Some guys at my gym said that the back should be worked from different angles, since it is such a large expanse of muscle. As a result, I was put on a routine comprising six different exercises — four sets each. Is this too much?
It sure is. But the fact that you instinctively know you’re overworking your back is a good thing. Many people simply continue doing too much because someone told them to, and they pay the price later when they end up with either an injury or extreme fatigue. What you obviously need to do now is cut back on volume and learn which exercises you should keep in your workout regimen.
I can give you a good guideline for back training by presenting a routine I used successfully for six years before moving to my one-set-per-exercise system in 1992. You may be surprised to learn that the routine consists of only eight working sets, not including hyperextensions, which I would perform at the end of the workout, after I trained shoulders with shrugs. Yet, despite the fact that I used only four exercises, two working sets each, to train my lats, they definitely received a comprehensive workout.
I began my routine with close-grip pulldowns. They can be performed with a straight bar, with hands about 6" apart and with a palms-up grip, or with a V-bar. The choice is yours. Close-grip pulldowns really target the lower and inner lats, which contribute greatly to back thickness. I’d first perform two warm-up sets of about 10 reps before moving on to my two working sets of nine or 10 reps.
Next, I would do weighted chins with a wide overhand grip, which is ideal for building the outer lats. Depending on your personal strength level, you may or may not be able to add weight via a weight belt and plates or a dumbbell when you chin. If you cannot, perform three sets of as many reps as you can muster. If your back is strong enough, do one warm-up set of 10 reps, then add enough weight so that you can manage only six to eight good reps for each of the next two sets.
My third exercise would be either barbell or dumbbell rows, which are thickness builders. For barbell rows, I used an underhand grip and kept my torso at about a 70-degree angle in relation to the floor. For dumbbell rows, I’d rest one hand and knee on a flat bench as I pulled the weight up to my side with the opposing arm. One warm-up set of 10 is followed by two working sets of eight to 10 reps.
My final lat exercise was seated pulley rows. Although these are somewhat similar to the rows performed before them, they have the advantage of giving you a great stretch at the bottom of the movement.
Do one warm-up set of 10 reps before launching into your two working sets of eight to 10. I can’t stress enough the importance of these warm-up sets. They can be the barrier that keeps you from injury when performing heavy intense working sets.
As I mentioned, I would also train shoulders on back day. After my four lat exercises, I would perform two working sets of eight to 10 reps of shrugs for traps, after a warm-up set, and then finally do two or three sets of hyperextensions, 12-15 reps per set.
Perform this routine no more than once every five days, and I’ll bet that those guys at your gym will be asking you for back-training advice within three months.
DORIAN YATES' BACK ROUTINE (1986-1992)
Close-Grip Pulldowns | SETS: 2* | REPS: 10
Close-Grip Pulldowns | SETS: 2 | REPS: 9-10
Weighted Chins | SETS: 1* | REPS: 10
Weighted Chins | SETS: 2 | REPS: 6-8
Barbell or Dumbbell Rows | SETS: 1* | REPS: 10
Barbell or Dumbbell Rows | SETS: 2 | REPS: 8-10
Seated Pulley Rows | SETS: 1* | REPS: 10
Seated Pulley Rows | SETS: 2 | REPS: 8-10
Shrugs | SETS: 1* | REPS: 10
Shrugs | SETS: 2 | REPS: 8-10
Hyperextensions | SETS: 2-3 | REPS: 12-15
*Warm Up Sets