Jusup Wilkosz – Lat and Back Workout

Front pull-ups

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Pull-ups are important for the development of the back muscles. Some bodybuilders are of the opinion that nothing else needs to be trained for the back except this exercise. But that is not quite right. If one performs the pull-ups so that the chin touches the bar, one works the entire back. Weights to fix the hips do not bring much more than some extra repetitions. Everyone should choose the most comfortable grip. Arnold Schwarzenegger chooses a wide grip, while Mike Mentzer prefers a closer grip.

Pull-ups to the neck

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If you bend your head forward and then pull yourself up so that the bar touches the hairline, you’ll exercise mainly the upper part of the back. By pulling up, the inner muscle strands are worked well and the back looks massive. This exercise can be performed as an introduction to back training, or as a >last touch<. While pulling yourself up, you exhale. If you manage 20 or more repetitions, you are in good condition.

Latissimus – Pulling machine

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Those who have too much difficulty with pull-ups can practice on the pulling machine. This exercise has the same training effect on the muscles. A small advantage may be that you can choose your training weight in a time-saving way, no matter if it is smaller or larger than your body weight. The bar can be pulled towards the chest or neck. This exercise is especially preferred by women.

Rowing with the barbell

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Without doubt the best mass exercise for back and latissimus. The back can be trained with heavy weights. Whoever does not perform this exercise correctly can damage his spine. You don’t just let the dumbbell >drive down<, you have to perform a smooth movement. The load on the lower vertebrae is enormous when you train with momentu. Exhale when lifting the dumbbell. During the entire movement you should have a hollow back to protect the spine.

Rowing with the barbell

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On this photo you can see the correct position better. In order to achieve a greater stretching, I stand on a piece of wood. The dumbbell is held in shoulder width. The effectiveness of this exercise can be increased by occasionally changing the grip width. If you do not have any wood available, you can stand on a bench. In this case not much weight is used. It must be emphasized that barbell rowing is also the most dangerous back exercise if it is not performed correctly.

Rowing with dumbbells

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If you want to save your back, you can also do the rowing exercise with dumbbells. The load on the spine is not so great with this exercise with light weights. The latissimus can be stretched very far. This exercise makes you sweat a lot, because it takes twice as long for 10 repetitions per arm as for 10 with barbell rowing. Some bodybuilders perform the exercise in such a way that they only rest their hand on the bench. Both legs then remain on the ground.

If you don’t have a bench available, you can rest the forearm of your right hand on your right thigh to exercise the left side and vice versa.

Cable pulling

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The pulling exercise on the cable is known to many athletes. Most bodybuilders simply pull the cable to the stomach. In this way, the latissimus is trained well, not so much the internal back muscles.

To get the best out of this exercise, the handles should be led in a wide arc to the abdomen. In this way you achieve that not only the latissimus does the work. A round, full back musculature is achieved. While pulling the cable to the belly, one breathes out.

Unfortunately not every pulling machine is suitable for this exercise. Often the cable is too short. Since this is not a mass exercise, a larger number of repetitions is appropriate.

T-Bar rowing
In the past, bodybuilders had to come up with new exercises because there was hardly any training equipment available. Someone came up with the idea of lifting a barbell at one end to train the back. That was the beginning of the t-rowing exercise. Today, people use the rowing machine for this.

The bar is often too short because equipment manufacturers want to save on material. The lower back is especially strained by this. The way I do the exercise here, I don’t need to worry about the strain. The machine on which I perform the exercise is optimally developed.

The posture is extremely important. The back must not be bent too much. Under no circumstances should the dumbbell be lowered with a jerk. This exercise was already one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most popular back exercises.

Pulling cables with one hand

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If you have done several hard mass exercises, you should choose the one-armed cable pulling as the final exercise. Heavy weights are not appropriate here. The biceps works harder in this exercise than in the rowing exercises. However, you achieve an excellent stretching for the latissimus. When pulling up to the body, you exhale. One-arm rowing on a cable is not nearly as effective as barbell rowing, but it is not as strenuous.


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Deadlift is a good back exercise, it also strengthens the whole upper body and even the leg muscles. Whoever has the opportunity to observe Powerlifters in competition will notice that those of them who are good squatter usually achieve good results in deadlift. Also with this exercise you should go into a slight hollow back. The arms remain stretched out during the whole movement. You warm up with a light weight. With every further set the weight is increased a little. This way you can protect yourself from injuries.

Cable Cross

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Unfortunately not every studio has this pulling device. This exercise trains the upper back very well. The arms are almost stretched out. The back shoulder is also trained. Since it is not a mass exercise, the exercise is performed with light weights. With a well-proportioned load you will achieve better results with this exercise than with >ton weights<. This exercise can also be performed with dumbbells.

