X-Man Back Blast

Toney Freeman trains to widen his back and carve out crazy detail.


Freeman’s physique

 is marked by cartoonish, round muscles. He credits his growth with mixing things up from workout to workout and within workouts, hitting each muscle from a variety of angles, a tactic clearly seen in his dumbbell rows. Unlike most guys who perform rows one-handed with their knee supported on a bench or bent over a dumbbell rack, Freeman prefers to perform this exercise with a dumbbell in each hand.

He’ll start with 50- or 60-pound dumbbells, his body bent as near to perpendicular to the foor as he can. Ten or more reps—remember, the X-Man goes by feel—and he’ll drop the dumbbells, pick up a pair of 70s or 80s, and raise his upper body to 60 degrees. Another 10 or more reps and he’ll take hold of the 90s or, depending on how he’s feeling that day, the 120s, raising his upper body even farther, to 45 degrees, getting another 10-plus reps. After a brief rest he’ll repeat the process starting with the heavier weights in the higher position, lowering the weight and his upper body as he goes.

“I feel it throughout

 my entire back doing rows like this,” says the X-Man. “From traps to rhomboids to lats to rear delts, everything. That’s why I like it so much. At my height and with my arms I have a super-long range of motion, so I’m really feeling the muscles work here.”  Whatever angle his body is at, Freeman concentrates on moving the scapula first, then his elbows, rowing the dumbbell back as though he were sawing wood, minimizing the amount of biceps he uses in the movement.

Freeman might do three sets at three different angles one right after the other. He might pause between each set and let his partner go before he adjusts his angle. Some days he might run up three angles and then back down one after the other, rest, then do it again (that would make 10 sets). It all depends on how he feels and what his previous workout was like.


Freeman competed seven times in 2013, eight times in 2012, and eight in 2011. He’s one of the busiest men on the IFBB pro circuit. How can he do so many contests?

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“I took five years of from competing,” he explains, “and the first few years as a pro, I did only a couple of shows. When all these shows are so close togetherit’s just a matter of discipline and holding my diet for another week or two. It’s not really that difficult. Once you get into shape, it’s just a matter of how long can you hold off on the pizza! After a contest, you go right back to your cardio, right back to your diet. Your body stays the same as long as you stay on point. You can do it because you’re already there.”



 on what gym I’m at, this third back exercise is going to be a T-bar row or machine row,” Freeman says. If he’s doing T-bars like in the picture, Freeman prefers loading the barbell with 25-pound plates instead of 45-pounders. With his long arms, 45-pound plates would hit the foor before he could get a full range of motion.

But the X-Man is always innovating and updating his training, which allows him to stay fresh and remain a danger onstage. “Lately I’ve been getting into machine rows [not pictured],” Freeman explains. “I do ’em like Charles Glass does. I sit on a dumbbell, about a 70-pound dumbbell, without the bolt in the middle. I prop it up on the bench, set it where I hit the stretch position, and then I sit down and do my set. It hits the lats a little lower. I pull high. You get an incredible stretch this way. It’s awesome—I love it!”


Freeman sees a lot of mistakes being made when people are training their backs in the gym. Here are the top three he wants us to avoid:



“I can watch someone train and see if there’s a mind/muscle connection. It’s pretty obvious when there isn’t.”


“People try to use too much weight when they train their backs. I’m not talking about powerlifters deadlifting for singles or triples; I’m talking about guys who call themselves bodybuilders or those who want to be bodybuilders.”


“Guys don’t know what a full range of motion for an exercise is when they train their backs. A lot of people don’t realize if you’re trying to be a bodybuilder, if you’re trying to build a physique, you’re building it on the frame God gave you, and you can’t build the bone structure. You have to let the muscle do the work. You have to remove momentum and leverage out of a lot of your movements so your muscles can work. It takes years and years of training along with the proper mentality to do that.”


That’s it. Only three dedicated exercises, but Freeman’s hammered his back with up to 23 sets. And he’s exhausted it from a variety of angles, with very little rest between sets, ensuring a high-intensity workout. Look for the X-Man to always remind everyone why he is a threat on any IFBB pro stage. FLEX


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