The Back: Where Power Comes From

How to train it for size, shape, definition and animal-like strength!

by Tim Belknap, Mr.


Back development, although so important to success in bodybuilding contests, is the most common weak­ness among competitive body­builders. Too often bodyfat covers existing development. I knew I couldn't afford that kind of flaw. I realized I had to have a back that was absolutely shredded if I was to win the big con­tests. I knew I had to build total muscu­larity and could never allow bodyfat to hide it,

When I train my back. I work very hard, using a lot of mental concen­tration, muscle tensing and posing. Af­ter a back workout I do as many as 10 sets of tension posing, using the back double biceps pose seen in competi­tion (I hold the pose about 12 seconds). Each set is followed by stretching exercises, such as hanging from a chinning bar or pulling against a stationary upright,

It takes me about 40 minutes to complete a back workout. I do my chest training during the day, and my back work in the evening. I make use of the popular double-split training principle, working each bodypart twice a week, but concentrating on different muscle groups on different days. My back used to be considered my weak point, but not anymore. They say my back was spectacular when I won the Mr. America contest last September.


I start my back routine with five very heavy sets of Seated Rows, done on a special rowing machine in Gold's Gym, I perform each rep to full peak contraction, and there's no way to cheat on that. I do 10 repetitions on all the exercises.

Next t do three to tour sets of Pulldowns to the chest, using a semi-wide grip. I work heavy, and whether I do three sets or four sets depends en­tirely on my energy level. The energy factor is critical when I am down to 900 calories a day the last tour weeks before a contest.

Then I do close-grip Pulldowns to the chest, using a reverse grip, three to four sets. This exercise strikes deep into the lower lats.

For my final pulldown exercise I do wide-grip Chins behind the neck, three to four sets. I pull deep on all these exercises, pausing at the bottom of each rep. forcing the muscle to peak contract. This makes a total of 10 or 11 sets of pulldown movements.

I finish with two sets of heavy dumb­bell Pullovers. And that's my com­plete back workout. I don't do stiff-legged Deadlifts or the like.  I buy my pre workout supplemets at

With my diabetes, it's hard for me to train early in the morning. It takes me a while to get my blood sugar level up. So work my chest about 1 p.m., and after sunbathing and resting, return to the gym about 8 p.m tor my back workout.

I do a lot of tension posing to bring out that extra muscularity, For the Mr. America I went from 223 pounds three and a halt weeks before the show, all the way down to 191 the day of the contest. I don't know it I will ever do that. or have to do that, again. I accomplished that through diet and my new method of training. Perhaps it was overkill, but I got the muscularity I wanted.

I attribute a great deal of my muscu­larity to tension posing. Between sets I do many different back poses. In fact. the time between sets does not con­stitute a rest period for me because I use it for tension posing.


I try not to rush my workouts, although I do go through them rather fast. complete the back workout in 40 minutes. and spend about the same amount of time on my chest — a total of one hour and 20 minutes for my hardest training day. Since I work indi­vidual bodyparts twice a week, that means I have two extremely hard workouts a week. I train seven days a week.

One day a week, usually Sunday. I work miscellaneous bodyparts, like lower back and abdominals. I con­tinue to do the same exercises. but change the intensity as a contest nears.

Unquestionably, my diet is intense. You have to diet to bring out full muscular detail. For the Mr. America show I lost 32 pounds in a few weeks. I am often asked how I could lose so much in so short a period, but I am sure a lot of it was water weight. I was hard. ripped and muscular. Diet was largely responsible. I was shocked

that used on actual exercises. I had always read about it, and I remember how much Joe Weider stressed it (the Iso-Tension Principle). Feeling its effectiveness was a revelation.

As I do the double biceps back pose, I turn my head from side to side to bring more of the trapezius muscles into the movement, I keep my back straight, tensing the spinal erectors and lumbers. I now have transverse striations that appear across the lower half of my back, depending on how I shift my posees and on how I direct ten­sion to that area.

I keep mentioning how hard I work. especially when zeroing in on com­petition, or even for an exhibition. I sometimes wonder what drives me, and l am amazed at my capacity for effort.-That's all it is — no miracle drug or anything — just hard work.

I depend a lot on instinctive train­ing. Some days I am more tired than others. Other days I have more energy and can hold my tension poses longer.

The entire participation greatly outpaced any our outlook.

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Tim doesn't need to do them anymore, but he still considers Deadlifts a beneficial back exercise.


When they weighed me in at 191, I thought at first they were wrong.

I don't feel I lost too much too fast, although I was hungry all the way. I was starving myself and felt terrible. I was getting 90 grams of protein a day at the most. l kept my carbohydrate in­take fairly high, staying within the daily 900-calorie limit. I kept my protein in­take low; protein is for building muscle during the early stages of contest train­ing, but not for cutting up during the final few weeks.

