Baylor University, Waco, Texas – circa 1965
In college, my kinesiology professor loved the Latin derivatives that were applied to naming the muscles. He hated the slang terms that athletes and bodybuilders used. In his class, for example, if you said or wrote pecs, lats, or quads instead of pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, or quadriceps, he'd automatically lower your overall semester average at least a letter grade.
I'll never forget what happened to physical education major and starting guard on Baylor's football team, Dwaine Fogel. This country boy could really butcher the pronunciation of the largest upper-body muscle – and he'd done so in class several times throughout the year. And it had just occurred again.
The professor went to the board and in large letters printed: luh-tiss-uh-muss door-sigh. Then, he pointed to Dwaine and demanded that he carefully articulate all the syllables.
Dwaine still couldn't get the pronunciation right. On the last part, he kept saying "dur-sa," instead of "door-sigh." So, the professor, obviously frustrated, went back to the board and turned facing the class and said, "Fogel, this is for you and you alone. You are absolutely the only person in this class who can use this word."
Then, with such serious force that he splintered the chalk with each stroke, he wrote on the board: L A T S.
The class roared with laughter. Even the professor joined in. That story was spread all over the PE department and the football team. And Dwaine, when he graduated a year later, was better known as Lats Fogel than by his given name.
I never saw Lats Fogel do a single exercise for his upper-back muscles. He was a naturally strong country boy, who was a darn good football player. But with me, that wasn't the case. By the time I was a senior in college, I'd performed thousands of barbell and dumbbell pullovers and rows. As a result, my upper-back muscles had good width and thickness. By 1966, I'd entered and won a handful of physique contests in Texas.
Two years later, however, I was in for an unexpected confrontation when I moved to Tallahassee, Florida, entered graduate school, and met Arthur Jones.
Lake Helen, Florida – circa 1971
In 1970, Jones had taken an 18-year-old Casey Viator and turned him into one of the biggest, strongest men in the world. Jones's secret was what he called "harder-but-briefer, one-set-to-failure training." Furthermore, Jones's concept was incorporated into his Nautilus exercise machines, which were being manufactured in Lake Helen, Florida.
I visited with Jones four times before Viator won the 1971 AAU Mr. America contest in the most spectacular fashion ever recorded. Viator was victorious in all of the sub-divisions – with the exception of best abdominals – and he should have won that, too. Viator's back was particularly outstanding. It was wide, thick, and very muscular.
I'd actually defeated Viator in a bodybuilding contest in early 1970, but a year later – after working with Jones – Viator had added at least 20 pounds of solid muscle on his body, and he was far and away the most muscular man I'd ever seen.
In early 1971, Arthur Jones introduced what he called the ultimate-lat routine. That routine consisted of five Nautilus exercises, performed back-to-back, with minimum rest in between. These were the machines and the exercises:
- Behind-Neck Machine
- Pullover Machine
- Pulldown to chest on Torso-Arm Machine
- Rowing-Torso Machine
- Behind-Neck Pulldown on Torso-Arm Machine
This was Jones's one-of-a-kind, quadruple pre-exhaustion cycle. The behind-neck, pullover, and rowing-torso were single-joint machines that removed the hands, forearms, and biceps from the movement and connected the resistance directly to the elbows and upper arms. The pulldown to the chest and the behind-neck pulldown were multiple-joint exercises that brought into action the hands, forearms, and biceps to force the pre-exhausted latissimus dorsi to a deeper level of fatigue.
Jones always said that this five-exercise routine, properly performed, would produce several times the rate of progress of standard lat exercises. All you had to do was take a quick look at Casey Viator's torso from the back and front and you wanted to experience the routine. I tried the cycle in various workouts and each time I received a massive pump to my latissimus-dorsi muscles.
The Nautilus behind-neck machine provided one of the most unusual lat exercises ever invented. The exercise was like doing a behind-neck chin-up, without the bar in the hands. The lats were targeted directly, with no involvement of the hands and forearms.
