Sunday, September 16, 2018

Back Work for Bulk - John McCallum

Originally Published in This Issue (March 1969) 

It's too bad musclemen don't have eyes in the back of their head, They'd look goofy, but it'd probably result in better back development. 

I was talking to a Mr. America not too long ago. We were discussing the relative scarcity of good back pictures in the muscle magazines. I asked him why. 

"The guys aren't good at back poses," he said. "Not like the front stuff." 

"Yeah, but why?" I asked him.

"Because they don't practice them as much," he said. "They don't particularly like doing them." 

"That seems odd." 

"Not really," he said. "I don't like doing back poses either." 

"Have you got a reason?" I asked him.

"Certainly," he said. "The best reason in the world." 


He yawned. "Simple," he said. "I can't see myself in the mirror." 

Your back is a vital area. It's the keystone of power and vitality. But it's something else as well, something often overlooked by bodybuilders seeking bulk. It's an area that'll provide you with fast weight gains. Back specialization, at the proper time in your training career, can trigger 20 or 30 pounds of solid muscle for you. 

Back exercises, like squats, have a growing effect on the rest of your body. Your lower back, in fact, may well determine the degree of strength and development you eventually reach. 

That point is important. Remember it, because we'll be coming back to it. Back exercises, properly performed, have an overall growth effect on your body. Back exercises will stimulate weight gains and enormous power.

Let's look at Olympic lifters for just a moment. As a group, they're the most powerful men on the face of the earth. No other athlete can hope to compete with a lifter in any contest of strength and speed. Olympic lifters work at a form of back specialization practically all the time. Their programs are riddled with such back exercises as cleans. snatches, high pulls, power cleans, deadlifts, and so on. Back work is essential to building power, and the good lifters know it.

We're going to discuss Olympic lifting in detail some other time. This is primarily a bodybuilding series, however, so we'll confine out back specialization to its effect on bodybuilding for the moment.

Bodybuilders who do a lot of back work, primarily of the power variety, generally possess massive, shapely herculean physiques. They usually possess the power to go with it as well.

Just by way of example, let's take a look at three men with this herculean type of physique. All three are bodybuilders. All three have done a lot of heavy back work in their training. All three are massively developed. All three are incredibly powerful.

The three men I'm referring to are . . .

Maurice Jones  

 Bill Pearl 

Reg Park

You'll note that none of the three are youngsters [written in '69. Not in the photos shown, but at that time Jones would be around 57, Pearl about 38, and Park roughly 41. Better historians than I could give you more accurate ages for these men in 1969. I'm into the training end of things more than the dates and records, but I do enjoy finding out what little I know about that end of things.]  There are other men who would serve as examples. I picked Jones, Pearl, and Park because they happen to be favorites of mine.

The first man, Maurice Jones, reached his peak about 30 years ago. 

More here
Van BC Represent! 
I gotta say I love living here.

Maury, as he's called, is in his middle fifties now, and he still looks incredible. When Maury hit his prime he weighed around 240 at 5'8". He had muscular arms or around 19" way back when 16 was considered unusual. His chest measured 52" when 40 was looked on as being big. He was using 500 in the squat when 250 was the standard. 

One of Maury's favorite exercises was the stiff-legged deadlift. He ranked it as only second to the squat in importance and value. Maury did his dead lifts standing on a high block so that the bar could go right down to his toes. He worked up to over 400 lbs. for 15 reps, and pulled each rep so high and hard it looked like he was going to clean it.

The dead lifts gave Maury a set of spinal erectors like two boa constrictors and the strength of a superman.

Maury is the epitome of modesty. [a.k.a. A Truly Big Man]. He never sought any publicity, and consequently never received much. He tended, in fact, to avoid the limelight. Maury never entered any contests, and he never had any studio shots taken that I know of. The few photos of him that were ever published were simple backyard snaps. It's unfortunate that today's bodybuilders are denied a good look at a man who was unquestionably one of the greatest strength athletes of all time.

Bill Pearl and Reg Park are similar in many ways. They both came along at about the same time. Both have massive strength and herculean bodies. Both have won every physique trophy worth winning. And both have an army of enthusiastic fans claiming them to be the greatest.

Bill Pearl is one of the few bodybuilders capable of doing a strongman act as well as a posing routine. He has a thick, symmetrical development that has to be seen to be believed. He has done terrific amounts of back work and the results are phenomenal.

Reg Park is a Hercules in every sense of the term. He squats with over 600 and bench presses over 500. He has the kind of strength usually associated with power monsters. 
Unnamed. One of the early Power Monsters.

Park's back is incredible. He advocates prone hyperextensions and power cleans and is a walking, talking example of heavy training . . . 

No one can guarantee that you'll get back development like these men no matter what exercises you do. Anybody who says he can is either kidding you or after your money. You can, however, be guaranteed of improvement. If you work hard enough on the program and eat appropriately you'll get results. You may not look like Jones, Pearl, or Park, but you'll look a lot bigger and better than you do now.

Our back specialization routine will be based on a 6-day per week program. Three days per week will be devoted to heavy back work [puff, pant, wheeze, for the love of God gimme more air], and the remaining three days to a relatively light workout [damn, my whole back is DOMSie] for the rest of your body. We won't be concerned with definition for the moment. 

Our basic purpose here will be to increase your bulk and power as much as possible. 

Again, if you train and eat appropriately, you'll register big gains over your entire body. 


