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Back In Style!

Having a strong, shapely back feels as good as it looks. Finess expert Clark Bartram explains how to build the muscles that will improve your posture, eliminate back pain and give your torso a super V-taper.
The width of Clark Bartram's back could make a silverback jealous. The 38-year-old has spent his entire life in fitness and his physique is walking proof. But his bulging muscles and Christmas-tree spinal erectors are the few bodybuilding stereotypes this maverick possesses.

Bartram will freely admit that standing on the Olympia stage was never his primary goal: "My plan from day one was to take the exposure I got in bodybuilding and turn that into the success that I am presently experiencing."

The California resident hasn't competed since 1997, but he's been far from idle these past five years.

He's a frequent face on the covers of magazines, and is also the author of You Too Can Be a Fitness Model, published by Hatherleigh Press. Bartram even has his own television show - American Health and Fitness - seen by millions of people in 15 countries worldwide.

Sure, Clark's a bodybuilder, but more than that, he's "a pioneer."

"You gotta be smart in this industry," says the entrepreneur, "and you have to constantly reinvent yourself. You can't be a model forever and you can't be a bodybuilder forever."

Despite his eclectic approach, this man's hardcore credentials are still impeccable. From his early days in the Marines (where he held his platoon's recruit chinup record: 49), to the posing stage (more than 10 shows spanning a decade), Bartram has walked the walk. And it hasn't stopped.

One look at his back development is bound to make many gym rats stammer excuses for their own relative puniness. Bartram's impressive lat spread didn't come easy, though. He always had a thick lower back, but his lat development was "lagging in those first couple of years of competing."

The key to his transformation was hard work, of course, and the development of a mind-muscle connection. According to the trainer, "back is such a hard bodypart to feel" for beginners, but the bottom line is, do the exercises and the feeling will develop over time.

When it does happen, says Bartram, it all comes together: "It's like a light comes on and BAM - you go 'Ohmigod, I feel it now!'"

The Routine

When it comes to his actual back routine, less is more. Bartram's workout is constantly changing but for the most part he has followed a five-day split, with one muscle group trained per day and weekends off. Back is scheduled for every Tuesday.

The exercises are switched up frequently, but the workout usually consists of one warmup movement, followed by four exercises. He performs four sets of each, for a total of 16 sets.

With only 60 seconds between sets, workouts never last longer than an hour: "I'm in and out." Most people, he claims, are overtraining in their "quest to have the physique of a god."

Bartram dives into the heavy weights fast. While set one will be used to feel out the weight he should be using, by set two he's doing the maximum amount he can handle for eight to 12 clean reps.

"I was taught at an early age to have perfect form." On successive sets he either lowers the weight a bit in order to keep his strict style, or he gets a training partner to lend a hand.

The back exercises he performs can be divided into two categories: rows and pulldowns/pullups. Among rows, the bentover barbell variety reigns as his all-time favorite.

"One of the staples of anyone's exercise selection should be a bent row," he says. "It's gonna build thickness, stability throughout your entire body, and overall size."

To perform the movement, Clark bends his knees at least 15 degrees. "This activates the illiotibial band in your leg, which connects into your glute- your body's best source of stabilization." He also bends over from the hips to about a 45-degree angle.

A mistake many beginners make is focusing too much on the number of reps and not enough on the quality of each rep. "My goal is to conduct each repetition as if it were the first, last and only one I'm doing."

Once he's locked into position, Bartram pictures himself as a barbell rowing machine. "Visualization was big for me. I focused in on [the muscle], saw my back how I wanted it to be, and BOOM, pulled it up."

Bartram is critical of trainers who focus too much on lat pulldowns, particularly wide-grip. "They think wide pulldowns, wide lats," he says. "Well guess what? That doesn't work!" According to Clark, EMG testing shows that the reverse grip pulldown provides the most muscle stimulation of any pulldown you can perform.

Rather than rely on pulldowns altogether, Bartram will take pullups out of the warmup, strap some extra weight around his midsection, and use the move as a staple exercise.

A full-range of motion is a must. Lest you be one of those enthusiasts who only trains what you can see in the mirror - thereby neglecting muscles groups such as back - Clark has some parting words: "Go to a bodybuilding contest and watch the novice division.

Collectively, what's the weakest body part on those guys? I would have to say that it would be back." In his own experience, "once the lats did start to come out, everything changed - my waist looked so much smaller and my symmetry was so much better.

What Do You Think Is The Best Mass Building Lat Exercise?
Lat Pulldown
Straight Arm Pulldown
Bent Over Rows