From 1971 to 1990, I continued to use the above routine at various times of each year and I often applied it with some of the advanced bodybuilders who I trained. Over this 20-year period, I authored more than a dozen bodybuilding books. To illustrate these books, I frequently used pictures by Chris Lund, which were taken on stage during the various Mr. Olympia contests.
None of the Mr. Olympia contestants, in my opinion, matched the lat width, thickness, and overall back muscularity that Viator displayed in 1971. That opinion changed in 1994.
Mr. Olympia Contest, Atlanta, Georgia – circa 1994
As I entered the auditorium, the pre-judging of 1994 Mr. Olympia contest was approximately half over. I walked quickly down to the front and slipped under the rope where all the photographers were stationed. Lucky for me, there was an empty chair next to my buddy, Chris Lund. For almost 20 years, Lund has been one of the chief photographers for Joe Weider's muscle magazines.
Just then, as I was rambling through my bag trying to assemble my camera, the audience erupted in wild applause. By the time I had everything loaded and ready to shoot, people were standing and clapping. As I stood up, my eyes focused on what was causing the commotion. It was the back of Dorian Yates.
"Look at his lats," I said to Chris. "I've never seen such width, thickness, and muscularity before on a bodybuilder."
"You're right," Lund answered, as he continued to snap away. "No one can match Dorian's body. In fact, the width of Dorian's back sort of reminds me of that Arthur Jones's prediction years ago that, with his pre-exhaustion concepts, a few men would develop lats wider than their shoulders."
"Dorian's lats are darned close to being wider than his shoulders," I exclaimed, as he extended his lats one more time and the crowd screamed its approval.
Later that night, Dorian's forceful backside poses sealed his victory from the judges, as well as the audience. As the contest was ending, I wondered to myself what kind of routine Yates did for his lats. Had he ever applied any of Jones's pre-exhaustion techniques? I never got a chance to ask him those questions.
Dorian Yates, in his prime and at a bodyweight of 250 pounds, had an almost ideal combination of lat width and thickness.
Portland, Oregon – circa 2006
I was in Portland, Oregon, in March of 2006, talking with Andy McCutcheon. McCutcheon was the bodybuilder I used to illustrate most of the exercises in The New High-Intensity Training (2004) and I was interviewing him for a chapter in The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results.
As we were wrapping up the interview, Andy, who was originally from Cambridge, England, mentioned to me that Dorian Yates judged him in a 1991 bodybuilding contest and later invited Andy to workout with him several times in his Temple Gym.
Yates's powerful back muscles flashed through my mind, as I shared with Andy my recollections of the 1994 Mr. Olympia contest. "During your visit with Yates," I said to Andy, "can you remember what he did for his lats?"
"I'll never forget it; my lats stayed sore for almost a week," Andy said. "I followed Dorian through heavy pullovers, pulldowns, and rows until I almost puked. What caught me off-guard was he didn't rest between those three exercises. He went from one to the other to the other."
"How many sets?" I asked.
"Dorian did one warm-up set of each exercise," Andy said, "and then it was straight away to the serious stuff, where he did one all-out set of barbell pullovers, lat machine pulldowns, and finally bent-over rows with a very heavy Olympic barbell. Dorian, with his extreme mass, used three times the weight than I did on all the exercises. He was big, strong, and lean to a degree that was almost beyond belief."
When Andy McCutcheon trained with Dorian Yates in 1991, Yates weighed 225 pounds. "He had not yet reached that super-huge state," Andy said, "that he achieved several years later."
Then, Andy surprised me. He noted that Yates had studied a lot of the early writings of Arthur Jones – and he was especially interested in one of Jones's articles from IronManmagazine, which described the possibility of building lats wider than the shoulders. "He showed me a big folder," Andy recalled, "that was crammed full of Jones's materials."
I was now sure that the bodybuilder who had perhaps the best lats of all time was indeed familiar with Arthur Jones's ultimate lat routine. Furthermore, he'd applied some of Jones's pre-exhaustion type training in building his wide, thick lats.
