Secrets of a Big Back

Rowing is the route to thick, wide lats!
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QUESTION

What’s the story behind that famous photo of you doing bentover rows barefoot and standing on a bench?

ANSWER

Bodybuilders of my era did a lot of things that people today tend to think of as silly or dangerous. Certainly, some of the clothes we wore were outlandish (hey, it was the ’70s), and we didn’t train as scientifically as some competitors do today, but you can’t argue with our results. Fans always like to rib me about working out barefoot or balancing on benches, but for that particular exercise, the bentover barbell row, I still feel that was an essential part of it. I hardly see the barbell row being performed in gyms anymore.

These days, guys like to use rowing machines and dumbbells to train the back, and these are good options. But I’ll always prefer the old-fashioned bentover row because it’s a much harder exercise. When you use a barbell, you can work with heavier weights than you can with any other implement. Rowing from that bent position trains your lower back and abs at the same time, so you develop tremendous strength throughout your torso that carries over to other exercises like the deadlift and squat. The only thing holding your body up is its own muscle, not a bench or a hand or a weight machine. When my friends and I trained at Gold’s Gym and the Muscle Beach weight pit, we often made rows even more difficult. Balancing on the narrow benches forced us to keep our feet closer together, which made the lift even harder to stabilize. It also allowed us to get a better stretch in our lats as we lowered the weight between reps.

Why barefoot? Well, we were by the beach! But honestly, barefoot training helps to develop your balance and lets you root your feet better. If you think that’s dangerous with iron plates being dropped nearby, ask yourself if the few millimeters of canvas you get from a shoe would make any difference to your toes. I worked up to 315 pounds for sets of 10 or so on the row. See what you can do, and watch your back grow and thicken as a result. - FLEX

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