My own training in preparation for the Mr. Olympia 

Mass build-up – Phase 1 Sets x Reps
Wide Lat Pulling 5 x 8
Cable-Rowing 5 x 8
Bent Rowing 5 x 8 
Deadlift 5 x 8
Working on details/Form building – Phase 2  
Lat pull with parallel handle 4 x 12
Cable Rowing 4 x 12
Bent Rowing 4 x 12
Deadlift 4 x 12
Definition – Phase 3  
Lat pull with parallel handle 3 x 15
Cable Rowing 3 x 15
Bent Rowing 3 x 15
Deadlift 3 x 15
Pullover 2 x 15

Question and answer to some of the most popular questions:
Question: In your experience, what are the most important points to consider for optimal development of the back muscles?

Jusup: When training the back muscles, it is important to make sure that you fall slightly into the hollow back during movement. The easiest way to achieve this is to push out the chest.

Question: What else is decisive for the execution of the exercises?

Jusup: Beginners as well as advanced students often complain about strong tiredness in the arms after intensive training. Mostly this can be explained by incorrect execution of the movements. The weight must first be pulled from the shoulders, not by the strength of the biceps. The shoulder must of course be very flexible. When pulling the lat, for example, the latissimus must be stretched so much that the head almost disappears between the shoulders. When rowing tightly while sitting at the machine, each repetition begins with the shoulder rolling backwards.

If you can not go further then you are allowed to use your arms.

Question: Another important muscle group of the back is the back extensor. Do you attach as much importance to them during training as you do to the latissimus?

Jusup: If you have weak back extensors, you will have difficulty doing many exercises, such as squats or barbell curl. A very good exercise to fight against these weaknesses are hyperextensions. But even with this seemingly easy exercise there are some things to consider. For example, it is very important not to go beyond the horizontal when going up to avoid compression of the spine. For this reason, the name of this exercise (literally overstretching) is actually a dangerous mislead. The best thing to do is to perform the movement as if you wanted to grab something, i.e. to swing forward. At the same time the abdominal muscles are stretched.

Question: Do you think that you can achieve more with one-armed rowing than with barbell rowing?

Answer: I am only in favour of one-armed rowing if the weight load is not too high. I don’t think it’s suitable for building up mass, because the spine is under a lot of strain if you don’t do the exercise 100% correctly. From this point of view I think barbell rowing or rowing in a sitting position is the more suitable exercise.

Question: A word about stretching exercises?

Answer: Of course the back muscles must also be stretched after training. In latissimus this is done, for example, by stretching the arms crosswise forward or by pulling on a bar. For the back stretchers, the good old trunk bend is just right. When stretching, it is important not to bounce, but rather to stay in the final position for a few seconds. But back to the training again.

If you find yourself with a rounded back when doing the exercises, you should definitely try using light weights first.

Posing is not only important for competitive athletes: beginners can also benefit greatly from it. It improves the muscle structure and hardness and should be done after the actual training. For this you do not necessarily have to >build up< in front of the mirror. It is sufficient to tense the trained muscles several times for a few seconds. But posing in front of the mirror also has its value: 

You become self-confident. What can give you greater motivation, like progress that you can measure with your eyes? How this success is judged by the spectators can be decisive for the future. With certainty you know that you are on the right track.

Tips for beginners and slightly advanced

An important point, which is often underestimated, is the correct breathing during a set. As a rule of thumb: exhale while pushing or pulling; inhale while leaving your weight in the starting position. Never hold your breath during an exercise. Firstly, your body will not be supplied with oxygen, which can force you to give up prematurely, and secondly, your blood pressure can rise to dizzying heights, which can lead to unconsciousness.

Set and repetition number
Each person reacts somewhat differently to the training. This may not even depend so much on his physiology as on his mentality. Some people train slowly and concentrated and succeed, while others train rather aggressively. It is the same with the number of sets and repetitions. You have to notice yourself when you have enough.

For the beginner, who does not know his body, this is quite difficult, but for him it is only important to get used to the exercises and to become stronger. That is why the old rule 3 times 8, i.e. 3 sets of 8 repetitions, can easily be applied here. Two exercises per part of the body should be enough; that would be a total of 6 sets per part of the body. Later you can do up to four exercises of 5 sets each; the number of repetitions should then be between 5 and 12. I have trained with many world-class athletes and have found that almost all of them achieved great success at the beginning of their career with few repetitions and only increased the number of repetitions as their muscle mass increased. What has brought success to athletes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney, Al Beckles and me can certainly help you.

Translated from Jusup’s booklet: Latis Rücken (1986)

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