Heavy Back Day

Heavy Back Day

Training Notes:

A: Use a handle that is about shoulder width. Note the tempo. Really focus on getting the lats as contracted as possible here. Leave a couple of reps in the tank and don't focus too much on load. 

B: Try to use handles that are about shoulder width here too. Get as much ROM as you can and reach while pausing in the stretch to elevate scaps. Think about touching your shoulders to your ears at the bottom. Add load if you're able to or use assistance as needed. 

C: Perform these standing using your off arm to brace. Your torso angle should be ~30º. There should be enough room for you to row comfortably without hitting your thigh/hip with the DB so stagger your stance as needed. Try to perform the concentric explosively and get full scapular retraction at the top. Rest as needed between each arm.

D: These can be chest supported or bent over depending on comfort. Use semi pronated grip if there is no strictly pronated option. Make sure to warmup properly before the first working set. Get a hard stretch at the end of each rep and think about pushing your shoulder blades apart. Drive through the concentric powerfully and get full retraction. Reduce load by ~15% for down set. Take full rest between working sets.

E: These can also be block pulls. The bar should start just below your knee caps. Each rep will consist of the "deadlift" plus 5 shrugs at the top before setting the load back down. Take your time working up in sets of 3 until reaching the top set. Allow the load to fully settle at the bottom before initiating the next rep. 

F1: Adhere closely to tempo. Perform these lying prone with the ball centered in your abdomen so your spine can "wrap" around it naturally. The main goal here is to get maximal flexion and extension through the spine without the glutes or hamstrings assisting. It may take a second to get the setup right so be patient until the movement feels comfortable.  

F2: Place load across lumbar and hold static for time. Try to really push the load here. Maintain neutral low back and pelvis. Keep glutes contracted and remember to breathe!


Goals of this session:

This workout is all about overloading the entire musculature of the back from lats to rhomboids to traps to erectors. The goal is to move some heavy shit!

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 DB Upright Row to External Rotations, Quadruped T-Spine Openers, and Kneeling Band Pullovers.


Common exercise modifications:

Neutral Pulldowns- Cable Pullovers, Dante Rows, Machine Neutral Pulldowns, Single Arm Pulldowns, Alternating Pulldowns

Neutral Pull-Ups- Neutral Rack Pull-ups, Assisted Neutral Pull-ups, Wide Pronated Assisted Pull-ups, Machine Neutral Pulldowns, Weighted Neutral Pull-ups, Ring Pull-ups 

Single Arm DB Rows- Single Arm Step Back Rows, Single Arm Seated Low Cable Rows, Single Arm Neutral Machine Rows, Meadows Rows

Pronated Tbar Rows- Pendlay Rows, Bent Over Pronated Barbell Rows, Bent Over Pronated Smith Rows, Chest Supported Pronated Machine Rows, Pronated Seated Low Cable Rows

Rack Pulls to Shrugs- Rack Pulls (separate), Barbell Shrugs (separate), Barbell High Pulls, Conventional Deadlifts, Trap Bar Deadlifts to Shrugs

Swiss Ball Hyperextensions- Cat Cows, Seated Goodmornings, Jefferson Curls, Banded Goodmornings

Weighted Planks- Swiss Ball Plank, Deadbug Holds, Ab Wheel Rollouts, Plank (no weight)


Common program modifications:

Advanced trainees- Take each set of A to technical failure. B should be performed as one set of 3-5 to failure and then a Rest Pause set. The down set of D should be a Rest Pause set. E should be taken to 9RPE and then a down set to technical failure should be added with ~80% of top load. 

Intermediate trainees- Keep the program as is

Beginner trainees- B should be machine assisted pull-ups and RIR should be ~3. Change D to 2x8-12 (3RIR). E should be subbed to barbell RDLs. F1 should be changed to seated DB shrugs and 3x10-15 (3RIR) with 3101 tempo. 

Male trainees- Volume may need to be decreased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (stronger trainees may need less working sets).

