By Fred Koch, P-SCE
With so much information around these days it is hard to determine what you should really listen too. That is why when I started to work with the bodybuilders it became clear from the beginning that and investigative approach had to done. When I look at training body-parts numerous factors have to be taken into play. Just because someone said this is the way he does it, does not mean that is the best way for everyone to do it. Body types are different from individual to individual; a clear example of this is here in Norway the long arm body-type that I spoke about in my last series of articles. If you haven’t read these articles I explained that when you see someone with big arms and shoulders and a skinny upper-body it is because they arms tire out way before the chest and in this case the back too. This means the back never get a full workout, thus it cannot grow to its potential.
This exercise is so out , after you read this article you will laugh at anyone you see doing it.
Last time we spoke about the chest. Well, now we have to talk about the other half of the upper body the upper back. Actually the upper back or lats as it is called is much larger than the chest muscles. Thus, this long arm issue becomes even more pronounced. Ask yourself this “when was the last time you got a great pump in your back”?
Now is the time to investigate the exercises we currently see are popular.
The first exercise we should look at is the wide grip behind-the-neck pull-down. Guys do this on the mistaken assumption that using a wide grip will give them a wide back. This technique has been handed down from generation to generation of bodybuilders, but the question is. Do the exercises actually work the back in the most efficient manner possible? If you look at the movement you will see that this is really only ½ the range of motion from a biomechanical point of view. See figure #1. So why are you doing this movement?
With that example out of the way we must then to go to biomechanics of the muscles of the back. The primary muscle we are talking about of course is the latisimus dorsi, but other muscles involved are the rhomboids and the teres major. If you take a good fresh look at the muscle chart and keep in mind that a muscle works in a straight line you will see the size of the lats and the direction of the fibers injects some interesting issues. Due to the size of the lats and their attachment to the arm you can now clearly see that depending on where the elbows are at changes this muscle alignment.
Now you can begin to see the reasons for doing numerous exercises for the back. Old time bodybuilders learned this, but did not know why and now we can back it up with science. The next step in our investigation we go to Kendall and Kendall the book from last article and let science define what exactly the latisimus dorsi does. Well the main movement seems to be to rotate the upper arm around the shoulder. Interesting……….
Now remember the lat muscles are like a fan and depending on the location of the elbow determine where the muscles are in a straight line at, thus what part of the lats is being focused on.
The lats have four main movements
- Rotate the arm/elbow around the shoulder. (Reverse Grip lat pull downs)
- Pull the arm/elbow back when the elbows are at the sides of the body. (Seated Row)
- Pull the arm/elbow back when the elbows are up and pointed out from the body. (Seated row with a straight bar)
- Pull the arm/elbow arm down from straight up to next to the body. ( Lat pull down behind the head type movement)
Since you do most back exercises by holding on with your hands, the biceps also play an important role when you work your back, which poses a problem since the lats attach to the upper. This means that if you hold on with your hands the biceps must work with the back. Since the biceps are smaller and will tire out faster this creates a large problem. This is why you seldom get a pump in your lats with behind the neck pull downs or other common back exercises
Ideally, you should work your back without using your hands. The solution is to tire your lats first with exercises that do not involve the biceps. Then when you do exercises with your biceps involved the back will be pre-exhausted.
- Straight arm pullovers. This exercise does the main movement of your lats, rotate the elbows around your shoulders. Make sure you get a full stretch overhead and start the movement by pulling with your back.
- Cobras – this exercise is the replacement for pull downs behind the neck. This is the full range of motion for this movement of the lats. You will notice whether you do it with one arm at a time or two arms the movement is done with pulling with the elbow and driving it down to your side. Since the elbow leads very little biceps are used. As you can see in the video you must be careful to pull your elbows straight down and not they pull back. The body will try to cheat this way because it is easy than doing it right. Also if you choose to do this exercise with 2 hands it takes some getting used to. The cables will hit when they cross the middle of the body at first. It just needs some practice.
- Now that we have pre-exhausted the lat muscles we can begin to hit them with the movements using the biceps. Reverse grip pull downs will put your biceps into the most advantageous position for you to work your pre-fatigued back muscles hard. Make sure you let your arms go as high as possible until you can feel your scapulae move up and around in your back. This will stretch the lats at the bottom. Then, when you start the movement by pulling with your lower lats, not your arms. Do not jerk from your lower back in order to start the downward momentum of the bar, but rather use a piston-type movement. Many bodybuilders stop this movement three-quarters of the way up which is why they don’t have lower lat development.
- Next comes seated rows with the elbows next to your sides or close grip rows whatever you call them. If you take another look at the muscle chart in Kendall you will see the lats have a small attachment to the lower part of the scapulae. This is why this type of exercises is done from a biomechanical point of view. Take a good look at the video to see how this exercise is done properly. This exercises is one of the easiest exercises to cheat on because most every article says to do them “heavy” so trainees define that is put on as much weight as you can which cause you to bend forward and start the movement with your lower back. The momentum built up during this cheat takes away half of the effectiveness of getting a great upper back. I guess it might be good if you are going to go in a contest to row a Viking ship.
- The final exercise is seated row with the elbows pointed out. Use a straight bar and follow the same movement as with the seated row. By pointing your elbows out you are putting a different part of the lats in a straight line.
The workout routine:
Warm up on a rowing machine for 5 minutes or 1000 meters.
Cable pullovers: 1set x10 reps, 3 sets of 8 reps.
Cobras: 3 sets x 8 reps
Curl grip lat pull downs: 4 sets of 8 reps
Seated rows: 3 sets x 8 reps
Seated rows elbows up 3 sets x 8 reps
If you want to try an advanced way to train you can use a percentage of your 1 rep max. Take 65% of your max and do the above this truly customizes your workouts to your body. I will talk more on this advanced style in the future.
For the purpose of this article we will stay with taking about the latisimus. In future articles I will talk about the other muscles of the back, the rhomboids, trapezoids, and the secret stabilizer muscles of the around the scapula.
Fred Koch, P-SCE is the International Director for Tudor Bompa Institute, TBI, one of the world’s top certifications systems. For more information you can e-mail Fred, firstname.lastname@example.org or see his blog at www.fredkoch.com
Fred Koch (P-SCE), er styrketrener og bor i Kristiansand. Jeg er direktør for Tudor Bompa Institute (TBI) på verdensbasis. TBI er et internasjonalt sport- og fitness sertifiseringsprogram for personlige trenere E-post email@example.com
og styrketrenere. www.fredkoch.com
Fred recently co-opened the Bear Cave Trenningsenter in Vågsbygd Norway, seewww.bearcave.no
The other exercise links at You tube are..
One Arm Cobras:
Reverse grip Lat Pulldwns:
Seated Row Elbows Up: