'Back to Basics', is a phrase that rings out of the corner of every gym across the lands. Let's face it: most of the time this notion is true. Most of us have a sick sense of overcomplicating our own training. Sometimes, however, this complex so many of us possess can be a positive blessing.
Let me clarify this point: the exercises we choose to include in our routines ultimately define our results. It's useless persisting with movements you can't feel the target muscles working, or even worse don't have a positive correlation to improving performance or strength. When this happens, it?s time for change.
I?ve struggled with back training for the 8 years I?ve been training. Through a plethora of trial and error, relentless research and observation, I want to present to you 5 hidden gems you can incorporate into your pulling work for magnificent results.
These 5 movements are all absolutely stellar and will improve strength, quality of movement, in addition to supporting muscle gains. Give them a try and thank me later.
Band Pull-Aparts (De Franco 3D version)
Band pull-aparts are probably the best movement you?re not doing. My colleague at BodyActive, Paul O?Brien, is such a huge proponent of this exercise that he'd kick me hard in the nuts for not including them. So here they are.
Band pull-aparts (3D version): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKBsia-o9N4
The man himself, Joe De Franco, claimed that when training legendary wrestler Triple H during his last training cycle, he performed over 20,000 repetitions of band pull-aparts. What a testament to this movement!
Why are they so awesome, and why should you include them in your pulling regime? There's an abundance of reasons. Band pull-aparts strengthen the upper back musculature, specifically around the scapular region which tons of lifters simply do not hit enough. This includes small, neglected muscle groups such as the rhomboids, lower traps, postural deltoids, all the small muscle groups that will really give a 'pop' to your upper back, improve your posture, rotation quality in the shoulders, and more. Band pull-aparts are both a fantastic rehab / prehab exercise as well as auxiliary movement to help build up all those small muscle groups you're probably not utilising enough in your training and everyday life, leading to postural issues outside of your training. And, as suggested, we need to increase the frequency with which we hit those muscles.
Suggested Plan of Attack: Use them in your warm-ups or post-workout, working the repetitions up high and for multiple sets. Dependant on the strength of your band or whether you choose to use the De Franco version or the conventional version, band pull-aparts may be left best till last and in the comfort of your own home as a form of active recovery. Just get doing them on a frequent basis and you will reap the rewards of an improved upper back.
With band pull-aparts, I probably teased you a bit with a movement that was awesome, but wasn't necessarily the most challenging, muscle builder you were looking for. Well, here's an exercise that will shock you at just how difficult it is to perform: Inverted Rows!
Don't be fooled by the video; these are tough. What's great about inverted rows is that they really hit that upper back musculature that most lifters fail to do so effectively on conventional rows due to excessive hitching and unwanted engagement of the lower back. Inverted rows rectify this problem.
Suggested Plan of Attack: It's always suggested to include a bodyweight movement through gravity for each movement pattern of the body, and these are an ideal exercise to compliment your chin-ups for vertical pulling. If you'd like to include added resistance on these, you may require a partner to add weight across your lap, or you could always crawl under a barbell before hitching your legs upwards on to a low bench station.
Treat them like any other exercise and perform them progressively and with resistance. What's great about inverted rows is that they can also be used as a great superset to other movements, as a pre-exhaust exercise, etc.
Staying with the rows now, here is a phenomenal exercise that in my humble opinion, is superior to the conventional barbell row: Pendlay rows.
Pendlay rows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlRrIsoDpKg
The reason I am such an advocate of Pendlay's is because quite simply, the tendency to cheat on conventional barbell rows is too great. Once you get into a decent amount of poundage, your body instinctively just shifts the weight upwards and you lose the correct alignment of a neutral spine, and start to hitch the weight excessively. It defeats the purpose of hitting the lats effectively.
Pendlay rows will rectify this. As can be seen from Glenn Pendlay's articulate demonstration in the video, the bar stopping dead will rip the momentum out of hitching the movement up. On pulling exercises that require power, this is actually good as it preserves our form.
Give Pendlay's a chance, and I promise they'll produce better results than the form most folks use on barbell rows in gyms you see across the country.
Suggested Plan of Attack: Due to the nature of stopping the bar dead in between each repetition, I recommend Pendlay's never really rise above 5 reps over the course of at least 3-4 sets. You should generally work around 80% of your 1RM, and attempt to hit 3 sets of 5 with good, powerful form, before progressing with very small increments on a weekly basis, as you would your core compound movements. Pendlay's may be at the start of your workout and I certainly am not against this idea, I use them myself as a key component of my pull workouts and they're often my primary movement that starts the session.
1-Arm T-Bar Row
Think conventional T-Bar rows are awesome? Then you'll love the single-handed version equally as much. Even if you don't like T-bars, this variation will redefine the way you perceive the exercise due to the shift in biomechanics; specifically, the enhanced ROM.
1 arm T-bar row: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foi5I1Vz7-w
1-Armed T-bar's should be performed with smaller weight plates to ensure you're getting an effective stretch in the lats. There's no need to go for thinner plates than 15kg's (35lbers); I have found 10kg plates force you to retract the scapular excessively and unnecessarily.
Suggested Plan of Attack: This is an exercise I've experimented with significantly in regards to rep ranges, and one thing I've found true for nearly all unilateral exercises is that moderate to high repetitions work best as an accessory movement to compliment the bilateral lifts.
With the 1-arm T-Bar row, there is a great deal of stability involved around the core. Going below 8 reps I've found aggravates the core excessively and will strain your abdominals.
With this in mind, reduce the weight and use it as a muscle builder. The movement is certainly a great thickness exercise for the erectors as well as the lats, but it should be used primarily as a hypertrophy exercise to build muscle that will in turn compliment your main compound lifts.
It'd be teasing you just to list rowing variations throughout this article; here is a great vertical pulling variation that will add some flavour back into your regime.
Chin-ups are great. But what happens when they get stale and a change is needed? Rack chins can be the perfect solution.
Rack Chins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIAHeUN6vVw
To perform this exercise assisted with weight, it's very likely you'll come to depend on a training partner which is something you need to bear in mind. They provide a good stretch to the lats and it's an exercise that you can place additional emphasis on the eccentric portion of the lift to cause extra fiber breakdown. Enjoy the burn.
Suggested Plan of Attack: Vertical pulling exercises are often used to compliment heavy deadlifts and barbell rows, or at the beginning of a workout for moderate to higher repetitions. This will depend upon your current goals and weaknesses.
If you have a training partner, I would advise placing them at the beginning if your main goal is hypertrophy and working up to 3-4 sets with added weight across your lap. If you're riding solo, place them near the end of your workout and put extra emphasis on the stretch during the eccentric portion of the movement, whilst shooting for higher reps.
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