Female trainees- Remove the shrugs from E and just perform the hinge. 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:

Low Back- Our low back is going to be relatively protected despite the focus of the training day. A-D shouldn't cause issues as long as C limits trunk rotation and D is chest supported. When we get to E is where the potential trouble lies. Any kind of heavy hinge is going to be problematic for ailing low backs but especially those starting from a dead stop just below the knee. For some reason, the inertia in this position causes a ton of strain through the low back. A good start would be to either switch to an RDL or even go all the way to the floor. It seems counterintuitive, but it should help a ton. If this doesn't help, I would recommend breaking up the hinge and the shrug into separate components to remove the additional stress. This could look like a 45º hyperextension followed by a seated DB shrug. Additionally, the swiss ball hypers are strictly spinal flexion as a feature. I would not recommend those who have pain with flexion or extension to try this before implementing unloaded catcows in order to facilitate mobility before strength work. 

Elbows- Any and all heavy pulling/rowing has the propensity to aggravate elbows. Neutral grip will help a lot (compared to pronated), and if this doesn't get you to pain-free, try switching to unilateral. Cables or machines will also be much easier on the elbows versus free weights so don't be stubborn if experiencing pain. Make sure to get in some soft tissue work for the biceps, triceps and brachioradialis as well.


Additional notes:

These days, it's a sad state of affairs to walk into a gym and just observe what is going on around you. 

The cult of biomechanical mumbo-jumbo has colluded with the church of obsessive intensity modulation to create a whole generation of lifters who are scared to do hard stuff. 

It's often hidden behind technical babble that is meant to be more deflective than rational evidence...


"The angle of this cable has to be just right to hit my lumbar lat because my iliac lat is too dominant! And I have to keep my sets under 8RPE otherwise I'll overreach too quickly in my mesocycle!" - said 160lb Aiden after lifting for 6 months. 


But the unfortunate truth is that some of the most impressive physiques to ever grace this Earth were built by doing practically everything "wrong." Statistically, you're more likely to grow a ton of muscle by replicating the mindless "I lift things up and put them down" caveman approach compared the the hyper-analytical "Let me get my protractor out" modern bastardization. 


Though I would love to continue dunking on the PubMed crew, correlation doesn't equal causation no matter how satisfying it would be. 

There is definitely merit to using science and current research to guide your approach to training. "Gripping and ripping" will only take you as far as that first disc herniation before abandoning you on the side of the road, left only with a degraded body and an unadaptable ideology. But an over-reliance on meta-reviews and appeals to authority will always put you behind-the-curve compared to those that are more willing to lean into anecdotal evidence before getting permission from Saint Schoenfeld.


A symbiotic blending is the goal; one that is simultaneously joint-friendly, manages fatigue and maximizes rate of muscle growth. 


We can mix-and-match components from each school of thought to create our own training philosophies. There doesn't have to be a dichotomous "either-or" choice with program design. Free weights have their place along with cables. Barbell squats can be a main quad movement just as a reverse-banded hack squat can be. Training to failure and leaving 4 reps in reserve can be effective within the same session. If you don't feel like spending 15 minutes setting up a cable station to do some obscure variation of rear delt flyes, don't. 

With this week's heavy back day, we can see this blending in action. The dominant volume is coming from traditionally "brute" exercises; pull-ups, DB rows, Tbar rows, and rack pulls. These aren't meant to line up perfectly with every fiber of your lats or stimulate cramp-like contractions. No...these are so you can move some heavy ass weight and not think too much otherwise. This is, like mentioned above, a lost art. 

In contrast, we also have a couple of more modern additions to make it more palatable for my bookworm brethren. Placing the pulldowns first in the session initializes neural feedback to get the lats primed and ready to produce force. This is a two-fold approach in that we're also greasing the connections that excite larger motor unit recruitment to produce stronger contractions in the lats and, hopefully, greater hypertrophic stimulus.

The Swiss Ball hypers are an addition that should really get the juices of my physical therapist homies flowing. From the jump, it is hammered into our skulls to avoid rounding our backs above all else. If there is one universal lifting sin, the camel back is it. But fixing our spines in hyperextension to counteract the forces of flexion comes with a ton of issues as well, notably an inability to actually move the spine as it is intended. This alien variant of hypers does exactly that by unlocking the untapped mobility in our spines while also isolating the erectors in a unique way. *Fist bump to my biomechanics nerds*

I encourage everyone to do their best to block out the deafening noise of the fitness space. Look deeply into every approach and methodology in the most unbiased way to find what makes the most sense to you then test it out in the field. 

Lifting heavy shit works really well. Being thoughtful about lifting that heavy shit works even better.

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