Gain Muscle on Your Upper Back

By: Tony Schwartz


Letís face it, back work is tough! In most gyms it is the most abused and neglected part of the body that absolutely everybody loathes. After all you canít see the back in the mirror, so what good is it? For most bodybuilders it formulates the core of a ďcompleteĒ posterior, which legends like Yates and Coleman took to another level. For Olympic weightlifters the back serves as the main part of the musculature for pulling and overhead support. For powerlifters it was summed up by the great Jon Kuc that, "the back IS the powerlifts!" For everyday guys a complete looking back letís everyone else know that you know what the you are doing.

Whatever the reason may be, everyone's training routine should include at least one of the following three exercises.

1) Shrug "Downs": These should really be named "Scapular Depressions," but who knows what that means? Anyways, assume a slightly outside the shoulder grip on a pull-up bar, as if you were going to perform a pull-up. From here let your body hang as long as it can from the bar. (Like you did when you were kid trying to make yourself taller). As soon as you feel your deltoids in your ears PULL the shoulders (more specifically the head of the humerus) down into the socket without bending the elbows. Basically shrug your shoulders DOWNward. This drill is great for teaching one to properly engage the lats during vertical pulling movements (pull-ups, lat pull downs. Etc.) and was a staple in Ernie Frantzís bench training.

2) Real Chest Supported Rows: Not done on the goofy machine that retails for $2000, this is performed while lying prone on an elevated bench. (Preferably with one end propped up on a 4-6 inch block or using an adjustable incline bench). Grab a pair of dumbbells (or a loaded MacDonald bench bar with the camber facing up) from the floor in front of you. From here tighten your spine so it is flat and to take out arm slack. Start the movement by squeezing the shoulder blades together and continuing to pull until the apparatus hits or is at the level of the bench. For all you "belly" benchers make sure your elbows are angled toward your ribs to strengthen your lats in that same groove. Perform anywhere from 5-12 reps and put an isometric hold at the top every now and then to kill yourself.

3) Inverted Dumbbell Cleans: Also performed lying prone on an incline bench this movement takes advantage of the coordination of the isometric contractions of the retractors and rotational movements propagated by the deltoids and rotator cuff. Hang dumbbells in front of your face with hands completely pronated. Initiate the exercise with complete shoulder extension and simultaneous retraction/depression of shoulder blades. (AKA- sucking the shoulder blades down and back). The second part of the drill requires that the lifter reverse direction into shoulder flexion while bending the elbows to 90 degrees until complete flexion in realized. Here the elevators, retractors, and external rotators are getting ample work.

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