Back to Basics
My editor said he wanted a story on training the back – an area of the body with which I have had a lot of work to do. This is the story and the screen grab from EDGE MAGAZINE, where it appeared.
Everyone likes to train their chest and their arms because those body parts are right up front, where everyone can see them! Body builders and serious gym enthusiasts train everything; but they probably aren’t reading this story right now — they are at the gym training. Those people love to train their back because, even though you can’t see it, everyone else can and who doesn’t want people saying to themselves “look at that back!” while they’re walking away. I’m going to give you a few modifications that my own trainer taught me on making your back workout more effective.
1. Chin-up/Pull-up: Accept and own that you must do these. Many people who are just starting out (or even people who have been doing this for awhile) think it’s too difficult and they skip past it, preferring to do pull downs, where they can set a smaller weight and jerk the bar with all their might, using all their body weight to rock the bar down to their body with an imperfect form that accomplishes nothing. Just tell yourself you have to do it and that you will do it and get up on the horse. If you’re worried about people watching you and judging you because you can’t do a pull-up, get over it. Everyone that trains had to do their first pull-up and they feel your pain. If you are working alone, start out with the assisted pull-up machine; if you don’t know how to use it, ask someone. If you are working with a trainer or a buddy, have them spot you and give you an assist when you lose steam. Don’t quit, ever. Finish your set. You will be surprised at how quickly you get stronger.
2. Chin-up/Pull-up part two: Once you have mastered the chin-up, mix it up. You will need a machine that has different grips – the traditional chin up bar can be found in most gyms but gyms that focus on serious lifting will have a chin up bar that features two extra grips at dead center, right over your head, one wider than the other – you are going for the grip that is exactly at your shoulder-width apart. Start with a wide-grip, traditional, chin-up with full range of motion and perfect form. Do as many as you can. When you can do no more, step into line with the inside grips, step back into a half lunge with one leg, prepare and jump up, grabbing the grips and lifting your whole body up above the bar. Continue to do the chin-ups this way until you have done 25 total. Do this for four sets and watch your lats blow up.
3. Deadlifts: You can do deadlifts with dumbbells or a barbell. My trainer taught me a form that took me a few tries to get right but, once I did, I knew I was working. The most important part of the exercise is the form, not the weight (this is true of every weight lifting exercise but it is especially true when you are working your lower back). With your barbell weighted up and in place, stand with feet hip distance apart, take hold of the bar just outside of your ankles; bring the bar in really close to your shins and get ready to lift. Your ankles are at 90 degrees, your hips push way out back (as though you are about to sit down) so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor, flatten your back and raise your chest (a lot of people are too back-rounded), deadlift up with the bar so close to the shin that it’s like it is riding up your body. Use every muscle: push through the heel, squeeze the glutes, engage the lumbar, keep the chest up and bring the shoulders back, at the top. This is going to really strengthen your lower back and glutes and that will help all your back workouts to stay safe, increasing your growth capabilities. When I do this, I use a 45 lb plate on either side and do 6 sets of 10.
4. Curl Bar One Arm Rows: This is just like doing one arm rows, right and left, with a dumbell but if you do it with a barbell, you have to really focus on balancing that long weight. It just ups your game a little. In case you aren’t familiar with the one arm row: put your left knee and left hand on a weight bench, right foot planted on the floor (I always have a slight bend in my knee) and right hand holding the weight. Flat back! Hips back! Now row that weight! Do four sets of 20, each side; so pick a weight you can handle. You’ll love the way you feel.
5. Face Pulls: This isn’t a power move and it certainly isn’t an ego lift. This is a valuable training move to prevent injury, a move that is respected by serious lifters who know how much an injury can set you back. You will need a rope and a pulley station, where you will attach the rope at chest level. Using an overhand grip, hold both ends of the rope (your knuckles will be facing the walls), stepping back until the arms are outstretched; stagger your feet and bend your knees slightly, for a better support base. Pull the rope center toward your face, separating the two portions of the rope so that the rope comes to the bridge of your nose and your hands are alongside your temples, hands rotated so that the knuckles now face the ceiling. Elbows up! Make like you are squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades, holding for a few seconds. Using your control and the natural resistance, release the weight back to starting position and start again. The arms are all that moves; you don’t need to adjust your head or any part of your body to meet the rope – just move the arms and use those back muscles. Light weight is good – remember, this is a move to strengthen and prevent injury, not one to grow and show. Natch, I like to do four sets; ten to fifteen reps is good – but twenty is better!
On a personal note: I broke my back a few years ago (not the bone – it was a muscle snap that took me from standing while putting my palms flat on the floor to not being able to touch my knees) and the road back to back health was eye opening. I learned: train your back, but with respect. Research the moves, use perfect form, stretch (yoga, baby, yoga!), get massages, see a chiropractor and always observe proper posture – the time at the computer is murder on your back. Your back is where it’s at – and having a broad back is a great thing but having a strong back is the healthy thing. Treat this body part with the utmost respect. Trust me!