💪 Undervalued Strength Metrics - You're Back!! 🤓

Edition#4

Without a strong back, you’d be like a cooked noodle 🍜 , you would fold in half trying to back squat. It provides a solid base for a big bench, helps stabilize overhead pressing movements and it’s kind of obvious but it will definitely help your deadlift numbers ⬆️ . Your back musculature supports your spine and strengthening it carries over to everyday life, promotes better posture and reduces the risk of injury 🤕.

Studies have shown that deadlifts and squats help with bone density in younger populations and may even help maintain that into later life! (Almstedt et al., 2011) & (Walters et al., 2012). Low bone mass is a characteristic of Osteoporosis, so yet another reason to deadlift 🤓.

Put it this way, you will never come across and elite athlete in any given strength sport with a small, weak back.

It may even help you to be able to do this ⬇️ - “Functional Fitness”

The 5 main back muscles 💭 

  • Latissimus Dorsi - Your “Lats”

  • Erector Spinae - Run from your pelvis to the base of your neck

  • Rhomboids - Stabilise your shoulder girdle

  • Posterior Deltoids - Help the lats enable various arm movements

  • Trapezius - Your “Traps” assist in moving the head and neck. This can be split into Upper, Middle and Lower Trapezius.

Laying it out 🤓 

Now the proverbial “Meat and Potatoes” of your back training will be deadlifts, pullups and rows (with all their wonderful variations).

I’ll split back training into 4 categories here to make it simple and provide ease with programming ⬇️ 

Hip Hinge - The Deadlift works pretty much every muscle in your back, from your erectors to your lats and traps. Based on your goals you can chose to do variations of Hip Hinge movements to get a similar benefit, Stiff Leg Deadlifts, RDL’s and Good Mornings.

Vertical Pulling - Pull ups (pronated, supinated or neutral) & Lat Pulldowns (various grips and attachments).

Horizontal Pulling - Bent over Barbell Rows, Pendlay Rows, Chest Supported Rows, Single Arm Dumbbell Row, Cable Rows, Inverted Rows.

Accessory Work - Although you shouldn’t take the label “accessory” as unimportant, they just don’t fit into hip hinge, vertical or horizontal pulling categories. Small List below ⬇️ 

  • IYT Raises - Light but hard. Brilliant for Middle + Lower Traps

  • Face Pulls - Cable, Banded, Dumbbell or Barbell

  • Rear Delt Fly - Dumbbell / Cable / Reverse Pec Deck

  • Back Extensions - From a GHD or Roman Chair

  • Straight Arm Pulldowns - I prefer to use a lat pulldown bar for this

  • Shrugs - Barbell or Dumbbell

  • Carries - Front Rack, Farmers, Zercher (pretty much any carry)

Programming Considerations 💪 

First off, don’t try and fit ALL of the above into you’re training 🤦‍♂️, the amount of volume would be ridiculous.

Pick 2-3 from each category, for each training block. You can keep the same 2 for training blocks back to back and only switch them out if ⬇️ 

  1. The movement has become stale and progress has stalled

  2. You are not enjoying that movement anymore

  3. A certain movement gives you discomfort or pain

Below is a brief overview of some of the movements.

Deadlifts - although a foundational movement, are very fatiguing. So watch your volume within your programme and adjust based on your goals & recovery levels. Although you have hip hinge variations like Stiff Leg Deadlift, RDL’s and Good Mornings, you can also try variations of deadlifts by adding pauses at certain positions or pulling from a deficit.

OUTA NOWHERE!

Chest Supported Rows - provide a brilliant stimulus to fatigue ratio within any programme (Dedicated machine or Dumbbell variations). Most rowing variations will add extra fatigue to the spinal erectors, however chest supported variations allow the same horizontal row stimulus for the rest of your back while lessening the fatigue on your erectors. Inverted Rows accomplish this as well, however progression on inverted rows can be more difficult due to loading.

Pull ups & Lat Pulldowns - Play about with grip and different attachments and see what works best for you. There is no one size fits all. If your struggling to get your first pull up, try hooking your feet into a resistance band attached to the pull up bar or some gyms may have an Assisted Pull up machine.

Straight Arm Pulldowns - Solid back isolation movement which works the latissimus dorsi through a long range of motion and doesn’t require much bicep work. This could be a good back exercise if you have a bicep injury. You will find this will work your triceps more than your biceps due to the anatomy of the triceps and its function. I prefer to use a wide lat pulldown attachment for this, but you can also use a rope or single arm handle.

Rear Delt Fly - Your posterior delts usually get enough work through rowing and vertical pulls, if you feel you need to strengthen them more just find which works best for you. There is no need to try and go heavy and increase injury risk, work on increasing your rep ranges.

Example Strength & Hypertrophy Back work - 2 day PW.

The example programme below is to show you how to think about programming for yourself, so you can build it around your current programme or write a whole new one. 

Whether your training for crossfit, powerlifting or following a hypertrophy split (PPL, Upper lower or Full body). Split the category of back work and volume appropriately for you. For example, If your following a box’s programming you will more than likely already be doing plenty of hip hinging and pull ups, maybe add in more rowing and face pulls?

Monday - Day 1
Pullups - 4×6-10 (weighted / bodyweight or assisted)
Single Arm Dumbbell Row - 3×10-12
Straight Arm Pulldown - 3×12-20
Dumbbell Shrugs - 2×10-20
Back Extensions - 3×10-20

Thursday - Day 2
Deadlift - 1×5 (Build to a heavy set of 5)
Chest Supported Row - 4×8-10
Lat Pulldown - 3×10-15
Cable Face Pulls - 3×10-20

The above layout emphasis’s vertical pulling on day 1, having it first with 4 sets. Hip Hinge and Horizontal on day 2, by having deadlifts and chest supported rows first and second respectively with more volume.

I selected chest supported for the above example due to the fatigue in the spinal erectors from the deadlifts as your first movement. These may be a limiting factor on your row capability with barbell rows. If you want beefier and stronger erectors though, add in barbell rows!

We know through volume landmarks with recovery most people benefit from 10-20 weekly sets and 3-10 sets per muscle per training session (this can go higher based on dropping volume from other movements and muscle groups within a programme and individual differences).

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Until next week, Happy Lifting!

Mark.