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Build a barn door back with this high-yield routine

Goal: Strength, Size
Bodyparts: Back (outer lats)

Your back can be one of the hardest muscle groups to train, mainly because you can't train it with the benefit of mirrors. And without visual cues to encourage peak contraction and proper range of motion, making the proper mind-muscle connection can be difficult. But that's not the only cause for stagnant backs. As with many other bodyparts, exercise selection -- or rather, exercise omission -- can be a huge limiting factor as well. With the back, the move that is summarily dismissed as useful is the pull-up. But why?

"The pullup is an oft neglected exercise for building width on the back," says Taylor Simon, MSc, BA, CSCS, co-director of Taylored Fitness in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. "I have never been sure why as it is one of the best mass builders out there. Instead, guys tend to hit the lat pulldown machine or head over the Hammer Strength versions."

In other words, it comes down to comfort and familiarity. But no one ever said that constructing a wide, sickly-detailed back would be fun, so it's important to adopt a willingness to suffer through some awkwardness, pain and frustration if it means new growth.

"I believe that the pull-up is far superior to building lat width and muscle density," says Simon. "Why? It's harder. Plain and simple. There is no body English to assist." Simon adds that the backwards lean of lazy lat pullers takes the focus off of the lats and begins to rely more on the middle back and biceps to complete the pull.

"What you will also see on the lat pulldown is guys leaning back farther and farther as they get the bar closer to their chests. This is changing the angle of the force and allowing the rhomboids and other mid back muscles to help out meaning less work for the lats. This doesn't happen during pullups as the body has to stay more vertical. Lats only!"


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In other words, pull-ups allow for better, deep-fiber, top-to-bottom recruitment of the lats, which provides that wide, tapered look you want. But which grip is best? Arnold used to say that wider grips provide wider lats but conventional wisdom and common sense say that's not entirely true.

"If you want to focus on back width, keep your hands outside shoulder width but not so far that you limit range of motion," says Simon. "Ideally you will get your hands as wide as possible while still allowing you to get your chest to the bar at the top of the movement. Yes, you need to get this high. If you go too wide you will limit the range and not fully work the lats."

To start building wide, hefty lats, step out of your comfort zone and begin your back workouts with pull-ups. This will give your lats strong, north-to-south work when they are fresh. Follow this move with a variety of other movements, as listed, to encourage total back development.

Exercise Sets / Reps
4 / 12*
Barbell row
4 / 12
One-arm dumbbell row
3 / 10
Dumbbell pullover
4 / 12

* If you can complete 12 reps easily, use a weight belt to add resistance.
Taylor Simon, MSc, BA, CSCS, is co-director of Taylored Training Inc. in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. For more training advice from Taylor, visit .