Terrence Ruffin On Why Unilateral Pulldowns Stifle Beginner Back Gains

Ruffin believes beginners don’t have enough weaknesses worth focusing on with unilateral movements.

Classic Physique standout Terrence Ruffin has had significant accolades at the Arnold Classic (AC) and Mr. Olympia, securing first place at the 2021 AC and second place at the 2020 and 2021 Olympia contests. His Classic Physique success can be attributed to his posing and broad, dense back

Ruffin took to his YouTube to share the typical mistakes beginner bodybuilders make that hinder their back gains. Ruffin says to avoid one movement in particular — the single-arm (unilateral) pulldown — to continue progressing back growth. Check out his YouTube video below:

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Why Terrence Ruffin Says to Avoid Unilateral Pulldowns 

Ruffin advocates for the wide-grip lat pulldown for developing thicker lats. However, he feels new lifters often opt for the single-arm lat pulldown when they shouldn’t. 

“It’s popular to do the single-arm lat pulldowns. It’s great for fully stretching and contracting the lats,” Ruffin said, “but I see a lot of new lifters doing this exercise, and not that it’s wrong, but doing anything bilateral [unilaterally] can be a disadvantage.” 

Ruffin explained that since beginners don’t have any weaknesses yet, isolating muscle groups should not be a priority as it might be for intermediate or advanced lifters. 

I prefer beginners do chest-supported T-bar rows…because you don’t have any weakness yet. You should put on muscle everywhere in your body.

Besides avoiding unilateral wide-grip lat pulldowns, Ruffin detailed how to properly perform the bilateral variation. 

The biggest mistake is people rocking — just moving the weight won’t work your muscles. Momentum will not help and will only hurt you in the long run if you’re trying to build muscle.

Cues can be helpful for the mind-muscle connection to focus on a specific muscle. Think of your hands as hooks holding the attachment while pulling from the elbows. Hold onto the attachment with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. A “wide grip” should not be so wide as to be unable to effectively contract the lats to move the weight.

To pull from the elbows, imagine contracting the lats by trying to wrap your elbows behind you as though you want them to touch. Of course, the elbows won’t actually get close to touching, but as the lats wrap around the rib cage, it can be helpful to think of wrapping the arms rather than driving them straight down.

[Related: 6-Time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates Explains How Smith Machine Squats Outshine Barbell Squats]

Pyramid Training vs. Straight Sets

Ruffin addressed whether targeting the back muscles with back-off sets (pyramid training/reverse pyramid training sets) or straight sets is better. His answer: it doesn’t matter! Ruffin believes pyramid training and straight sets both build muscle. Although, he prefers reverse pyramid training — reducing the weight of each set. 

If I do three sets of six to eight reps [and] the next set, I can’t do six to eight reps…with that same weight. I’ll probably get four or fewer reps — the weight is too heavy.

Ruffin didn’t compete at the 2023 Arnold Classic. After landing a sixth-place finish at the 2022 Olympia, there is room for improvement. With the back workout Ruffin is implementing to grow his lats, expect to see him attempt his 2023 Olympia qualification with an improved physique at a to-be-determined pro show this season. 

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Featured image: @ruff_diesel on Instagram