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Back It Up by ALR Athlete Kyle Harris

Posted by True Muscle Admin on 2/22/2011 to True Muscle Articles

Article: Back It Up - Back Training article by ALR Athlete Kyle Harris

“Did you see the guns on that guy?”
“Dang, that dudes chest was huge?”
“WHOA!  You have an eight-pack man!”
“Bro, your delts are like melons!”

Those are all phrases we’ve either heard or said, whether it’s about a pro bodybuilder, friend, or the local freak that hits it in the gym you go to.  I’ve heard and read these phrases ever since I was a young child and saw Lee Haney for the first time.  I think it was on TV when I was at a friend’s house around the time I was in first or second grade.

ALR article Back it up

I’d always had an obsession with freaky, aesthetic physiques since I was a child and thought He-Man was the absolute coolest and strongest man on earth.  That fascination only continued as I watched Superman movies and cartoons.  I always knew I wanted wide shoulders and big guns.  Something changed slightly though around the time I was in junior high.  In my friend’s parent’s basement, between sets of our typical arm busting workouts, I would leaf through old Flex and Muscle and Fitness magazines.  Most of the time we would focus on the arm articles and incorporate techniques to build massive guns.  One day though I was hypnotized by an article on back training.  What?  That’s right!  I’ll never forget the day.

The article was titled something like, “Flex’ Back.”  It was a back training article on my new hero, Flex Wheeler.  The title playing on his come back after a near death car accident and his absolutely freakishly detailed back.  From that day forward, back became my favorite body part.  My focus shifted from building huge arms to creating a condor-like wingspan with the detail of the Rocky Mountains.  To this day, back day is my favorite and I am more impressed with bodybuilders that sport impressively wide and thick backs than I am with athletes walking around with huge guns or super wide clavicles.

With my newfound way of thinking, I begin to hammer out 1-arm rows, pull downs, seated rows, shrugs, and so forth in an attempt to build the back of my dreams. 

Fast-forward 3-4 years later.  Playing baseball I tore my rotator cuff.  During a meeting with my rehab specialist, it was pointed out to me that I had an extremely miss proportioned back.  It was pointed out that my trap area and upper back were thick and quite defined, but I lacked width and depth in my mid and lower regions.  This was causing improper scapula movement when I threw creating extreme bursitis and tendonitis and resulting in 2 small tears in my infraspinatus. 

This rude awakening shifted my train of thought on training, particularly my shoulder and back training.  Throughout the next 5-6 years I would strategically begin a plan of attack which allowed me to build an impressively wide, deep, detailed, and aesthetic back, most notably a “Christmas” tree deep enough to lose your shaker cup in.  The following strategies are things that I have learned, developed, or adapted in order to help create a back that is a secret weapon.  I’ve also accompanied a sample workout that I cannot take sole credit in creating (my coach, friend, and mentor Eric Broser must be credited with much of the information I have attained in back training, as well as a credit to the workout created here).

Use Your Hands As Hooks

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it is crucial in proper back training.  When training back and performing pulling exercises, you must envision your hands as hooks.  To assist you in doing this, utilize a false grip.  In a false grip, your thumb will be on the same side of the bar as your fingers.  In fact, your thumb will be directly beside your index finger.  When in proper position, use your mental fortitude (and imagination if you must) to picture your hands as hooks.  At this point, it is crucial to keep your wrists relatively locked into position throughout the entire rep.  If you begin bend your wrists/hands forward, you will begin to use your forearms and biceps and take the stress off your lats.  Not good for building a BARN-DOOR Back.

ALR Kyle Harris Back Article

PUSH With Your Elbows DON’T Pull With Your Arms

Once you’ve mastered the ability to use your hands as hooks, the next thing you need to do is think less about PULLING with your arms or hands and think more about PUSHING the weight back or down with your elbows.  I often envision a pad underneath my elbows (for pull downs) or behind my elbows (during rows).  I focus on pushing this imaginary pad down or backward to move the weight.  By utilizing the false grip and creating a mental environment of “pushing” the elbows, I’m able to focus and using back power, not biceps power!

Initiate Movement With The Scapula

Next, when starting from the stretched position, initiate the movement with your scapula.  During pull downs, the scapula should initiate the movement by rotating down, inward, and back.  Next, you want to lead with the elbows by “pushing” the imaginary pad discussed earlier.  For rows, you will do the same, but the downward movement of the scapula will be much less.

Perfect Posture/Positioning
Perfect posture is essential to building a great back for multiple reasons.  First and foremost, with improper posture and body positioning you are going to invite injury.  It’s impossible to build the perfect body or a huge back when you’re laid up.  Secondly, proper positioning and posture allows you to shift the stress and load on the back properly, resulting in better muscle fiber innervation and stimulation.  To get into the perfect posture you must think BIG CHEST & BIG GLUTES!  Your lower back (lumbar region) should maintain an arch.  This arch should be slightly greater than your natural lumbar curvature.  Secondly, you’ll want to bring your shoulders down and back while pushing your chest out.  You will need to maintain this positioning throughout the entire movement.  This perfect posture is even more important for exercises such as bent over rows and dead lifts.