1) Prone Hyperextension: 4 x 12 reps
2) Bodyweight on the bar Breathing Squats: 1 x 20
3) Barbell Row: 5 x 12
4) Chin Behind Neck: 5 x 8
That one always sounds like a contortionist's exhibition. 
Pullup with Exorcist Twist, eh. 
5) Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 3 x 12
6) Power Clean: 5 x 5.

Exercise 1) - 
Hyperextension: Style is more important than the amount of weight you can use. Concentrate the action into your lower back. Drop all the way down, and then arch your back at the top of each rep.

Exercise 2) - 
Bodyweight Breathing Squat: This is designed to increase your chest size and encourage bodyweight gains without overworking your lower back. Use a 2x4 under your heels (or Oly shoes) and keep your back nice and straight. Don't go below parallel. Use puff and pant style. Three huge breaths between EVERY rep. Never use more than the equivalent of your bodyweight on the bar. 

Exercise 3) - 
Barbell Row: This is an old standby. A bentover standby, but one of the best just the same. Use a close grip. Pull the bar to your lower abdomen. Round your back when the bar is at the bottom. Arch it at the top. Don't let the bar touch the floor: do it in dead hang style. [People may say you'll tweak your lower back doing them this way, with the rounding at the bottom. Duh. Use the amount of weight that allows you to do the exercise as described without zoinking those tiny thread-like muscles connected to the lower vertebrae . . . they too can be strengthened and will thank you for it if ever your back suddenly rounds out during a lift. Or not.

Exercise 4) - 
Chin Behind Neck: Take a very wide grip and pull as high as you can. Get a nice stretch at the bottom. Tie weights your waist when you can the full 5 sets of 8 with only your body going up and down and up and down and up and down . . . 

Not to be confused with the Seated Chin Behind Neck
you boob.

Exercise 5) - 
Stiff-Legged Deadlift: Do these standing on a block. When you get strong enough you'll be able to do them standing on a blockhead's head if you so desire, all things willing, InshAllah as they say some days. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT EXERCISE IN THE ROUTINE. Work EXTREMELY HARD at it. You want to build up to at least 150% of bodyweight for the full number of reps to really realize real sensational gains, eh. [Okay, you know the drill. Eventually you're treating these 3 sets of 12 like you would treat sets of high rep squats. That pause at the top when you get all iffy in your head about getting another rep. Sure, people will tell you not to push them too hard, but if you're sane enough to gradually work your way up the poundage ladder to the point where your body has adapted to this kind of stress and know how to harden up your whole body (toes and nose included when you really get there) before said real hard reps things should work out just fine. What's that goddamned word. InshAllah. All Things Willing if you're more of a standalone-without-need-for-group-beliefs Zen kind of guy. Oh pooh pooh, you're part of that group. Jesus, just like the idiots who dive right into prematurely forcing out paused reps with heavy squats and tweak their back. These morons manage to blow out a biceps tendon doing 'hold my beer and watch this concentration curl' reps, don't they. Let's make sure here to give equal time to the dimwits who pile up around a half ton on standing calf raises 'cause they read some absurd Arnold thing about Reg Park doing his with that much and then can't figure out why there's a big swollen lump where their Achilles tendon once was happy. Man, you've gone and destroyed the deep peace in Achilles Valley! Shame. If you can't gradually work up to doing the SDLs this way then don't. Go as far in intensity as you know you can without injuring yourself and for Chrissake take your time getting there. Or not. We'll always have fools who jump the gun with their poundage increments and God knows why. Trying to 'have the sex' with a bystander later if they work out in a commercial gym or 'attempting to impress a house-pet' if they work out at home. Who bloody knows or cares what makes these types tick.] 

Exercise 6) - 
Power Cleans build and coordinate back power better than almost any other exercise. Do them in dead hang style [see above if you still don't know what that means]. Take a good rest between sets and concentrate on lifting some really impressive weights. Your house-pets will be amazed. 

That completes the back program. 

Okay . . . 


1) Calf Raise: 4 x 25 reps
2) Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 x 12 reps
"reps" . . . why is it necessary to put that word in? 
Because every so often I used to get someone asking why there's
so many sets of 3 on the presses if I only wrote 3 x 12. And them 25 sets of calf work! 
3) Cuddle Situp: 2 x 50. That's a lot of cuddling, Bro. 
4) Concentration Curl: 3 x 10
5) Press Behind Neck: 4 x 12.

That'll be about the right amount of work to encourage weight gains without overdoing it and detracting from the hard back stuff. Use fairly heavy weights on these three rest-of-body days, but not your absolute maximums. Concentrate more on the pumping effect rather than the amount of weight you can lift. Get through the program as fast as you can [the opposite of the back days where you want to take the big rests and get those poundages up]. When you're done training forget about it until the next session. 

Since we're after bulk and power, you'll have to pay special attention to your diet. Remember that you won't gain unless you eat the right foods and plenty of them. [Take another look at Unnamed Early Power Monster up there. Do you really think he was anally counting calories and laying out an excel diet plan? Anally counting calories. Those three word-symbols could really lead a guy to some strange mental images. Eat lots. Get in the 'good' foods and then if you still have room add in some of the fun foods after. This is not a routine that's meant to 'harden' you up or get you all svelte and elegant looking under that bright bathroom mirror lighting when you take those ridiculous selfies to post online for your ambiguously gay Bros who don't yet realize they may possibly be attracted, okay.]  

Stay on the program for a full two months. You'll be an entirely different man when you finish.
A man with love handles and a tweaked low back. 

Sorry for the add-ons. 

Or not. 

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