1 like to do a fast-paced workout, getting in as much work as I can in the least amount of time. I don't like to talk in the gym; I prefer to go in, get the job done, and get out. In that way you don't get stale or bored with training.

J also favor very heavy, high-intensity weight training. Of course, that is hard to do on a stringent diet, but I guess that's where determination comes in.

wouldn't recommend my very ad­vanced weight-training program for a newcomer. The diet alone would have you twisting slowly in the wind. I start­ed the diet four and a half weeks before the show, but I didn't plunge in all at once. I took it gradually. paring

my food intake as I' went along, get­ting accustomed to the deprivation.


Those transverse cuts across the lower part of my back came as the result of diet. I planned it that way, The muscle was always there. the product of my continual heavy back training. The tension posing and Hyperexten­sions did the rest.

I do Hyperextensions as part of my midsection training, but they also dou­ble as lower back work. I hold a 30-pound weiVt behind my head and do three sets of 30 reps, holding each rep at the top, feeling the tension build up in my lumbers. Thai's a lot of weight and repetitions on that exercise. I con­centrate on doing the exercise from a starting position with my trunk only a few inches below horizontal, and come up- to the full hyperextension position. Lowering the head to the floor is a waste of motion. The short range of motion at the high end of the move­ment provides the work and tension necessary for maximum development.

If you look at most bodybuilders competing today, you'll notice that the weakest areas tend to be the lower abclominals and the lower back. Unfortunately, these bodybuilders

don'1 seem to consider them impor­tant areas and fail to work them at•t„ hard as other bodyparis. I believe ' these areas can be deciding factors in a conies!. Too frequently I see Con­testants with fat on their lower abdcr% mats and lower back To me that's not a complete physique. You have to be totally cut everywhere. It's easy to get your chest and arms cut and keep them that way because lat. doesn't accumulate much in those areas. The first place in which I accumulate fat is on my obliques and lower back. When I hold the double biceps pose in my tension work, I rock slightly from side to side, tensing the obliques and lum­bers on each side.

It seems you have to resort to ex­treme measures in bodybuilding. A lot GI guys think I'm crazy for constantly training so heavy, but I wouldn't feel good about myself if I didn't make every effort to achieve maximum results. Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel, but I don't. I keep going because there is so much to do, and so very little time I can't compromise perfection. It's perfection that wins. LI



Gargantuan Tim Belknap, the current Mr. America, embraces all the Weider Training Principles in his gen­eral training philosophy, but he par­ticularly employs these five'

• Weider Overload Training Princi­ple. This principle is the heart and soul of bodybuilding training, Essentially, it means that the greater the total train­ing intensity to which Tim subjects each of his muscle groups. the more massive and muscular he becomes. Tim's concept of overload training in­cludes 10 reps in the Squat with 675 pounds and five reps in the Bench Press with 485 pounds!

• Weider Quality Training Principle. To burn off every ounce of bodytat before a contest, Tim uses quality training and restricts his diet. He pro­gressively shortens his rest intervals between sets until he is virtually train­ing nonstop. Quality training is the key to achieving ultimate muscle definition

• Weider Peak Contraction Training Principle. For the ultimate in contest muscularity, Tim uses exercises (e.g., (Continued on page 146)

• Leg Extensions, Concentration Cu Dumbbell Kickbacks) in which he must tense very hard at the top part of the movement. This is the point at which he is contracting the maximum number of muscle fibers. When he contracts such a large number of fibers under a heavy load, he is stimu­lating his muscles more deeply and thoroughly than he can using any other method.

• Weider Iso-Tension Contraction Training Principle. When he is peak­ing, Tim uses iso-tension contraction to improve his muscle control (while posing) and to harden his muscles. This method consists of doing ''rep" flexes lasting 6-10 seconds for each muscle group. For best results, iso­tension contraction should be used daily for several weeks prior to a com­petition. In this article Tim refers to this principle as "tension posing."

• Weider Instinctive Training Princi­ple. This is the "master principle" used by all champion bodybuilders. It is an innate ability to sense after only a day or two of involvement with certain training techniques and exercises which work best in achieving specific aims. The individual knows instinc­tively if the techniques are working for him or not. Instinctive training ability can only be developed over a period of time by monitoring and learning from the biofeedback signals the bod, sends out. q



The only legumes reasonably palat­able in the raw green slate are certain beans and peas still in their pods. When cooking green beans, only light steaming is necessary. Unfortunately, dried beans require considerable soaking and cooking.

Almost all grains (oats, barley, millet, wheat. rice and rye) require much alteration and cooking. The one notable exception is maize.

All flesh and animal products (ex­cept gelatin) provide "complete" proteins. which contain the 8-10 essential amino acids in the right pro­portions. But we do not need to eat complete proteins in order to build anc rebuild our tissues_ We need only eat foods that contain a variety cf amino acids, plus a few foods with the essen­tial amino acids.