Feel The Stretch/Stretching Techniques
On with the movement!  At the top of any back movement (except dead lifts and heavy rowing) it is CRUCIAL to get a good stretch in the right places.  Where are these right places?  Throughout the shoulder blades and belly of the lats.  This gets difficult as the weight increases and repetitions decrease.  Be careful though, because it takes some practice to be able to maintain proper posture and perform a full repetition to allow lat stretch and scapula rotation.

Feel The Squeeze
You’ve felt the stretch at the top of the motion.  You are using your hands as hooks.  You’ve initiated movement with the scapula, and you are pushing the “imaginary pads” back or down with your elbows.  Now, you must be sure to perform a full rep and feel a good squeeze at the bottom of the movement.  That is, after you’ve completed to concentric part of your lift, you must squeeze the muscle at peak contraction and hold it for up to a second.  Be sure to fight and FEEL the negative portion before you completely return to the stretch position.

Constant Tension
Although it is absolute that you build your back workouts around basic exercises such as the dead lift, pull-up, and barbell row, you must also include types of exercises that induce constant tension.  These are mostly exercises that assist the lifter in limiting moment to initiate movement.  The best examples are those exercises in which you use a cable, such as seated rows and lat pull downs.  When performing these exercises, one must not forget the aforementioned principles, and in addition, the lifter must concentrate on the mind muscle connection to create a state of constant tension.  Constant tension refers to the muscle(s) being under stress (concentric, peak contraction, eccentric, stretched) throughout the full duration of your set.  That means no resting or relaxing and absolutely NO cheating or swinging, unless it is to get that very last rep.  Cheating is only acceptable after you have reached your repetition goal or if you have reached failure at 1 repetition short of your goal.

Separate The Lats & Low Back
Another idea that I have taken to is separating my “lat” training from my low back training.  I think of my lats and low back as two distinctive muscle groups.  Is there crossover?  Definitely.  However, by doing this, I can train back on a day all by itself and effectively hit my lats (and the other muscles around there) and my low back.  I do this by performing 9-12 sets for the lats/mid traps/teres and an additional 4-6 sets for the low back through dead lifts, rack dead lifts, or back extensions.

Exercise Choice/Combinations/Angles
Lastly, you must realize the importance of proper exercise selection.  In a recent discussion with some friends, it was asked of me if I believed that pull downs and pull-ups increased lat width, while rows increased back thickness.  While I am a believer in this theory to some degree it is not that simplistic.  The back is such an intricate muscle group it’s not appropriate to attack it with this crude mind set.  I don't think you can solely categorize any back movement into a "width" or "thickness" group. Sure, certain movements are going to work more on width or more on thickness. For instance, typically pull downs are thought to build width or a "wingspan".  On the other hand, rows are thought to be for thickness. However, if you do a wide grip row, you can't tell me that that isn’t' going to stimulate growth in terms of lat width. In the same manner, a close grip pull down will work on thickness as well.  A much better way to think of it is in terms of grip and movement. You must work angles and grips to effectively and thoroughly hit your back. You do not need to hit every angle each time you work back. That's overkill.  But, by varying it from workout to workout you trick your so you do not adapt, thus creating growth!

Kyle Harris ALR back article

The Workout

*Take note that this is a sample workout.  It can be used in its entirety, but should not be the only back workout in your arsenal.  Use the ideas and principles written above as well as this template to create back workouts that will vary from workout to workout.  (*Note that many of the ideas, schemes, and principles in this workout are centered around Eric Broser’s Power, Rep Range, Shock training system.)

1. Reverse Grip Barbell Row – 3 Sets of 4-6 Repetitions
2. Wide Grip Pull-ups or Lat Pull Down – 1 Set of 10-12 Reps, 2 Sets of 7-9 Reps
3. Close Grip Seated Row – 1 Set of 10-12 Reps, 2 Sets of 13-15 Reps (w/ emphasis on peak contraction)
4. Straight Arm Pull Down Superset w/ Med Grip Machine Row – 1-2 Sets of 8-10 Each

As you can see you are able to attack the back with different angles and grips here assuring that you hit eat region.  Another benefit of designing a workout like the example above is that you are able to stimulate fast twitch, slow twitch, and those muscles that lie in between, resulting in more growth, strength, and SIZE!

The last thing I want to touch on is a technique that I have found to be quite beneficial to those that just can’t get back growth to occur.  This is an over-“reaching” technique.  It is similar to over-training, but can result in better growth when performed properly.  To do this, an individual can increase their working set total from the recommended 8-11 up to 16.  By doing this for no more than 6 weeks an individual can induce a myriad of anabolic events to aid in back growth.  However, if you do this for longer than 4-6 weeks you are inviting over-training and your results will plateau and possibly even regress.

It’s my goal that you will be able to implement the above strategies and build a CONDOR-like wingspan, accompanied by the thickness and detail of a chiseled mountain range.  GOOD LUCK!

Article source: ALRIndustries.com

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