Chins were a big part of your superior back development. What was your secret in terms of form, and how were you able to work up to heavy-weighted chins?
The key for me was doing not only wide-grip chins behind the neck (which was the only type of chins most bodybuilders did back in my day) but many other variations as well to train the back muscles from every conceivable angle and target different areas of the back. I regularly did chins to the front, too, as well as narrow-grip chins, either with an underhand grip, an overhand grip or using a V-bar draped over a standard chinning bar. I constantly rotated these variations into my back workout to keep my muscles guessing.
Regardless of the variation, I always went all the way up for each rep. This may sound elementary, but it’s amazing how many guys do only half reps. Wide-grip chins seem to invite half reps more than others, but I found that better development comes from touching your chest to the bar for every rep when going in front of the head and touching the back of your neck when going behind the head. The same holds true for close grip chins—physically touch your chest to the bar every time. Of course, this isn’t easy, but you can build up to doing full-range-of-motion chins for many reps, even weighted reps.
Start with the lat pulldown machine. Over time, increase the weight until you’re doing pulldowns with your equivalent body weight for about eight reps. Then, leave the machine and move to freehanging chins. Let’s say that before you start training back one day you tell yourself you’re going to do 50 total reps of chins. For the first set you may do 10, then perhaps you struggle for eight on the second set. You have 18 reps now. If you make five for the third set, you have 23 reps. Continue to add them in this way until you’ve reached 50 reps, even if it takes you 20 sets to do it. Over time, you’ll find that you’re able to reach 50 reps in fewer and fewer sets. After you master 10–12 reps in any type of chin, you put weight around your waist. That’s when the muscles really begin to grow. If you’re able to do a dozen regular chins without weight, adding 10 pounds may cut you back to 10 reps. Work with this until you’re able to do 12 reps with 10 extra pounds. Then bump it up to 20 pounds, always working toward 12 reps. I know people who worked up to doing weighted chins with 50, 60, or 70 additional pounds, and they all had enormous lats. If you chin without added weights forever, your lats will never reach their growth potential.
ARNOLD'S BACK WORKOUT
- Weighted Wide-Grip Chins | SETS: 4-6 | REPS: 10-12
- Deadlift | SETS: 4-5 | REPS: 6-10
- T-Bar Row | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10-15
- Barbell Bentover Row | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10-15