Friday, October 04, 2013

Back to School

Every good "pre-prep" bulking period includes an attack on weakpoints.  For me, this includes (among other things) back.  Everything about it, width, thickness, I need more of everything.  Here are some of the exercises I've been trying lately to help this pet project along. 

1.  "Meadows" Rows
I got these from my training partner, who got them from John Meadows, aka mountaindog1 on Professional Muscle.  This guy is a serious beast and a very well-informed, no-nonsense kinda guy--love it!  In the past, I've done these using an Olympic t-bar row, but now I do them with a bar simply secured under a plate. 

Start by standing near the end of the bar and adjusting your stance to account for the working angle of the bar in the machine or whatever it's secured with--I like to have the bar coming in towards me at about a 30-45 degree angle.  Then place one foot past the bar with the other staggered behind you, your hips and spine forming axes.  Bend over and grip the bar near the end, allowing your working shoulder to rotate forward--as it would with a one-arm row.  Support yourself on your extended knee with your other arm, maintaining an untwisted spine and pelvic position.  As you begin to lift the weight, you'll notice that the bar forces your path of movement outward as you approach a full contraction--this is normal and one of the best parts of the exercise!  Having the bar come out slightly towards the "top" of the movement allows for maximal lat contraction.  Make sure you control your torso during this exercise: Don't twist and rotate too much; you only want your working side shoulder to drop just enough to stretch the lats, but not enough to cause any twisting of the spine.

2.  Rack Pulls
Rack pulls are a great alternative to pull-ups, which can be a bitch when you start getting heavier.  Pull-ups are also a very technical exercise, so if you weigh a lot and try to do them perfectly, you'll only get a few reps before failure.  Since I generally like to shoot for somewhat higher rep ranges, rack pulls are a great way for me to increase my capacity while still maintaining strict form.

For this exercise, prop your legs up onto an incline bench, adjusting the height of the bar and the distance and angle of the bench to suit your body type and strength.  Your legs should be straight, with your hips well below your ankles when your arms are in a fully extended position.  When in a fully contracted position, the bar should be hitting somewhere in your mid to upper chest and your shoulders should still be down and back with elbows slightly out--the exercise as a whole should end up feeling a lot like a row-pulldown hybrid.

3.  Lat Shrugs
Another variation of the pull-up!  This exercise focuses on a short but intense range of motion and is a great "primer" for early in the workout.  Start with your preferred overhand pull-up grip, and with arms completely inactive, simply retract the shoulders.  This should only lift you a few inches and you should feel most of the contraction in your upper outer lats.  Control lower to start and repeat--easy!  I love to combine these with cable pullovers to really blast the lats first thing.

4.  Rack Deads
Another short-range-of-motion-but-hella-intense exercise.  This time, we're shortening the range of motion to isolate the back--classic deadlifts generally involve quite a bit of activity in the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.  To start, set up the rack so that the bar rests on the safeties just below your knees.  With a straight back, explode upwards through the shoulders, keeping your chest up and out throughout the entire movement.  Squeeeeeze at the top and control lower to start.  Make the exercise even more difficult by really waiting for a full "dead stop" at the bottom.  Try exaggerating the rounding and arching of your upper back to really intensify the involvement of the scapular retractors.  

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