As bodybuilding fans are surely aware by now, Phil Heath is still the reigning Mr. Olympia, with an incredible seven titles in a row.
But that last one? It sure as hell wasn’t easy, with a certain 5'10", 300-pound behemoth offering up a brutal fight. Mamdouh Elssbiay—aka “Big Ramy”—has been steadily gaining on Heath and all the other top pros in the IFBB Pro League since earning his pro card by winning the 2012 Amateur Olympia.
The 33-year-old’s steady ascension can be measured purely by his Mr. O results: eighth in 2013, seventh in 2014, fifth in 2015, fourth in 2016, and now a runner-up medal in 2017. Along the way, he’s captured five pro titles, including the 2013 and 2014 New York Pro, 2015 Arnold Classic Brazil, 2016 Kuwait Pro, and, just a week after this past Olympia, the Arnold Classic Europe on Sept. 23 in Barcelona, Spain.
Now the showdown is set, the irresistible force versus the immovable object, as Heath guns for a record-tying eighth Olympia title, and Big Ramy—indeed, the heaviest pro bodybuilder to ever step onstage—looks to take the next logical, thunderous step upward in his rise to the apex of the sport as he shoots for a rematch at the 2018 Olympia.
If Elssbiay ends Heath’s title run, it will be in no small part due to his back, including a rear lat spread striking for its impossible, light-obliterating dimensions that can figuratively swallow other competitors whole.
Surely, his approach to back training isn’t likely to change course too much in 2018, as he settles in with his crew at the palatial Oxygen Gym in Kuwait City. There, as he has in the past, he’ll surely lean on exercises that have brought him growth and cuts, including dumbbell rows, lat pulldowns to the front and to the rear, and seated cable rows and machine rows, among other mainstays.
About three years ago, the Egyptian-born Elssbiay met trainer Ahmad Alaqi, who introduced a progressive approach to his back, chest, leg, and shoulder workouts. As Alaqi explained in 2015, “We vary the rep range from 15 to six. Each week, we decrease the number of reps. So we start Week 1 with sets of 15 reps. Next week we go to 12 reps. The week after, 10, then eight, and finally six. And then we go back to 15 and start over again.” As the reps decrease, the weights rise over the five-week progression.
The following is a walk-through of five of Big Ramy’s standard back moves, with form pointers to squeeze the maximum stimulation out of each.
ELSSBIAY’S TRAINING SPLIT
- MONDAY: CHEST
- TUESDAY: LEGS
- WEDNESDAY: DELTS
- THURSDAY: BACK
- FRIDAY: ARMS
ELSSBIAY'S BACK WORKOUT
Here’s how a back workout using Big Ramy’s training approach might look. For each movement, you’d do warmups as needed to get to your working weight, nudging up the poundage week to week as the target number of reps per set drops. Other moves Big Ramy relies on include Hammer Strength pulldowns, barbell rows, deadlifts, and stiff-arm pulldowns.
- Machine Row | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6
- Lat Pulldown to Front | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6
- Lat Pulldown to Rear | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6
- Seated Cable Row | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 15, 12, 10, 8, 6
NOTE: This does not include any warmup sets you need to safely reach your working weight.
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