core is what stabilizes your midsection. Nothing strengthens the core like a set of heavy-ass squats. If your core is weak, start setting aside time each week for exercises such as the plank and ab wheel to bolster your heavy squat training.

[Q] Hey Mark, I’m confused about pullovers. Are they a chest or a back exercise? I feel them in both areas, but it just makes me wonder if I’m doing it right.

[A] They certainly can hit both muscle groups depending on the angle and range of motion. Personally, I use them for back and perform them second in a superset with a heavy rowing exercise. Rows can bring the biceps into play and adding a superset of pullovers takes the often-fatigued biceps out of the exercise to really finish off the lats. Be sure to focus on the eccentric portion of the movement while contracting the lats. Additionally, don’t rest with the weight at the top; instead go immediately back into the eccentric portion of the movement. Doing pullovers on a decline bench also shifts more of the emphasis to the lats.

[Q] What’s a good finishing move for lats? I lift fairly heavy, but I can’t seem to find anything to really flush my lats with blood at the end of my workouts. Any suggestions?

[A] I like doing seated cable rows with a double contraction. Technically, it’s one-and-a-half reps. Do one rep to the fully contracted position then lower the weight halfway and explode back to the contracted position. This forces tons of blood to the area, giving you a good burn and a nice pump along with further growth stimulation. Problem solved.

Mark’s Back Routine

Here’s Mark’s twice-weekly back routine.

Monday                                             

Reverse-Grip Barbell Row*       4 Sets x 10, 10, 10, 6 Reps
Dumbbell Pullover*                     4 Sets x  8, 8, 8, 8 Reps
One-Arm Dumbbell Row            3 Sets x 10, 8, 8 Reps
Seated Cable Row (narrow grip)     2 Sets x  8–10 Reps^

Thursday

Close-Grip Pull-Up               3 Sets x 6–10 Reps
Reverse-Grip Pulldown       3 Sets x 8–10 Reps
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown*     3 Sets x 6–8 Reps
Straight-Arm Rope Pulldown*     3 Sets x 10 Reps

*These two exercises are superset back to back with no rest between. Mark rests only after he completes both exercises and repeats for the total number of sets.
^Double contraction method.

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