The key to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shredded back.
I once had a guy tell me that in order to have a great chest; you must have a great back. That guy was NOT Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, I would have to guess that Arnold would have probably agreed with that guy. He told me, “you can bench-press as much as you want but unless you workout your back, your chest will always have limitations.” Having a strong back will not only make you larger but it will improve your posture as well.
Pumping Iron proved that Arnold had a “road map” of a back and he truly demonstrated a back for the ages. In order to achieve this, Arnold demonstrated that back training was the answer to an overall gigantic body. Pull-ups were quintessential to Arnold’s back workout: regular pull-ups, behind-the-neck, narrow grip, wide grip, V-bar and straight bar, they were all important to Arnold getting a huge back.
A chinning connoisseur; Arnold didn’t shy down from a pull-up contest. How else could your body support all of that work that you put into your chest without creating a support system that could hold it up on the other side of your body? It physically just can’t do it. Developing a strong back is absolutely necessary if you want a massive chest and stronger upper body. Anatomically speaking, the back is where the largest muscles of the upper body are located: the latissimus dorsi and the trapezius.
Arnold knew that building up his back was necessary in order to grow an overall stronger body. There are plenty of exercises designed to workout the back but none are older or more annoying than the original back exercise: the pull-up (the chin). Most people looking to gain maximum muscle mass tend to stay away from the pull-up, thinking it’s an exercise for the fit/athletic and bulky guys don’t do it. Arnold wasn’t scared and instead of shying away from it, he straight up attacked it. During his prime, Arnold always had one goal: to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He brought a new approach to bodybuilding and because of this, we have decided to single out Arnold as the man who made pull-ups popular.
There is something simple yet rewarding about doing pull-ups. Pulling your own bodyweight through gravity, a sign that you’re not only strong but your strength is equal or greater than your bodyweight. Pull-ups are an equalizer – no matter how much you can lift, everyone finds some difficulty in doing pull-ups, even Arnold. Instead of letting it get the best of him, Arnold developed a workout routine that utilized the difficulty.
“Just like in bodybuilding, failure is also a necessary experience for growth in our own lives, for if we’re never tested to our limits, how will we know how strong we really are? How will we ever grow?”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
No Pain, No Gain
If you take anything from this article, know that Arnold didn’t just settle for status quo and he was willing to do the work. When it came to pull-ups, Arnold would pick a number and complete as many sets as he could until he failed… then go again. Arnold embraced his failure as his limit but only let it last for 1-2 minutes rest time before going up to the bar again. Arnold’s trick to a stronger back was this: Pick a number of pull-ups at the beginning of your workout and COMMIT to it, each set until failure.
Let’s say your goal is 50 pull-ups: that means you do not leave the bar until you do 50 pull-ups, regardless of how long it takes. Maybe you start with sets of 10-12 reps but by the time you finish, you’re barely pulling through 4-5 reps a set. The point is: you do as many pull-ups in a set as you can until you fail. Once that happens, you rest for 1-2 minutes and get up on that bar and go again, period. Don’t convince yourself that there is an easier way, don’t come up with an excuse to leave the bar and certainly don’t disappoint The Austrian Oak himself: get your ass back up on that bar and finish your goal, period. That’s how Arnold did it.
Wide Grip Pull-Ups
Arnold also targeted his upper, outer lats with wide-grip pull-ups, which he also famously did behind the neck. Research also shows that you can activate your lats with a slightly narrower grip because it increases the range of motion on those muscles.
Here is Arnold’s favorite wide grip pull-up: At nearly 5 feet long and bent approximately 45 degrees on each end, Schwarzenegger would do pull-ups until the bar touched the back of his neck. He believed that arching his back and pulling his body up as high as possible was the most important thing.
A V-bar is a lat-pulldown attachment with an inverted V profile. Arnold used to put one of these bars over a pull-up bar in order to perform narrow grip pull-ups. He would arch his back in order to target his lower back and inner lats, as well as his serratus.
Arnold worked his back in many ways and pull-ups were just one of many ways that he developed his historical back. However, if he didn’t make it his passion to lift his own weight on the pull-up bar, Arnold would have never been Mr. Olympia, 7 times.
The Commando, the Terminator, the Icon
A lot of big bodybuilders don’t see an importance of putting real effort and focus on pull ups, but Arnold saw the true value in this. A way to pull ahead from the pack in a way that no one else was able to and distinguish himself as one of the most important and talented bodybuilders of all time. Its part of the reason we still talk about him today. When Arnold drops his most famous line in Terminator, “I’ll be back” it was unnecessary – he never really left.