A Back Workout for the Ages

The training routine that built one of the world’s thickest and densest backs in the IFBB Pro League.

Per Bernal


You don’t need to go as heavy as Jackson, but put in the work here to beef up your outer and lower lats.

Moving on to the next exercise means a short hike to the dumbbell rack, today a haphazard mess of ’bells scattered in the general vicinity. Jackson selects a 100 for the first of four sets, again to 15, placing his free hand on the rack as he rows the weight to his flank with the other. 

Breaths come deeper once he graduates to the heaviest dumbbell in the building—a cartoonish 200-pounder that most gyms don’t even bother carrying. With the 200 in hand, hissing noises emanating through his nostrils and lips on each ascent, Jackson is like a machine cranking up to its maximum load, straining but far from breaking.

At 12, there’s a short pause at the bottom, then 13 and 14 come with a burst of effort, and finally 15 ratchets up to a point level with his heaving chest. The weight settles to the floor with a satisfying thud as Jackson unwraps his strap to free himself from the load.

Per Bernal


Jackson avoids leaning back to keep the stress on his mid- and upper back.

After dumbbell rows, the next stop almost seems like a sanctuary—and to others, it may be. But Jackson isn’t backing down once he reaches the seated cable row station, doing one set of 140 before selecting the entirety of the weight stack for two more sets of 15 arduous reps.

The narrow hammer-grip handle is already in place, so Jackson needs only to settle himself onto the well-worn, unforgiving padding of the bench, lean forward, and grasp, once again wrapping his straps around each handle with a flick of the wrist and curling his fingers around them.

He leans back to lift the stack from the bottom bumper, leaning back so his upper body is just past a point perpendicular to the floor. The muscles visible outside his tank top—from his thick voluminous arms to the three heads of his shoulders to his traps—all stand out in sharp relief as he begins, pulling the handle into his abdomen.

As the reps get harder, his chin tends to drop toward his upper chest, but otherwise his form holds, with no rocking, no excessive shifts in his body position. It’s all back and biceps pulling the load, with the constant tension of the cable giving no quarter from the first rep to the last.


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