Franco Columbu is one of the most amazing bodybuilders the sport has ever seen. Not only is he the best-built short man of all time -- the only man under 5'5" ever to win the Mr. Olympia -- but he won powerlifting and weightlifting championships in Europe as well. He also competed as a boxer, fighting one year as an amateur and two as a professional, earning a record of 44 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws, including 25 knockouts, and becoming the Italian boxing champion.
Columbu's strength is legendary. He bench pressed 480 and squatted 575 at 180 pounds. Once a a special strength display at a physique contest I saw deadlift 700 for 3 reps. The breadth of his back was exceeded only by the enormity of its power.
Here, in his own words, is what Franco had to say about upper-back training.
- Gene Mozee
Having trained in gyms all over the world, I've seen hundreds of guys who look very good from the front but terrible from the back. This appalling two-dimensional look often occurs because you can't see your back while training it. When working the pecs, delts, abs, legs and arms, you see those muscles bulging and blowing up right in front of your eyes. That makes you blast the areas even harder as you try to pump them to the maximum. It's more difficult to focus your attention and full concentration on the back because you can't see the striations rippling through the muscles as they pump up -- out of sight, out of mind. That can easily result in less enthusiasm for back training.
Unless you have a special double mirror that enables you to view your back as you work it, there's just no way to evaluate the merits of your exercises and training techniques. My trick is to have photos taken of my back every three weeks in the same poses and under the same lighting conditions. That way I can see if I'm making progress.
My idea of a great back is one in which the lats start from the lower attachments near the hips and curve up in a sweep to the shoulder girdle like the wings of a manta ray. Very few bodybuilders develop the lower lat area at the bottom, and as a result most exhibit high lat development, in which their lats seem to start midway up the back. While many of them do have impressive backs, not all of the muscle has been developed, and in my opinion that is a flaw. It also indicates a weakness that can prevent bodybuilders from realizing the full power potential of their back.
Complete back development should also include ridges of muscle that start at the spine and bulge outward in a thick mass across the total expanse of the back. Reg Park, Bill Pearl, and my former training partner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, all possess lats that are long, wide and thick, with fabulous muscle density and incredible power. Marvin Eder, a legendary bodybuilder of the 1950s, displayed one of the greatest examples of complete back development. His fabulous wings started at his hips, curving wide and thick to blend with sensational deltoids and combining with deep rippling cuts that resembled a swarm of snakes swimming in a sea of vascular striations. Not bad writing for an English-second language guy here, eh. No worries. What a back! Eder had the power to go with all that muscle, having cleaned and standing pressed 365 pounds at a bodyweight of 196 (at the time it exceeded the world record by 47 pounds).
Now, I want to talk about what you can do to put some impressive slabs of muscle on your back, specifically your upper back. First, however, I want to mention the importance of proper attitude. I've observed that many fellows are bewildered by the fact that while others are able to make spectacular gains with a certain training routine, nothing happens for them. From watching different men train at the various gyms where I've worked out, I'd say the problem lies in the mind. Many guys merely go through the exercises without involving their minds.
If you want to get the most benefit from your workouts, you must concentrate on each repetition. Visualize the muscles becoming larger and stronger. Stick to good exercise style, doing a full-range movement on each and every repetition, feeling the exercise from start to finish. Keep your mind on the job, and your muscles will grow.
The following program is designed to build a powerful and rugged back, featuring wide, sweeping lats that taper dramatically to the waist. It will also develop deep ridges of muscle that will add depth and thickness, making your back look 100% more impressive!
Here are the exercises:
Wide Grip Chins. These prepare the back for the heavy work to follow. They're great for adding width to your upper back and shoulders, and they give the outer portion of the lats a great pump. Using a wide grip, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. Lower slowly and give your lats a good stretch on the way down. Do 6 sets of 10-15 reps, resting no more than 45-60 seconds between sets.