"Since most trainees don't have access to any of the Nautilus machines today," Andy said, "what would you recommend as substitutes? Would these exercises be similar to what Dorian and I did back in 1991?"
"Yes, they would be similar, with one addition," I replied. "From all the training research I've done over the last 30 years, I would have to work into the cycle the negative-only chin-up. The negative-only chin-up may be the single best lat exercise."
Quadruple Pre-Exhaustion Lat Routine – circa 2007
Here are my latest recommendations, and I'm fairly sure Arthur Jones would be in agreement with them:
- Straight-arm pullover with one dumbbell held in both hands, immediately followed by
- Bent-arm pullover with barbell, immediately followed by
- Pulldown to chest on lat machine with underhand grip, immediately followed by
- Bent-over row with dumbbells and with parallel grip, immediately followed by
- Negative-only chin-up
1 – Straight-Arm Pullover
Lie crossways on a bench with shoulders on the surface and head and lower body off the bench. Hold a dumbbell at one end with both hands and position it over your chest. Lower the dumbbell slowly beyond your head and stretch your lats. Raise the dumbbell smoothly to the over-chest position and repeat until failure. Quickly turn 90 degrees on the bench and get ready for the bent-arm pullover.
2 – Bent-Arm Pullover
Whatever you handled on the straight-arm pullover, you'll be able to do 50-100% more resistance on the bent-arm version. Lie face-up on a bench with your head barely off the edge. Anchor your feet securely underneath and have a spotter hand you a heavy barbell.
Your hands should be spaced 12 inches apart, with the barbell resting on your chest. Move the barbell over your face and head and lower it smoothly until it almost touches the floor. Keep your arms bent and stretch at the bottom. Pull the bar over your face to your chest. Repeat the lowering and lifting for maximum repetitions.
3 – Pulldown to Chest on Lat Machine
Stabilize your lower body under the overhead bar. Grasp the bar with an underhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart. Pull the bar smoothly to your chest. Pause, then return slowly to the stretched position. Repeat until momentary muscular failure. Release the bar and immediately move to the bent-over row.
4 – Bent-Over Row
Place your feet beside two moderately heavy dumbbells. Lean over and grasp the dumbbells in a parallel fashion with your palms facing each other. Keep a slight bend in your knees to reduce the stress on your lower back. Pull both the dumbbells upward, to the sides of your thighs, and pause at your waist. Lower slowly to the bottom and repeat for maximum repetitions. After the last repetition, quickly get to the chinning bar.
5 – Negative-Only Chin-Up
You'll need a chair or bench for assistance. The idea is to do the positive work with your legs and negative with your upper body. Since your biceps and lats will be well fatigued by now, it'll take a focused effort on your part to do even three or four negative chins – and initially you won't require any added resistance.
Place the chair or bench directly under a chinning bar. Climb into the top position with your chin over the bar. Hold onto the bar with an underhand grip and space your hands shoulder-width apart. Remove your feet and lower your body very slowly to a dead hang in eight seconds. Climb back to the top position and repeat for as many repetitions as possible.
Push yourself hard on this great exercise! Stop when you can no longer control the downward movement, which is usually a lowering time less than two to three seconds.
Twice a Week
After a couple of workouts, and with the proper arrangement of your available equipment, you should be able to move from one exercise to the next within three seconds or less, which is the goal. The five-exercise cycle – each exercise performed for one set of 7 to 10 repetitions – should take no longer than seven minutes.
Once you get the hang of the routine, do it intensely and progressively for no more than twice a week, for two consecutive weeks.
You'll also want to perform five exercises for your other large muscle groups to complete your whole-body routine. For example, the squat or leg press for your thighs, the calf raise for your lower legs, the bench press for your chest, the lateral raise for your shoulders, and the lying back extension for your lower back. I recommend that you place the five lat exercises first in the workout.
Properly performed, you'll be able to see significant muscular improvement in two weeks. Apply the routine now to widen and thicken your lau-tiss-uh-muss door-sigh!