If you want to be at your best, you should take some time to learn from the best, right? When it comes to the flat barbell bench press, no one is better on the raw version of the classic powerlifting move than Julius Maddox. The 6’3” powerhouse from Kentucky not only broke the all-time world record in the raw bench, but he then took it to another level. Now he has the incredible 800 pound mark in his sights.
If you ask him what he found to be the key to his success in pressing, he actually credits his work with pulling movements and training the upper back.
“I think training the upper back has helped me for three reasons. First is stability, being able to stabilize the weight. For me back is everything. Second is the lats themselves. The way the lats connect to your chest is almost like a rubber band. Your lats are almost like a rubber band for your chest so it’s a storage of energy. So when you get that press signal and you release that energy, I can create more power. Finally is I’m building a foundation for everything. Everything connects to your back. It’s the lowest common denominator for all three of your lifts. So whether you’re squatting, benching, or deadlifting, your upper back is involved.”
Back Exercises for a Stronger Bench Press
As for how much he trains the upper back, Maddox believes in doing at least two movements for every one pressing exercise. Currently he has upped that to three.
“It may be over exaggerating a bit but I can’t say that if it’s working. Rich Piana said if you want to work a muscle group to go you have to train it multiple times a week from multiple angles. Your back responds very differently from the rest of the body. It will respond faster and your upper back can handle more volume than anything else.”
Maddox not only trains back but he pushes himself while doing so.
“On a challenge level of 1 through 10, I say give it a level 8 effort. You should be able to achieve the final rep but you should need a big effort to do it.”
He also likes doing “As Many Reps As Possible” (AMRAP) sets. “I will do 3 or 4 regular sets but then do one or two AMRAP sets to push myself and really blow up my upper back. They’re great for endurance, too.”
Julius Maddox’s Top 4 Back Exercises
Most pulling motions can serve you well when it comes to developing the back, but Maddox does have his favorites which he credits for helping him the most. He will change up how he plugs these into his workouts but these are included the most often.
This version of the row calls for the bench to be elevated with you laying on your chest while pulling either a barbell below you or dumbbells in each hand.
“With these the upper back is isolated. There’s no way to cheat,” says Maddox.
Maddox likes this motion in general and has no preference over which angle you choose. He actually likes using all of them.
“It can be wide grip, neutral grip, reverse grip, the goal here is to be hitting different parts of your back. You want to make sure you’re hitting every angle your back allows you to.”
Neutral Grip Shoulder-Width Seated Row
When it comes to the seated row, he does prefer to use a neutral grip that is about shoulder-width apart. This is because of the benefits it provides for the mid-traps, lats, and the teres major. “This one gets everything in the upper back and I can pull in a little further.”
This version of the barbell row is almost the upside down version of the bench press so it makes sense that Maddox would work this into his programming.
“The Pendlay Row not only hits the lats but gets the rear delts and the traps too which I feel is necessary. Something I actually like to do is supersetting this with pushups. As soon as I finish the rows, I’ll get down on the floor and do pushups. You’ll feel the entire upper body pump up doing this.”
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