Heavy V-Bar Rows. This exercise adds depth and thickness to the whole back, and it's great for the lower lats as well. You use a special gripping device and load one end of the bar with several heavy barbell plates [T-bar row]. Stand on a 4-inch block so you get a full stretch when you lower the bar. Pull up the bar until the plates touch your chest. Lower and repeat for 10 reps. Keep your back flat in the bentover position throughout the exercise. If you don't have a V-Bar handle, grip the end of the bar, next to the inside plates, with both hands. Use as much weight as you can handle, but always let your back muscles do the work. 4 sets will gorge your back with blood for a good growth pump.
Seated Cable Rows. These add thickness to your upper back, and they're terrific for bringing out the teres major muscles, which really helps in widening the back. Lean slightly forward at the start, then straighten your back as you pull the cable handles to your chest, Return to the starting position -- being sure to get a full stretch -- and repeat for 10 reps. Pile on the poundage for 4 sets.
One Arm Dumbbell Rows. This exercise is excellent for adding a full sweep to the lats, especially the lower portion. Grasp a heavy dumbbell in your right hand while bending forward at the waist. Place your left hand on a bench for greater stability. Hold the dumbbell at arm's length -- not touching the floor -- over your left foot. Pull the dumbbell upward until it touches the right side of your waist. Lower slowly, getting a full stretch, and repeat for 10 reps. Now switch to the other hand for 10 reps.This exercise should be supersetted with the next for 3 sets . . .
Close Grip Chins. This is a great movement for making your lats look fully developed in front poses. It also builder the serratus anterior muscles, which makes for a more polished appearance. Using a triangular shaped handle, pull your body up until your chest touches your hands. Lower slowly until your arms are straight. Continue for 3 sets of 10, supersetting with one arm dumbbell rows. Be sure to pull your body up in a smooth motion by the strength and force of your lats only. Don't turn it into an arm movement. Use your lats all the way.
This upper back program works the entire area thoroughly from every angle, bringing new growth. Here is the complete routine:
Wide Grip Chins, 6 x 10-15
T-Bar Rows, 4 x 10
Seated Cable Rows, 4 x 10
One Arm Cable Rows, 3 x 10
Close Grip Chins, 3 x 10
Beginners should stay with a basic program, performing just one exercise for upper back and one for lower back, for at least six months, as follows:
Bentover Rows (or lat pulldowns), 3 x 10
Stiff Legged Deadlifts, 3 x 10
Once you have at least six months of steady training under your belt you can move up to the following upper back workout:
Wide Grip Chins, 3 x 10
Bentover Rows, 3 x 10-15
Lat Pulldowns, 3 x 10-15
10 Back Training Tips
1) When specializing on the upper back, train it first in your workout, when your energy and recuperative powers are greatest.
2) Use a split system for best results. I've found that working my back three times a week and the other bodyparts twice is very effective for fast gains.
3) Use the rapid-set system: Rest as little as possible between sets to keep your muscles warm and fully pumped. Keep reducing the rest period between sets until you're pausing only 30-60 seconds on most exercises and not stopping at all between the supersetted exercises.
4) Stay with this program for at least two months to get the full benefit.
5) Concentrate completely on each rep and make sure you feel the movement every inch of the way. Try to forcibly stretch your lats on both the ascending and descending parts of every repetition.
6) Constantly try to add more weight to each exercise to force the muscles to work to the maximum, but always use good form and do full-range movements.
7) Don't skip workouts -- for any reason -- unless you are ill. Hit and miss training results in zero progress.
8) If possible, train with a partner. It isn't necessary, of course, but the friendly competition and greater enthusiasm really help you to train with maximum intensity.
9) Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night to promote growth and allow you to fully recuperate from your training. Also, make sure your diet contains adequate high-energy and high-protein foods. You need the proper fuel to power your workouts and facilitate muscle growth, so don't skip meals.
10) ENJOY YOUR LIFTING!