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back training basics

Brian’s Big Back: The Back Training Basics of New Pro Brian Chamberlain

Brian Chamberlain won the 2004 IFBB North American Championships and turned pro when the head judge said, “Gentleman, please turn to the rear.” It was, as the phrase goes, “lights out.” Why? Because Brian has a very wide, densely muscled back that simply outclassed the other competitors in the rear double-bicep and rear lat spread poses. But, it wasn’t always that way.

“Width came pretty quick and easy for me. But, my lower lat area was much slower to respond. I had to re-evaluate the way I was training and put some movements into my workout that would fill in that area and give me more density. A wide, shallow back doesn’t look too impressive on stage, so bringing that density  and separation in were very, very important for me.”

Well, goal accomplished. When you look at the density in Brian’s back now, it’s hard to imagine that it was ever missing much. He has thickness to spare with the kind of muscle that looks like it has taken numerous beatings with heavy weight. And it has. But, Brian has balanced that heavy work with a few other movements to round out his development. And, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that Brian’s development is the result of a much higher rep pattern than most bodybuilders use. Hey, it works for Brian, maybe it will work for you!



Brian alternates between these two movements. Given that he trains back once per week, he will deadlift to start the workout one week, then begin his next back session with chins. Here’s how he performs each movement.


Brian begins his deadlifts by taking a shoulder-width grip on the bar. His feet point straight forward and his shins are a few inches from the bar. When he bends down and lower his hips to start the exercise, his shins will touch the bar. Once he begins the pull upward, the bar travels very close to his leg and shin. As Brian stands up with the weight, his hips and shoulders rise at the same time until he is in the full standing position. From there, Brian will return the bar to the floor in a controlled fashion before starting the next rep. He will do four total sets of 20, 15, 10 and 10 reps.

“Deadlifts are an incredibly valuable exercise for me. Not only have they contributed to my overall back and trap development, but I’ve had great results in my hamstring and glute area since I started doing them as well.”


back training basics

Brian starts his chins with a grip on the bar that is slightly wider than shoulder-width. From the hanging position, he will pull himself up as high as possible, trying to bring his chest as close to the bar as he can. He will also focus on pulling his elbows as far down as his body will allow and strongly contracting the muscles of the back before lowering his body to the hanging position in a controlled fashion. He is careful not to swing or use momentum when he doing chins. Brian will do three sets of chins, weighted, of 20, 15 and 10 reps.


Brian is a firm believer in the value of heavy bent over rowing movements and makes sure to include one in every back workout. Two of his favorites are T-Bar Rows and Bent Over Barbell Rows.

“It is critical to include a basic heavy rowing movement if you expect to have density in the back, not just width. These movements are the best there are. When you look at the list of champs, like Dorian and Ronnie, who swear by them, it’s tough to go wrong. Unlike the deads and chins, I don’t alternate these movements on a weekly schedule. Instead, I choose which exercise I’m going to do based on how I feel, by instinct. Either way, I’ll do three sets of 20, 15 and 10 reps.”

Here’s how he performs each movement.


Brian will bend to the point where his upper body is a tad higher than parallel to the ground. From this position, he will pull the bar into his waist, making sure not to move his upper body so that the only thing that moves is his arms. He also makes sure to pull his elbows as far back as he can on every rep. If the reps are shortened, Brian advises that your back muscles will barely come into play and you won’t develop the kind of muscle you are looking for.


When he chooses T-bars, Brian begins by straddling the bar and bending forward until his torso is close to parallel with the floor. Keeping his knees slightly bent, Brian grabs the T-Bar attachment and pulls the weight into his torso with much the same form as his barbell rows described above.


back training basics

Brian’s next movement sees him moving over to the cable pulldown machine. Now that he has finished with his heavy density movements, he does close grip pulldowns to the front using a V-bar attachment.

“I find that these hit me in the center of my back, from just underneath the trap to the lower lat area as well as the lower lat area."

Brian will take a seated position in the machine that allows him to arch his back, keeping his chest high. Once in the proper position, he will pull the bar down to his mid-chest, making sure to bring his elbows down as low as his body will allow.

“I think that this exaggerated pulling my elbows as low as possible that I get that stimulation in my lower lat that a lot of people miss out on with this exercise. I try to keep my upper body as stationary as possible. The only thing that moves is my arms. And I don’t swing back and forth. Everything is very controlled and strict.”

Brian will do three sets of 20, 15 and 10 reps before moving on to his last movement.


Brian finishes his back workout with Dumbbell Pullovers. However, unlike a lot of bodybuilders who do them lying across a flat bench, Brian prefers to do them lying normally on the bench.

“I feel that I have much better support for my lower back and I’m able to get more out of the movement. I will grab a dumbbell with both hands and pull from a fully outstretched position behind my head to a point only about ¾ of the way up. By doing it this way I will keep greater tension on the muscles of my back throughout the entire range of motion. I would just advise people to be careful to really control the weight, especially when you are bringing the weight down. If you lose control of the weight or go too fast, you can really do a number on your rotator cuff and sustain an injury. Don’t try to max out on your poundage here either. This is really a ‘feeling’ type of movement, not a heavy basic like deadlifts.”

Brian does three sets of 20, 15 and 10 reps to complete the workout.


As Brian gets ready to start his career in the pros, he is cautiously optimistic.

“I have a lot of respect for all the guys who are competing at the pro level. I think I can do pretty well, but I’m realistic as well. One step at a time. I’m going to shoot for the Toronto Pro show this year and see how I match up.”

One thing is for sure, Brian’s back will help his future success on stage. Give his ideas a try and it just might do the same for you. 



Quads, Light Hams




Chest, Light Triceps, Calves


Back, Light Biceps, Hams






Arms, Calves, Abs

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Larry Pepe is the author of the new book, The Precontest Bible, which can be viewed online at www.PrecontestBible.com. Larry can be reached by email at Larry@MuscleFlex.com.


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