Joel Stubbs' Legendary Back Workouts

How Joel Stubbs built one of the most amazing backs in bodybuilding history.

Joel Stubbs clearly has a genetic proclivity for back musculature, but he also takes a rigidly technical approach to his training. If there’s a secret, it lies in the fact that he doesn’t merely rep out rows and chins, but he carefully focuses each exercise on specific areas. “The back is a complex muscle group,” he explains, “so I concentrate on details and on how the muscles tie together.” 

He alternates two back workouts. The first, his heavy day, includes more power movements, with pyramided sets for as few as six reps. The second, his light day, includes sets that go up to 15 reps. Most of the year, the gentlemanly islander does a heavy day one week and a light day the next week, but for the final month before a contest, he trains back twice per week. 

Six sets of chins, performed in three different styles, remain a constant in both workouts, as does the precise way the wide-bodied jet-flier targets lifts to specific areas of his spacious back. He explains his approach to each exercise.

CHINS: “I like doing chins first and with different grips, because this really warms up the various back muscles and stretches them out. When I change my hand positions, I feel different muscles working in different ways. I feel more of my upper lats and rear delts working with the wide forward [overhand] grip. 

“With the hammer [palms facing each other] grip, I feel more of the traps tying into the rhomboid area. With the reverse [underhand] grip, I feel more of my rhomboids and the lower part of the lats.”

DEADLIFTS: “Deadlifts are best for lower and midback thickness, all up the lumbar region, from the bottom of the back to the lower traps. I pyramid five or six sets. I start with one plate per side [135 pounds], and every set I go heavier, working all the way up to seven plates per side [675 pounds] for six reps.”

BARBELL ROWS: “I pyramid up, starting with one plate per side [135 pounds] for 15 reps and going to three plates per side [315 pounds] for eight to 10 reps. I usually alternate my sets, going underhand for one and overhand for the next. Sometimes I do two overhand and two underhand, sometimes three of each. I feel barbell rows in my upper back and middle back, getting a little better squeeze underhand and a little better stretch overhand. The important thing is to use a weight that’s heavy enough to make you really work, but not so heavy that you can’t feel the back muscles contracting.”

ONE-ARM DUMBBELL ROWS: “I use up to a 180-pound dumbbell for 10-12 reps. I really feel these pulling in the lower lat area, tying the lats into the lower back.”

BACK EXTENSIONS: “I do hypers while holding a 45-pound plate, and I really focus on getting the maximum contraction in my lower back.”

T-BAR ROWS: “I pyramid these up to eight plates [405 pounds]. I feel T-bars pulling the area where the lats tie into the rhomboids.” 

SEATED CABLE ROWS: “I go up to 300 pounds. I feel these mostly in my lower lats. I try to get a maximum stretch during each rep to really pull out the lower lat area.”

LAT PULLDOWNS: “With a wide overhand grip, I feel these in the upper lats, especially the armpit areas. With a narrower underhand grip, the tension moves further inward, so I feel them more in my lower lats, as well as where the traps tie into the rhomboids.” - FLEX 

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