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You know the guy.

The one that has a back so wide he walks sideways through doorways.

The one who sports a tank top, even outdoors in the winter.

Yeah, you assume he’s a bit of a dick, but you’re a teeny bit jealous, right?

And there’s a part of you that wants the same, but no matter how many deadlifts you do, your back width rivals that of Gumby. (Yes, the green clay animation character that’s thin from top to bottom).

Anyway, fear not. Here are five tweaks you can make with your back training so door width becomes a problem for you sooner than later.

Step 1: Mix Things Up

You’ve probably been taught that the best way to build a huge back is through the deadlift. Only one problem: it doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s not working for you.

You likely need to change course and get a little freaky with your back training.

Unconventional Exercises

Ever heard of a Reeves deadlift? No? This is a great exercise that not only tests your lats and upper back, but arm and hand strength as well.

But the Reeves deadlift isn’t that different – but a modified version, the Reeves Row, is.

Simply load the bar with smaller plates. Standing in the middle of the bar, grab the plates with the fingertips of your outstretched arms and perform a standard barbell row. The key is keeping your elbows close to your sides and pulling them as far back as possible. This really keeps your lower lats in a stretched position throughout. Again, don’t go too heavy.

1.5 reps

This technique increases the time under tension and reduces momentum swings.

Put simply, you do a full range of motion rep, lower the weight, do a partial rep, go all the way down and repeat.

Static Holds

Look at the back musculature of Olympic gymnasts (who largely train and perform with static holds).

They’ve got impressive wing spans, and new research is starting to identify reasons why.

But, first, a history lesson…

A long forgotten study conducted by Dr. Jose Antonio that subjected quail to an extreme stretching protocol for 28 days showed increased size of 334-percent in the stretched muscles.

But, critics said, that was on birds, not humans. There was little to no scientific research on humans to suggest otherwise.

Until recently, when Dr. Jacob Wilson and his team at the University of Tampa investigated the effects of weighted intra-set stretching on skeletal muscle size and strength.

Twenty-four recreationally trained subjects (around 20 years old) were randomly assigned to stretching and non-stretching conditions.

The training focused on calves, with muscle thickness effectively doubled in the group that used the stretching method (+23 mm ± 5.0 vs. + 9 mm ± 4.8) compared to the control group.

Both groups performed 4 sets of 12-rep calf raises on a leg press twice a week for 5 weeks. The first set was performed at 90% of subjects' 1-rep max (1RM), followed by 3 sets in which the weight was decreased by 15% of subjects' 1-RM per set.

The trainees in the stretching group let the weight from the leg press stretch their gastrocnemius (the big muscle in your upper calf) in the fully-stretched bottom position for 30 seconds between sets.

To apply this method to your back training, after completing a set of weighted pull-ups, fully extend your arms and hang. Keep your feet off the ground for maximal tension. Repeat using lighter weight (or bodyweight) for 2 or 3 additional sets of 30 second holds.

A word of caution: There’s a time and place for stretching. Doing them at the beginning of a workout has been shown to have a negative impact on training performance.

In a review published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 20 studies all found that an acute stretching session performed before training diminished performance.

Wait until you’ve completed your heavy work for the day before finishing off the muscle being worked with static holds.

Step 2: Eliminate Body English

If you are dry humping the barbell with every rep like that drunk dude on the dance floor, you need to check your ego and use a weight you can control.

Here’s one exercise to “force” good form. I call them Marriage Rows, because you can't cheat on them. I doubt it catches on.

You simply get setup on an incline bench (in a smith machine in this case, but any incline bench setup will do) and keep your torso fixed to the bench with each rep, driving up with your elbows tucked at your sides. You can substitute a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells for the barbell here.

Another good exercise I recommend if you have trouble “feeling” your back engage - or your arms take over on most exercises - is a straight arm pulldown, which takes your lats through a full range of motion, isolating them from your arms and supporting muscles.

Step 3: Use Full ROM

You want to retract your scapulae on each rep and perform a rep through its full range of motion.

In layman’s terms, you want to fully extend your arms on the eccentric portion of the lift, such as reaching to the ceiling in a pulldown for example, before performing the next rep.

Too often lifters will keep the mid and lower traps in an isometric hold and pull through a partial range of motion when training back, not working the muscle through full range of motion.

Partials are fine at times, but focus on full ROM until you start to fail. Find exercises that emphasize the stretched position, such as single arm T-Bar Rows.

Step 4: Model Your Lat Fibres (WTF?)

Your lat fibers don't run completely vertical, nor do they run completely horizontal. They actually run on a bit of a slanted pattern, and targeting them should be done in an angled fashion.

The J rope pull is a kneeling exercise that takes better advantage of the build of your lats, according to Lee Boyce, who I stole this exercise from.  

The J rope pull combines scapular depression and scapular retraction by mixing a stiff-arm pulldown with a row motion in a graceful transition. That makes it sounds kind of wimpy, but the pump is anything but.

Step 5: Isolate Your Rhomboids

As you’re discovering, there are a lot of areas and angles that need be worked for complete back development. One of those neglected areas is the rhomboids (big muscle group in the middle of your back).

If you want to make that center portion of your back more three dimensional (of course you do!), here’s an exercise to try.

Kettlebell rows. When you do these really drive your elbows up high, not back to your sides. Flex your lower traps and rhomboids (mid back).

Note: To perform this better than I did (lol), start with a light load and do a brief isometric hold at the top to really feel it in your rhomboids.

Step 6: Spinal Erectors Need Loving Too

A strong set of spinal erectors not only look cool when lean, but help support everyday activities. Lower back pain is a common ailment, so make this area stronger through smart training. The lower back takes on a load in many exercises indirectly, but shouldn’t be entirely ignored in the gym otherwise.

One way to target them safely and effectively is through hyperextensions.

Back hyperextensions are one of the most basic, yet effective, exercises you can use to build your spinal erectors.

Lie face down in a glute-ham or back extension machine with the tops of your hips just beyond the highest point on the pad. In the starting position, your torso should be folded over the pad with your back flat.

Once everything is tight, extend up to a point parallel to the floor (going too far up will incorporate more hamstring than lower back). Hold at the top for a second and then repeat as necessary.

Focus on squeezing your butt and keep your back tight throughout (don’t round it). Once you start getting stronger, add some weight or bands to really crank up the intensity.

Here’s an interesting variation involving a resistance band:

Sample Back Day Routines


*Avoid highly technical lifts.

Lat Thickness –Cable Rows. Add weight each set. 3 total work sets at your heaviest weight for 8-12 reps. Do a final widowmaker set after completing three work sets.

Lat Width – Pulldowns. Do 3 sets of 12 here. See the video on the exact form.

Rhomboids – Bent Over Kettlebell Rows. 3 sets of 8-10. Flex hard at top and squeeze middle back.

Spinal Erectors – Hyperextensions – Do 3 sets of 20


Lat Thickness – 1.5 Rep T-Bar Rows. Add weight each set. 3 total work sets at your heaviest weight for 8-12 reps.

Lat Width – Reeves Rows. Do 4 sets of 12 here. See the video on the exact form.

Lat Width 2 – J Rope Pulls. Do 3 sets of 12 here.

Rhomboids – Bent Over Kettlebell Rows. 3 sets of 8-10. Flex hard at top and squeeze middle back.

Spinal Erectors – Banded hyperextensions – Do 3 sets of 20

(Optional) Traps – Dumbbell shrugs –On these you are going to shrug the weight up and hold it for a 2 second count at the top. 3 sets of 12.

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Mitch Calvert is a transformation coach for men like his former self with worse genetics than John Goodman.

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