Back Day (but no low back)

Back Day (but no low back)

Training Notes:
A1: Kneel with the contralateral arm working. Knees and hips should be at 90º. Maintain a neutral pelvic position with the back glute contracted. During the set, adhere to the tempo and intent. Rotate from pronated to neutral through the concentric and get the lats as short as possible. 
A2: Keep hips and shoulders square throughout the set and avoid rotation. Adjust the band tension by walking further away or moving closer to the anchor point. Hold the band in the middle of your chest with arms fully extended. Your hips and knees should be in an "athletic stance". Perform A1 and A2 on the same side before switching. 
B: Set up a 90º bench 5-6 feet away from a cable tower. Use two long, individual handles for more freedom of movement. The angle of the cable should be ~45º downward when in position on the bench and the row should be in line with the fibers of the lats. Keep your chest and head against the pad to avoid extension. Drive through the concentric with neutral hands. Lock in the tempo!
C: Try to use a pronated or semi-pronated grip for these. Work up slowly to the top set. Really aim to move some heavy load there while sticking to the tempo and getting full scapular protraction/retraction. Reduce load by ~15% for down sets. Make sure to keep chest against the pad and avoid extension.
D1: Perform these one arm at a time and using your off arm for stability. Try to have that arm on a bench or box so you don't have to worry about being pulled forward. Make sure your low back is neutral throughout. Drive down your elbow hard to contract the lats. Make sure to pause for a count in contraction.
D2: Only TWO working sets. Focus on pump and blood flow here. The angle of the cable should be slightly downward to line up better with the rear delts. Allow the shoulder blade of the working side to move freely and don't attempt to restrict it. Perform D1 and D2 on the same side before switching. 
E: Note the tempo. Keep these consistent and don't allow the tension to come off the lats. Feet should be up and flat on the bench to discourage extension of the low back. This will restrict the ROM of the pullover so be sure to not try to force it. Take the last set to 1RIR with that same tempo and execution. 

Goals Of This Session:
Train the "pulling" muscles of the back without overly-taxing or compromising the low back. This is meant to be an experiment in how to work around a theoretical low back injury or weakness.

Warm-Up Recommendations:
-5-10 minutes of steady state cardio such as incline walking, elliptical, rowing, or ski erg
-Soft tissue manipulation in the form of 3-5 min of light foam rolling the low back, mid-back, lats, and teres major. More specific work can be done using a small lacrosse ball (or something similar) and working through bound up tissue in the pecs, rear delts and scapular region.
-Specific mobility with prone OHP, paused deficit pushups, and band over-and-backs.

Common Exercise Modifications:
Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Pulldowns- Single Arm Cable Pulldowns, Single Arm Cable Pullovers, Alternating Cable Pulldowns
Half Kneeling Band Pallof Hold- Standing Band Pallof Hold, Half Kneeling Band Pallof Hold, Standing Cable Pallof Hold, Half Kneeling Band Pallof Press
Chest Supported High Cable Lat Row- Chest Supported Neutral Machine Row, Neutral Machine Pulldowns, Seated Neutral High Cable Lat Row (unsupported) 
Chest Supported Tbar Row- Chest Supported Pronated Machine Row, DB Seal Rows, Incline DB Rows, Barbell Seal Rows
Moto Rows- Single Arm Cable Pulldowns, Single Arm Machine Pulldowns, Step Back Neutral Hammer Rows, Single Arm Braced High Cable Rows
Single Arm Cable Rear Delt Flyes- Single Arm Reverse Pec Deck, High Cable Rear Delt Flyes (bilateral), Reverse Pec Deck (bilateral), Single Arm Band Rear Delt Flyes 
DB Pullovers- Kneeling Cable Pullovers, Banded DB Pullovers, Dante Rows

Common Program Modifications:
Advanced trainees- Under the presumption that Advanced trainees will have better body awareness and proprioception to avoid aggravation of pre-existing low back injuries, intensities can be increased across the board. I would still advise that exercise selection and volume remain very conservative.
Intermediate trainees- Keep the program as is
Beginner trainees- In a lot of ways, this program is actually great for beginners due to the lack of prerequisites/risk-of-injury and focus on control/tempo that is present on all movements. The intensities should be reduced on all movements by ~2-3RIR, but outside of that, the program is very doable even for a novice.
Male trainees- Utilize more feeder sets before B and C. Take a bit more rest between all supersets in order to maintain focus on execution. Change D2 to a single arm cable shrug with the same sets/reps/intensity but 3003 tempo.Volume may need to be decreased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (stronger trainees may need less working sets).
Female trainees- Due to the nature of the session, more chest support is being used to take pressure off the low back, but this also means potential for anterior discomfort. If the chest support is bothersome, consider changing variations here. Additionally, switch D1 for another delt/rear delt/mid back variation. Shorter rest between working sets and less feeders/warmup sets will generally be needed. Volume may need to be increased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (better conditioned trainees may need more working sets).

