Every bodybuilder has their own approach to physique development — it’s one of the most charming aspects of the sport.
On stage, bodybuilders are judged by the same criteria, but how they choose to meet said criteria is at their own discretion in the gym.
Eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, one of the most successful and renowned athletes to ever grace the biggest stage in bodybuilding, built his physique and career around the ideology of “stimulate, don’t annihilate.”
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That kind of surgical approach to working out helped Haney grow one of the best backs the sport has ever seen, but make no mistake — a calculated approach doesn’t mean he took it easy in the weight room. Far from it.
Here’s how Haney liked to train his back, and how you can follow in his footsteps.
First, a Disclaimer
While Haney may have used this workout (among others) to craft a massive, mountainous back, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ll get the exact same results just by copying it to the letter.
While it is good to have a role model in bodybuilding whom you look up to, understand that bodybuilders are professional athletes like any other. As such, they operate under a different ruleset from the average person.
What worked for Haney in his prime may not work for you if you’re just getting started in the gym. Beyond that, there are other factors at play that made Haney into the showstopper he was. Give his workouts a whirl, but temper your expectations along the way.
The Lee Haney Back Workout for Bodybuilding
This workout, pulled from Muscle & Fitness, showcases a portion of Haney’s approach to back-building.
While some bodybuilders preferred a litany of different exercises for each and every individual muscle on their backs, Haney’s approach was surprisingly straightforward.
To perform Haney’s back workout, you’ll need access to a barbell (and weight plates, of course), a cable station for pulldowns and horizontal rows, as well as a chin-up bar.
- T-Bar Row: 4 x 6-8
- Barbell Row: 4 x 8-10
- Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown: 4 x 10-12
- Chin-Up: 3 x 6-8
- Seated Cable Row: 3 x 8-10
As you can see, Haney utilized standard, simple movements to craft one of the most visually-appealing and well-developed backs in bodybuilding.
With just a few pieces of equipment you can find in most commercial gyms, you should have no issue following his training to the letter.
How to Modify (and Progress) the Lee Haney Back Workout
Note, though, that just because you have access to the equipment for Haney’s back workout doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea to perform it as written.
Mr. Olympia competitors have to train harder than the average gym rat if they want to place well at the most prestigious competition in the sport. That might mean Haney’s back day is a bit out of your league, but even so, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.
If You’re a Beginner
You might want to consider cutting down on some of the volume here. Haney’s workout as-written consists of 18 total sets, all of which are heavy compound movements that can be quite taxing.
Taking one (or two) sets off each exercise might make it more palatable if you’re newer to the gym, since beginner bodybuilders can make plenty of progress off comparatively little volume.
If You’re Strapped for Time
You can still perform Haney’s back workout even if you’re on the clock, as long as you’re willing to make some amendments.
Performing the lat pulldowns and chin-ups as a superset (or any other pairing, most of them would work nicely together) would shave minutes off your session and pump your back up something fierce.
Note that supersetting two compound back exercises will make the latter movement quite difficult, so maybe ratchet down the weight you’re using.
If It’s Not Enough For You
If, somehow, Lee Haney’s 18-set monstrosity of a back day seems like easy pickings, you can intensify things a bit.
Haney’s back day is devoid of many common intensity techniques that other bodybuilders rely on. For example, you could finish off your last set of T-bar rows with a double (or triple) drop set.
Or, adjust the rep scheme on the cable rows to be a reverse pyramid, asking more of your muscular endurance each time you pick up the handle.
It may not be wise to modify every single exercise, even if you’re looking to seriously challenge yourself. Start conservatively and perform the workout as it is, then return the week after and dial things up.
Your Back Anatomy
Whether you wish to train like Haney or any other bodybuilder, you should have a working knowledge of your own anatomy beforehand.
Knowing the ins and outs of your own body will help you train it better in the gym, no matter if you’re a newcomer or an eight-time Olympia winner.
Your latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the largest muscles in your upper back. Broad and fan-shaped, they connect your upper arm and shoulder blade to your spine and thoracolumbar fascia.
Your lats are mainly responsible for creating the iconic v-taper look you see in bodybuilding. They also provide a great deal of your overall pulling power, serving as prime mover on all manner of row and pulldown you perform.
The “traps” are a three-pronged slab of muscle that sits in the middle of your upper back, covering your shoulder blades and reaching upward over your cervical spine toward the base of your skull.
The primary function of your traps is to shelter and stabilize the scapula. Your traps will assist in drawing your shoulder backward when you row, or elevating your shoulder when you perform shrugs.
You can’t really see your rhomboids just by flexing in the mirror — they’re a deeper tissue that originates on your thoracic spine and inserts onto your scapula. Nonetheless, they’re plenty important for bodybuilding.
Your rhomboids perform many of the same functions as the traps, so you won’t need to worry about training them distinctly. Moreover, they will contribute to the aesthetic appearance of your “yoke” by thickening the area around your shoulder blades.
There are an array of small muscles that span your upper back. When properly developed, these tissues create that iconic “mountain range” look that Haney and other pro bodybuilders are known for.
Your shoulder girdle contains muscles like the rear deltoid, supra and infraspinatus, teres major and minor, and a whole lot more.
Many of these tissues perform similar anatomic functions (such as shoulder abduction and retraction), so you needn’t worry about giving them dedicated attention — unless you’re already working at the highest levels of the sport.
Your erector spinae, or lower back, isn’t just for support. This fan-shaped muscle at the base of your spine may help provide stability while you row, squat, or deadlift, but a shredded lower back also helps win bodybuilding competitions.
Your lumbar spine gets plenty of isometric exercise during most free-weight compound lifting, but you can target it specifically for growth with exercises like the back extension or good morning as well.
Who Is Lee Haney?
Winning the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition is nothing to sneeze at. But to do so an unbelievable eight times as Lee Haney did puts you right up there with the greatest physique athletes to ever live.
While bodybuilding icons like Ronnie Coleman (the only other athlete to secure as many Olympia wins as Haney, ever) and Dorian Yates may have ushered in the proverbial “mass monster” era in the 1990s, Haney clenched his fist around the sport in the 80s with a more refined, aesthetic physique.
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After his first Olympia appearance in 1983 (third place), Haney returned one year later to win the thing altogether, kicking off a run that could be considered one of the most impressive in the history of bodybuilding.
Lee Haney Mr. Olympia Competitions
Haney shares the distinction of winning all his Mr. Olympia competitions in sequence with Ronnie Coleman, who also won eight titles (1998 – 2007).
- 1983: 3rd place
- 1984: 1st place
- 1985: 1st place
- 1986: 1st place
- 1987: 1st place
- 1988: 1st place
- 1989: 1st place
- 1990: 1st place
- 1991: 1st place
Haney also won a string of competitions outside of the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBB), including the 1987 Grand Prix Germany.
Following his resignation from competition in 1991, Haney was also appointed as Chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports during the Clinton administration, applying his expertise from the weight room to public policy.
Build Your Back, Better
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman may have presided over professional bodybuilding in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively, but in the 1980s the sport all but belonged to Lee Haney.
Haney’s refined, meticulous approach to hypertrophy — centered around stimulating the muscles, not pounding them into submission — helped him create one of the best physiques in the history of the sport.
His back training was just one (admittedly integral) piece of that puzzle. With Haney’s back workout by your side, you’re all but guaranteed to build your best back ever.
Featured Image: @lee_haney_official on Instagram