Pully Power: Back Training

By: Tim Rigby (courtesy of Inside Fitness)

Your back is the largest muscle group in your body in terms of surface area. This means that when others observe you, your back is the biggest muscle group they perceive – only your glutes are technically larger, due to their density. For some reason, however, the back usually ranks only fourth in terms of the volume of training people dedicate to it; the chest, biceps and abs always seem to command more focus. Regardless, if your back is lacking, or you simply want to give it the attention it truly deserves, here’s how you can leverage cables and a strategic protocol to blast your back!

Are you open-minded? Are you willing to make changes in order to further your back-training gains, even though they may be unfamiliar territory and seem strange at first? If you answered ‘yes’ to these two questions, read on. If not, it’s time you expanded your horizon and learned that in weight training, the only way to truly sustain progressive results is to constantly switch your training approach regularly. To that end, we’re going to assume that you’ve already been resistance training for some time and have established a foundation for growth. Now it’s time for the next phase.

Flip Your Grip
One of the great secrets of the pros is to take the road less travelled and perform your training using less-popular methods. These may pertain to the manipulation of a whole slate of things like sets, reps, rest periods, cadence (rep speed), grip width, grip position, and specialty techniques like slow negatives, forced reps and so on. For the purposes of this back-attack workout to help you break through training plateaus, we’re going to focus on (1) the use of cables and (2) the use of grips which you may never have employed before. So, put away those heavy barbells and dumbbells, and say goodbye to bent-over rows for the time being. Let’s get you over to the cable pulleys, flip your grip, and nuke your lats in a different manner than you may have ever used before.

Many Parts to the Puzzle
Now hold on,” you may say, “The grips I’ve been using have worked well for a long time, and I’m reluctant to perform these exercises differently.” We get you but the reality of weightlifting is that any element of performance, if done over and over, will eventually hit a roadblock wherein your gains come to a halt. So, it truly is necessary to employ different approaches periodically. Switching from a narrow grip to a wide grip or switching from an overhand to an underhand grip may seem awkward at first – plus you’ll have to adjust the resistance used – but the effect of muscle stimulation is substantial. Why? In simple terms, because you are changing the emphasis of muscle fibre activation. Turning your hands upside down, for example, will engage your muscles differently (as will using a wide grip) but as long as the constant (the exercise technique) remains the same, then you can rest assured your back will be worked hard and its muscles will be stimulated.

Expand Your Exercise Selection
In addition to switching grip positions, another smart move for you to keep those back training results progressing is to use exercises that you haven’t performed before. Most beginners (and a great deal of intermediate lifters) to this day have never performed the straight-arm pressdown.  These individuals tend to rely too heavily on the traditional seated lat pulldown, usually using an overhand grip. Well, here’s a news flash for you: the lats have a very prominent, important lower section too. While you may think that it’s acceptable to neglect them, since your ultimate goal is a taper where they become drawn in, that’s a big mistake. You still need to train your lower lats so they have development and appear sculpted. An imbalance between a solid, dense upper lats section and an underdeveloped lower section can look bizarre (and reveal that you don’t know what you’re doing). The straight-arm pressdown is very effective for your lower lats, and although you may not be used to it, we’re including it in this workout owing to its aforementioned effectiveness.

Combining new positions of grips with new exercises, while employing a “square” set scheme (where the number of sets per exercise equals the number of exercises) will ignite all-new back development and may help you gain like never before. Remember to begin this program only after you’ve been training for a while, and are accustomed to using deliberate control and technique. After a period of about four to six weeks, stop using this program and switch up to another new method of training to keep blasting your back and making even further gains!

Exercise                                                           Sets     Reps                Rest
UNDERHAND LAT PULLDOWN                      4          10, 10, 8, 6      1:45 mins.
WIDE-GRIP SEATED ROW                              4          12, 10, 8, 8      1:30 mins.
KNEELING NEUTRAL-GRIP PULLDOWN       4          12, 12, 10, 8    1:15 mins.
STANDING STRAIGHT-ARM PRESSDOWN    4          15, 12, 12, 10  1:00 min.

Although these exercises may seem unfamiliar to you, the same solid training principle of starting with the heaviest resistance and working your way to the lightest resistance still applies.  Use a heavier load with lower reps at the beginning, then with each exercise use a lighter load by proportion and perform it for higher reps.  Decrease your rest times with each exercise too, and by the time you finish this workout you’ll feel a substantial pump and know that you’ve set your muscles on course for big growth. Remember: use this workout for a period of four to six weeks, then switch up to another back-training protocol to ensure even more muscle stimulation.

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