Common Injury Modifications:
Elbows- Though we have no pressing or direct elbow extension work, the repetition of pulling movements have the capacity to irritate the elbows, especially any  biceps tendinitis that is present. Outside of more diligent warming up through dynamic mobility and possibly even isometrics, utiizing some form of muscle tempering on the biceps, triceps and brachioradialis will be helpful. Additionally, ensuring all rows/pulls are neutral grip rather than pronated will be another way to remove strain. Lastly, the DB pullovers at the end of the session may cause some issues due to the rather unfavorable mechanics so a switch to something like a rope cable pullover is recommended. 
Shoulders- With any upper body training, the shoulder joints tend to be the center of the universe. This can be a good thing at times but also causes much faster wear-and-tear on the surrounding tissues and support structures. There aren't any movements within this training session that I would be directly concerned about (other than maybe the DB pullovers again) but the extension/flexion that comes with back training places harsh demands on the shoulders irregardless. A switch to neutral grip will help here as well as a deliberate restriction of ROM as needed. This session is mostly using machines and cables for modalities which is already a great head-start on alleviating shoulder issues. 
Low Back- The whole goal of the session is to work around low back problems but I still think it's pertinent to touch on this case. A weak or restrictive low back can be debilitating for strength training is not properly managed. It is possible, however, to alter the exercise selection, tempo and intents in order to still train hard while strengthening the low back and allowing any injuries to rehab. Of note are the chest supported movements, the modality choice (cables and machine for additional control), and a shift from bilateral to unilateral (again, for more control)...Everything within this session has a specific purpose. 


Additional Notes:

With how prevalent gym-related injuries are, it kind of amazes me that there is still this sense of 'it-can't-happen-to-me'-ism that clouds our rationality. 

The best way to work around an injury ironically tends to be to not get injured at all, but until you've gone through the pain and frustration and demotivation of a serious setback, it's hard to understand the importance of preventative measures.

The first few months (and years for some) of our time in the gym are highlighted mostly by unsustainable progress and an enthusiasm for training that seems everlasting. There isn't a reason to spend precious gym time and energy toiling away on the mobility mats when nothing hurts. Additionally, technique takes a backseat to ego in our pursuit of newbie gains—Why worry about form when the weight on the bar is going up every week? This hierarchy of priorities works until we're reminded, sometimes abruptly, of our own fragility. 

I say this often, but it bears repeating ad infinitum

We're always one rep away from catastrophe. 

It's not a matter of "if" but "when"...We will all deal with an injury at some point in our lifting career. 

Even for the most pragmatic and meticulous, there is no escaping the inevitable. Rather than cower in fear and shroud our training in bubble-wrap, we should focus on controlling the controllables—intelligently designed programming, perfect execution on all movements and diligent physical upkeep.  

To the former, programming that keeps us out of harms way, the path is much less obvious that the latter two variables. Partly due to complexity of program design and somewhat because of the inability to rid all risk from training, it can be extremely challenging to figure out the best ways in which to approach training structure. Risk-aversion must be balanced with premeditated-recklessness if we want to toe the line of optimal progression. And at the end of the day, there are, unfortunately, no right answers here. 

But there ARE some clearly wrong ways to go about programming...

The examples that fall in this bucket are too numerous to list out here but it doesn't take a PH.d in biomechanics to be able to notice that some shit is just pretty stupid even on paper.

One such poor idea is the overuse of the low back within a single training session or even over longer time frames like a micro or mesocycle.

Deadlifts, Goodmornings, Low Bar Squats and Bent Over Barbell Rows aren't bad, but I wouldn't really want to perform them in a giant set. Similarly, training 5 days in a row and having heavy deadlift patterns on each might work for a short while but it's unsustainable over the long term.  Our low back, probably more than any other region of the human body, takes a daily beating just through living life—compounding these stresses in the gym without allowing for realistic recovery is a recipe for disaster. Again, we're always one rep away. 

So just as it's good practice to warm-up before a heavy session and ensure that your reps are technically sound, we should also leverage our program design to distribute risk.

Instead of stacking all of those low back intensive variations on the same day, maybe we can distribute them throughout our microcycle to allow for recovery as well as intrasession focus to be maxed. Maybe we can adjust rep ranges, intensities and tempos to reduce risk. Maybe we can even change the variations in order to maintain the intent while removing unwanted strain. 

It isn't just possible to be preventatively proactive; it's optimal. 

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