Two-Time Figure Olympia Champion Erin Stern’s 5 Essential Exercises for an Aesthetic V-Taper

A broad-shouldered physique that tapers to a narrow waist is an essential aesthetic for success in competitive bodybuilding. Two-time Olympia Figure champion (2011-12) Erin Stern disclosed five back training routines (blending machines and free weights) that can help develop that desirable V-taper.

Bodybuilding competitions are won from the back.

A well-developed back, highlighted by well-trained rear delts, harmonizes the upper and lower bodies, enhances waist definition, and improves posture. Stern offered expert guidance on how to execute those routines effectively in the video below:

Eric Stern’s top five exercises for developing width in the upper back are:

T Bar Rows

Pause-Rep Lat Pulldowns

Single-Arm Smith Machine Rows

Wide Lat Pushdowns

Incline Bench Lateral Raises

[Related: Chris Bumstead Gives a Full Tour of His Personal Gym; No Bench Press?]

T-Bar Rows

Stern prefers the effectiveness of a landmine setup for T-bar rows. However, anchoring the bar in a sturdy corner is also viable. Stern pulls 25-pound weight plates rather than the larger 45-pound plates, as the latter doesn’t allow as deep of a contraction, which is crucial for muscle development. (1)

Stern adopts a wide stance for stability and utilizes a double-D attachment with a neutral grip. She positions her upper body to 45 degrees to target the upper back. By incorporating slow eccentrics and a mid-rep pause, Stern maximizes stimulus.

“Think about keeping your elbows in, pulling the weight through the elbow…almost trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top,” says Stern. “This will help really engage those back muscles…keep your back flat and try to minimize momentum.”

Pause-Rep Lat Pulldowns

Pause reps can enhance mind-muscle connection. Research from the European Journal of Applied Physiology supports mind-muscle connection to boost muscle activity and promote growth during training. (2

Stern recommends using an overhand grip and visualizing the hands as machine extensions for optimal engagement. According to Stern, avoiding momentum is the key. She controls the weight meticulously through each rep.

Single-Arm Smith Machine Rows

Stern believes single-arm exercises are excellent for improving symmetry. She recommends starting with the non-dominant side as it is typically weaker. However many reps you can get on that weaker side dictates the rep count for the stronger side.

Stern adopts a more upright stance to target the upper lats. A shoulder-width stance can establish a stable base. Maintain the same distance from the bar for each rep while using an identical grip on both sides — consistency is critical.

Wide Lat Pushdowns

Wide-grip lat pushdowns promote back width. Stern advocates using lighter weights with a staggered stance, alternating each set. Combined with a slight forward lean, this stance targets the upper latissimus dorsi, teres major, and rhomboids. Focusing on these areas helps add detail to the back, which complements its width.

Stern uses an overhand grip one-and-a-half to two times wider than shoulder width. She arches her back slightly, directing the weight towards her knee.

Incline Bench Lateral Raises

Incline lateral raises are a staple of Stern’s V-taper training regimen since the incline bench restricts momentum. She recommends lighter weights to help control the eccentrics throughout the routine. A mirror can help you see that both dumbbells are at equal height for uniform execution of each repetition.

Stern’s Closing Tips

A robust mind-muscle connection is crucial for developing non-“mirror muscles,” such as those in the back. Stern takes time to feel her muscles engage during each rep. Here are three tips she offered for improving mind-muscle connection:

Embrace partial repetitions.

Opt for lighter weights to maintain form and focus.

Incorporate pause repetitions to intensify muscle engagement.

Stern uses a full-length mirror when training. Use mirrors to observe and correct form. This approach aids muscle engagement by providing visual feedback. Slow, steady, and controlled reps with intention are how to acquire that desired V-taper.


Kassiano, W., Costa, B., Nunes, J. P., Ribeiro, A. S., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Cyrino, E. S. (2023). Which ROMs Lead to Rome? A Systematic Review of the Effects of Range of Motion on Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 37(5), 1135–1144.

Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M. D., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Colado, J. C., & Andersen, L. L. (2016). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European journal of applied physiology, 116(3), 527–533.

Featured image: @2x_ms_olympia on Instagram

The post Two-Time Figure Olympia Champion Erin Stern’s 5 Essential Exercises for an Aesthetic V-Taper appeared first on BarBend.


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