The Back.
By: J.V. Askem

When one enters into a regime of strength training, it doesn't matter what you goal is, but it is imperative that a strong healthy back be your priority. Now when training the back muscles, one should look upon its development in three (3) sections! First, the "lower or inner" area or spinal erectors. Second, the "central or thoracic" area, or traps. And third, the lateral section, or the latissimus dorsi (lats).

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(KEY EXERCISES: Romanian Deadlifts, RDL's, Clean & Snatch DL's,
Good Mornings, Full Cleans & Snatches)

First, when analyzing how to develop certain sections of your back, analyze what the prime mover function is for the different back muscles. It's true that there will be some over lap from different back exercises, but don't be fooled into thinking that overall back development can be obtained with just one exercise!

For example, it is a popular belief that the deadlift (DL) is the complete bodybuilding and strength development exercise. NOT TRUE!!! One can not build overall development and functional strength by just lifting a resistance as high as their crotch. You must at sometime in your training have a resistance out in front of your body, to side of your body, and above your body to obtain full body strength and development.

Now, the deadlift is a good core exercise for development of the lower and inner muscles closest to the spine. But keep in mind, they didn't name these muscles the spinal "rounders". They are SPINAL ERECTORS, which as the name implies means that their primary function is to keep your spine straight. Thus these muscles should primarily be trained in a stabilizing fashion. Check the article on this site, "The Romanian Deadlift" for illustrations of proper back and hip positions when doing DL's.

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(KEY EXERCISES: Shrugs, Clean & Snatch Pulls, High Hang Cleans & Snatches)

For upper back development, which includes mainly the traps, one's shoulders must be shrugged upward. Olympic movements such as clean and snatch grip pulls are most effective for overall functional development of this area. Now, the underlying rhomboids also come into play, and their prime mover function is to shrug the shoulders backwards, and this can best be achieved easiest by bent barbell and dumbbell or seated cable rowing exercises.

When performing bent or seated rows start with your shoulders back and with your chest out. Don't round your back. It is better to hold a slight arch. Now pull your hands or the bar into your body towards the sternum. Concentrate at this point on squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you. Lower eccentrically slowly. Don't let the weight drop quickly.

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(KEY EXERCISES: Bent Rows, Seated Cable Rows, Lat Pull Downs, Chins)

For the Lats the bent rows come into play again. Thus this exercise proves to be a great "all around" back exercise overlapping a lot of the different back muscles. However, the main draw back of bent rows comes if a trainee does not have the stabilizing strength in the inner and lower back to hold the proper arched back position with his chest out.

Some will do bent rows on a machine or T-bar, which takes the stabilizing feature out of the exercise. In short, this form of bent row will allow you to cheat, which means you're basically cheating yourself. Sure, one can still build thick lats, but their functional strength will not be at the level of the trainee who does strict free barbell or dumbbell bent rows.

For that wide "V" shape wide chins or lat pulley pull downs are most effective. When doing chins don't let yourself swing by dropping down quickly. Once again if you cheat on these you're just cheating yourself. Lat pull downs allow you do use a more usable weight if chins are a problem, but they are not as effective as dead hang chins.

Set/ Rep schemes are primarily predicated by a trainee's goals and priorities. Competitive Power and Olympic lifters will have a tendency to do sets with lower reps in the 5 to 6 maximum rep range on their compound movements, and usually in the 1 to 3 rep range on their multiple compound movements. Thus these exercises are trained less frequently with more rest in between workouts.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, generally use less weight with more sets and with higher reps in the 8 to 12 rep range. Also bodybuilders generally stick to just single compound exercises. However, whatever your goals, remember do all your exercises in strict form preceded by a good warm-up.

Best of luck with your training. JVA