A Bigger, Wider Upper Back After One Workout?


Have you ever had those workouts where you SWEAR you grew overnight, literally from one workout? Where your muscles are so sore the next day that every time you so much as twitch, let alone get up and walk across the room, you FEEL it? It’s that deep muscle soreness – way down into the deepest fibers that had been asleep for years. And your muscles feel heavy. Not tired heavy, but “good heavy” – as in still pumped, and heavy under the sheer weight of the muscle mass… just sort of hanging… as if you had Ronnie Coleman’s lats. Yeah that’s it. Yes, all the serious bodybuilders know exactly what I’m talking about. Those non-bodybuilders who happened to surf onto this page by accident or are reading this out of curiosity are just scratching their heads. Blank stare. Deer in headlights. But we in the bodybuilding brotherhood (and sisterhood), we know. Well, this was one of those workouts. I’ve been a little delinquent in my blog entries, but I knew I HAD to post this one so you could see what causes such “overnight growth.”


A1 Close Grip Lat Pulldown
3 light warm up sets
Set 1: 220 lbs X 12 reps
Set 2: 230 lbs X 11 reps
Set 3: 240 lbs X 8 reps
Set 4: 250 lbs X 6 reps slow, strict, drop to 150 lbs X 10 reps slow, then 8 more reps fast
B1 Bent Over Barbell Row In Smith Machine
1 warm up set
Set 1: 195 lbs X 15 reps, very wide pronated (overhand) grip
Set 2: 215 lbs X 12 reps X medium pronated grip
Set 3 X 235 lbs X 9 reps X supinated (reverse) grip
Set 4: X 245 lbs X 6 reps supinated grip, drop to 195 X 6 reps medium pronated grip, drop to 145 lbs X 9 reps wide pronated grip
C1 Seated cable Row
3 sets X 200 lbs X 12, 11, 9, 8 reps, strict 4122 tempo (increase tempo slightly on last few reps)
superset to
C2 Dumbbell Cross Bench Pullover
3 sets X 80 lbs X 12, 12, 10 reps, strict X 4120 tempo


A1 Three-way dumbbell shrugs
Part a: 10 reps with dumbbells behind back
Part b: 10 reps with dumbbells at sides, body vertical
Part c: 10 reps with dumbbells in front
3 sets


A1: Low Back Extension
3 sets X 25 lb X 15, 12, 10 reps (plate held behind head)

Note: 4-point tempo prescriptions are as follows:
2010 tempo =
2 = negative/eccentric action
0 = pause in stretch position
1 = positive/concentric action
0 = pause in contracted position

Tempo is noted where it is important to achieve a desired effect. When no tempo is noted, reps are simply “controlled”, (not fast, not slow – usually 2010 or 3020)

Workout Commentary

Some days, everything just clicks, physically and mentally. Physically the energy is high. The strength is up. Mentally, you are psyched. You are in the zone… in the “cocoon of concentration.” Every workout can be a good workout, but sometimes you have an unexpectedly great one. This one was great.

I started out with close grip pulldowns. After a few light warm up sets, the first work set was 220 lbs for a pretty easy 12. It wasn’t anywhere near failure, but I stopped at 12 because although I train to failure often, I don’t like to hit every set to failure. Set two was 230 lbs for 11 reps. Set three was 240 lbs for 9 reps. Then it was the full stack 250 lbs on the grand finale.

Set four was a drop set with tempo change. This is one of more than one hundred techniques I have used, refined, named, catalogued, written down and will soon be releasing in the first of my Bodybuilding Secrets training course series. Try this. Then imagine how much muscle you could build if you had 100 techniques that worked just as well or better.

Here’s how it works:

With the full stack at 250 I hit 6 reps in semi strict form, i.e., I pulled down with a little bit of momentum, not totally strict, but then did a very slow and controlled tempo on the negative.

After 6 reps like that, I immediately pulled the pin and set the weight on 150 lbs and continued for 10, very slow and strict reps. After 10 reps, which was not failure but close to it, I increased the tempo to a piston-like up and down (1010) tempo with a little bit of cheat, which is a set extension technique that allows you to continue a set by increasing your tempo when you approach failure after a slower, stricter tempo, and then I cranked out 8 more reps.

Next it was time for barbell rows. Today I did these in the smith machine. I vary my free weight rowing movements often, switching between barbell rows, dumbbell rows and smith machine rows. I like the smith machine at particular times, because it allows me to position my body in a way that keeps stress off my lower back, which incidentally, at the same time allows me to hit a slightly different area than the free weight barbell rows.

On the rows, I used a different grip on each set – wide grip on first set, then medium grip, then a reverse (supinated) grip on the third set. The final set was a drop set.

Most people would have been completely smoked at this point, but I wasn’t done yet. It was onward to the seated cable row.

At this point, with the heavier stuff out of the way, I used a moderate poundage on the cable rows – 200 lbs – and performed these very strict, emphasizing a slow four second negative, taking a good stretch, then pulling and holding the squeeze in the contracted position. It got more difficult to maintain this tempo at the end of the set, so the tempo picked up in speed to complete the last few reps.

