If your back development isn't all you want it to be, the problem may lie in your workout. Here are four errors made when training back.
< TRAINING INTRODUCTION >
- 1) Leaning back on the pull-down. No matter what the exercise, people tend to put themselves in a position where they have the optimal mechanical advantage to make the exercise easier and be able to lift more. On the pull-down, it's easier to lean back, thus recruiting your middle and lower back muscles and turning the move into a row. While recruiting more muscles may sound good, making the pull-down just another rowing exercise is redundant with your barbell, dumbbell or seated cable rowing. The pull-down targets the lats, thus building the overall width of your back when done correctly. Sit upright with just a slight lean back and bring the bar down to your clavicle for best results.
- 2) Not using a variety of movements. From the erector spinae down the middle of your back, to the rhomboids, traps and teres major and minor of the upper/middle back, to the las draping down each side, all the muscles of the back have to be trained if you want to gain any ground. Your workout should consist of a heavy row, a pull-down and/or pull-up movement, and lower-- back exercises such as dead-- lifts (which work the upper back, lower back and legs) or extensions. In addition, switch between wide- and low-grip rows and pull-ups/pull-downs every few workouts to keep the growth engine humming.
- 3) Not moving your shoulders. The purpose of the upper-back muscles is to facilitate movement at the shoulder joints. So if your shoulders stay pinned back or rounded forward on a row, for example, you're essentially working only your arm muscles. As you row, let your shoulders come forward on the descent and roll them back on the ascent, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top.
- 4) Not forging a mind-muscle connection. People often complain that they never get a good pump in their back. This is likely due to one of two factors, and probably a combination of both. First, they don't move their shoulders as described in No. 2 and second, they choose a weight that's too heavy, causing them to rep quickly and with momentum rather than with slow, controlled form. You need to feel the back muscles firing as you pull -- don't just do whatever it takes to get the weight from point A to point B.
There are some things in your training regimen you do because, well, everybody does them. Everyone benches for a big chest, and if you want big legs, you squat. But sometimes the masses seem more like lemmings - they aren't sure what or why they're doing something. They just do it because they believe they should.
Which brings us to the dumbbell lateral raise. Just about anyone who does this exercise raises the weights to only shoulder level, arms about parallel to the floor, but no higher. Know why? Think it causes rotator-cuff impingement and is dangerous to go above that point? Uh-uh. Think the arms-parallel position is where the middle delt stops working? Wrong again.
"Going to arms parallel in the dumbbell lateral raise provides good deltoid recruitment and doesn't put the shoulder joint in a stressful situation," says Louie Brockhoeft, MES, a personal fitness coach at Mercy Hospital in Anderson, Ohio. "But taking the move 45 degrees past parallel fully engages the middle delt; plus it recruits the upper traps, levator scapulae and all muscles around the scapula, including the rhomboids, the lower traps and serratus."
While the concern over rotator-cuff impingement is real, Brockhoeft notes this fear can be minimized in two ways. First, slightly supinate your wrists (turn your palms up) on the way up if necessary. Second, instead of bringing the weights directly out to your sides, raise your arms in a wide V formation, about 10-15 degrees in front of your torso. Both modifications should improve the comfort of your lateral raises.
Brockhoeft argues that it's not necessary to go above 135 degrees (about halfway between the arms-parallel position and directly overhead) because the middle delt is strongest to that midway point, then quickly falls off. "Once you pass that point, you're no longer working against gravity [when using dumbbells] and the weight becomes lighter, taking stimulus off the muscle. Going to 135 degrees not only maximizes your delts but also works the traps from an angle different than you're used to."
Individuals with pre-existing rotator-cuff injuries shouldn't take lateralraise moves much higher than parallel, warns Brockhoeft. But for those who can, he offers several ways to include them in your workout (see below). This makes sense, he says, because it develops better separation of traps and delts, creating the ideal V-shape that makes you look wider, and hits those trap fibers, making you appear thicker.
So don't be like the rest of the guys in your gym. Build up those delts by occasionally taking your lateral raises a little higher for greater gains.
Moving the weight all the way up to 135 degrees (halfway between the arms-parallel position and overhead) Is harder than going to just arms-parallel, so you'll have to use lighter dumbbells.
Start with your heavy presses for shoulders, then do your lighter-weight, high-volume Isolation work.
If you have heavy and light shoulder days, go to arms-parallel on the heavy days, and above parallel on the light days.
Alternately, do lateral raises to arms-parallel first In your workout, then do a few sets above parallel with lighter weights.
One tough variation: Start with the weights In the arms-parallel position (go lighter since you can't use any momentum) and use a range of motion from 90-135 degrees.
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