In this comprehensive guide I will teach you all about Ronnie Coleman’s back workout and how he built the greatest upper back in bodybuilding history.
Ronnie Coleman is widely regarded as the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He won the Mr. Olympia contest a record eight years in a row from 1998-2005.
Ronnie had many standout body parts such as his chest and his biceps. However, Ronnie’s best body part was his upper back. Ronnie Coleman’s back was so wide and so thick that it was simply unbelievable!
Just take a look at this video of Ronnie Coleman deadlifting 800 pounds for 2 reps:
Talk about a big, strong back!
The upper back is a very complex part of the body. Ronnie Coleman trained his upper back twice per week with two completely different upper back workouts to make sure he really trained every muscle group.
Ronnie’s first back workout focused on exercises like heavy rows and deadlifts to increase his back thickness. On the other hand his second back workout focused on exercises like lat pulldowns and dumbbell pullovers to increase his back width.
First let’s take a look at Ronnie’s “back thickness” workout first. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Back Thickness Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 3-5 sets of 4-12 reps
- B1: Barbell bent-over row, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- C1: T-bar row, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- D1: 1-arm dumbbell row, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
Here is the training video for Ronnie Coleman’s back thickness workout:
Ronnie’s first back workout focuses exclusively on deadlifts and heavy rowing variations. Ronnie felt that these exercises were absolutely key for improving your back thickness and giving your back a freaky 3-D look.
A lot of bodybuilders shy away from the heavy back exercises like deadlifts and t-bar rows because they are so hard on your recovery system. However, Ronnie believed that these exercises were too important to leave out. If you can deadlift 800 pounds for reps or barbell row 500 pounds for reps then you are going to have a big, thick back. There is just no other way!
One of the things I find really interesting about Ronnie’s back thickness workout is he usually performs 1 all-out working set per exercise. Just take a look at his video of t-bar rows. Ronnie loads up the barbell with as many 45-pound plates as he can and then reps it out all the way to failure!
After that 1 working set Ronnie’s back is absolutely fried so he just moves onto the next exercise.
Ronnie’s second upper back workout was a little bit less extreme. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Back Width Workout
- A1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- B1: Behind the neck lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- C1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
- D1: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps
Here are the training videos for Ronnie Coleman’s back width workout:
Ronnie used this upper back workout to really train his lats and to make his upper back wider. Ronnie’s favourite exercises for training the lats are wide grip cable pulldowns to his chest and just behind his head. These exercises are so effective at training the lats because they place the lats under a HUGE stretch in the top position.
Real-world experience has shown that this stretch is one of the keys to increasing the width of your lats.
If Ronnie’s back thickness workout was all about intensity then his back width workout was all about volume. Ronnie performed several sets for each of these exercises rather than performing 1 all-out working set ala Dorian Yates. Ronnie felt that this high-volume approach worked best when it came to training the lats.
In case you were curious here is the exact training split that Ronnie used during his prime:
Ronnie Coleman’s Training Split
- Monday: Back / Shoulders / Biceps
- Tuesday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
- Wednesday: Chest / Triceps
- Thursday: Back / Shoulders / Biceps
- Friday: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves
- Saturday: Chest / Triceps
- Sunday: Off
As you can see Ronnie trained his upper back twice per week on Monday and Thursday.
Ronnie Coleman’s upper back workouts may look simple. After all, he focuses on just 4 “meat and potatoes” exercises per back workout. However, Ronnie used a lot of advanced training strategies during his back workouts to stimulate as much muscle growth as possible.
Here are three of Ronnie’s favourite back training strategies:
- Train with intensity!
- Train with progressive overload!
- Focus on the stretch!
Let’s take a closer look at each of these training strategies:
Tip #1: Train With Intensity!
Kevin Levrone famously called Ronnie Coleman the hardest working bodybuilder in the world. Ronnie was so focused and so determined every single time he walked into his gym to train. This was especially true for his upper back workouts.
Even though he trained with a “high-volume” training style Ronnie Coleman pushed himself very, very hard on his sets. In fact Ronnie often trained all the way to muscular failure on most of his back thickness exercises like barbell rows and t-bar rows.
If you want to build a world-class back then you are going to have to push yourself very, very hard on your working sets. That may even include training to failure or beyond failure on some of your working sets.
Tip #2: Train With Progressive Overload!
Ronnie Coleman was known as the strongest bodybuilder in the world. Nobody could lift as much weight as Ronnie Coleman on exercises like deadlifts and barbell rows. Of course Ronnie didn’t start out deadlifting 800 pounds for reps. He had to slowly build up his strength over time. This is what “progressive overload” is all about.
Every time Ronnie went to the gym he was trying to beat his previous best on some type of exercise. Sometimes he would try to perform more reps with the same weight on the bar. Other times he would jack up the weight and try to keep his reps high.
Progressive overload isn’t the most important factor in building a huge back. However, if you are not getting stronger over time then your back probably isn’t getting any bigger.
Muscles adapt to the stress you place on them. If you want a ridiculously wide and thick back then you are going to have to lift some heavy slag iron like Ronnie Coleman!
Tip #3: Focus On The Stretch!
Ronnie Coleman knows the importance of lifting heavy slag iron for building a huge back. However, he also knows the importance of really stretching out your lats to back your back wider.
Whenever Ronnie performs lat pulldowns he uses an ultra-wide grip. The wide grip places the lats under a huge stretch and really “opens up” the upper back and scapula area.
If you want to increase the width of your upper back then the most important thing you can do is to focus on stretching out your lats like Ronnie. On every rep of pulldowns you want to let the bar drift upwards until you feel a huge stretch in your lats.
If you are an advanced bodybuilder then this 1 tip will make a HUGE difference in your lat development.
Ronnie Coleman will go down in history as the greatest bodybuilder of all time. No one has even come close to matching his physique at the 1999 Mr. Olympia competition. Ronnie had a well-rounded physique with zero weaknesses but his back was easily his best body part.
If you want to build a back so wide, so thick that people vomit when they see you then Ronnie Coleman’s back workouts are for you. Just make sure you use some of Ronnie’s advanced training strategies such as high-intensity sets, progressive overload and stretching out your lats on cable pulldowns.
I will leave you with one of my favourite Ronnie Coleman quotes:
“It’s called bodybuilding and the only way you can build muscle is with repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and as many reps as possible.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training journey!
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