After each set of rows, I had an 80 lb dumbbell nearby, and with as close to zero rest as possible, I moved right into cross bench dumbbell pullovers. These were performed very strictly.

Here is a tip on pullovers that will get you twice the results:

As you lower the dumbbell back behind your head, your natural inclination will be for your hips to rise. Why? Because the average (repeat, average), human seeks the path of least resistance, consciously, and it also seems to just happen automatically if you don’t think about it either way (because better form equals more burn and pain in the muscle and the inclination is to stay out of the pain, therefore, form breaks down to avoid pain and make it easier).

Instead, as you lower the weight behind your head (the negative or eccentric portion of the rep), DROP YOUR HIPS DOWN. This will increase the stretch on the lats, and as the exercise physiologists tell us, when you pre stretch the muscle, the muscle contracts with greater force in the concentric action that follows.

I also believe there is additional value by working loaded stretches for lat exercises in particular, but you do have to use caution on exercises like dumbbell pullovers. If you’re working the stretch on this exercise, that is no time to go heavy because this movement can put strain on the shoulder joint area.

You see the videos like “Battle For The Olympia” where the pros do dumbbell pullovers with 120’s, 140’s, 150 lb dumbbells. Well, those are the pros, and you have no idea what kind of shape their shoulders are in. Be careful. There is a risk to benefit ratio of every exercise.

Well, my lats were COOKED from top to bottom after that – this was a little more volume than usual, but I wasn’t quite finished.

TRAPS were next!

This was a real brief and intense trap workout – an old standby – three way dumbbell shrugs. Part A is 10 reps with dumbbells behind the back. Part B is 10 reps with dumbbells at sides and body perfectly vertical (this is the toughest part because it is the strictest variation on the dumbbell shrug). Part C was dumbbell shrugs in front. This combo can be done with moderate weights in the 10 rep range as I did today, or it works well with heavier weights in lower rep ranges too. Experiment with it – this is a killer sequence.

Obviously on these tri-setted shrugs, you are not going to failure or using a 10 rep max on the first part, or you would not be able to continue for 10 more and then 10 more.

I finished up the session with low back extensions, holding a 25 lb plate behind my head. Many people hold the plate on their chest and that works well, but holding resistance behind the head is a VERY significant progression. Even holding your hands behind your head makes the exercise much harder and demands more from your low back extensors and spinal stabilizers.

On that note, let me leave you with some sage advice: Always seek the path of maximum stimulation, not the path of least resistance. Bodybuilding is stimulating muscle tissue, it is not about lifting the most weight, finishing a set or “getting through” a certain number of reps.

Until next time, train hard and expect success all-ways.

Hey wait… before you run to the gym to try this stuff and add some BACK MASS of your own…

One more thing…

A very good friend of mine, Pete siegel, has just finished his new program on the mental aspect of bodybuilding. I promise I will write a complete review and tell you more about Pete in a future blog, but if you’re serious about “getting in the zone” mentally to make every workout achieve maximum stimulation, you will want to take a look at this. Pete has been the “mind coach” for Tom Platz, Lee Haney, Lee Priest, Boyer Coe, Mike Christian and, well, just about every pro bodybuilder out there.

His new book is endorsed by Joe Weider and the forward was written by BIG Gunter Shlierkamp. Take a look, but only if you’re interested in harnessing the 90% of your brain power that you aren’t using. This is not an exercise manual – it’s bodybuilding psychology and mind power applied for better results from the workouts you’re already doing.


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Comments on A Bigger, Wider Upper Back After One Workout? Leave a Comment

March 27, 2006

Steven Wilkins @ 8:56 pm #

Hi Tom,
Bodybuilding is really more mental focus than just slinging around weights. I often get in the gym and pace around for a second just to visualize what I am there for and what I want to accomplish. You gotta have that Ronnie Coleman “Ain’t nothin but a peanut!” mentality and just visualize that muscle you are working growing with each hard earned rep. Then when you leave you don’t have to wonder to yourself “was it a good workout or could I have done better” because you know that you were absolutely connected to what you were doing. Then if it was leg day, you get a great confirmation the next morning when your legs feel officially “hobbled”! Great blog.

Tiago @ 9:35 pm #

How much are you planning to sell your Bodybuilding secrets training course when yuo release it? Will it teach you how to build muscle like natural bodybuilders do? I can’t wait.

March 28, 2006

Soje @ 1:46 pm #

Hi Tom,
Great workout on the back. You are using many of the combos I use in my training. Drop sets and superset in combo are awesome when you don’t have a training partner.
Keep up the good spirit and stay with those controlled weights 😉
Best regards Soje

March 29, 2006

Moe @ 5:53 pm #

WOOHOO! Looks like a GREAT routine, THANKS!!
Oh and thanks for the (sisterhood) mentions *wink*

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