High Volume Upper Back and Delts

High Volume Upper Back and Delts

Training Notes

A1: Set the pulley to knee height and use wrist cuff if able. The arc of the movement should be in the scapular plane (slightly away from your body through the raise) and end at eye level. Make sure to control the tempo. Rest 30 sec before A2.

A2: Use a single rope attachment for this and angle your torso slightly so the cable is originating from across your midline. Adjust the positioning of your body to get the tension right. You should feel this in your lats as well as your rear delts. Perform A1 and A2 on the same side before switching.

B: Setup in a rack and place pins at chin level when standing. Take a staggered stance. This will resemble a standing Smith overhead press as the bar will travel along a fixed line against the inside of the rack. As you press, lean into the bar and dip your head through in lockout. You should really feel your delts and upper back contracting here. Control the eccentric all the way down and make sure to pause briefly at the bottom and in lockout. Reduce load by ~10% for down sets and take full rest between sets.

C1: Maintain semi pronated grip and full ROM. This should be close to an overhead press angle. Rest 60 sec before C2.

C2: Adjust the angle of the bench to 45-60º depending on comfort. Load may also need to be adjusted. Maintain a pronated grip with flared elbows. Pull high and think about retracting your shoulder blades. Make sure to control the eccentric all the way through and reach in the stretch to fully protract. Try to get those elbows high!

D1: Lead with thumbs here and control the tempo. Get as much shoulder flexion as possible to fully shorten delts. Rest 20 sec before D2.

D2: Pump these out and aim for high reps. Rest 20 sec before D3.

D3: Make sure to control the movement and don't allow reps to get sloppy. Pull the DBs high and try to keep everything fluid. Full rest before returning to D1.

E: Full ROM here. Think about getting shoulder blades fully depressed at the bottom and then allow them to elevate/stretch as much as possible at the top. Take the last set to failure.


Goals of this session

We have a relatively specific set of conditions to this session in that we are overlapping what would typically be seen in push and pull sessions but omitting large swaths of associated muscle groups. Isolating the delts and upper back while restricting direct volume of the pecs, triceps, lats and biceps is an intricate task so appropriate exercise selection, angles and intent will be paramount for adherence to our stated goal.


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 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 band cuban press, prone around the worlds, and phasic isometric delt contractions (performed at varying degrees of shoulder abduction and contracting maximally for 5 sec).


Common exercise modifications

Single Arm Cable Laterals- Single Arm Leaning DB Laterals, Incline Sideways DB Laterals, Single Arm Cable Y Raises, Single Arm Machine Laterals

Single Arm Cable Pullovers- Single Arm Cable Rear Delt Flyes, Single Arm Half Kneeling Cable Pulldowns, Single Arm Supine Cable Pullovers

Scrape The Rack Press- Machine OHP, Seated Smith OHP, Seated Smith OHP (no back support), Smith Z Press

High Incline DB Press- Seated DB OHP, Isolateral Incline Machine Press, Seated Viking Press

Incline Jansen Rows- Pronated Seal DB Rows, Pronated Chest Supported Tbar Rows, Pronated Chest Supported Machine Rows, Incline DB Rows

Incline Neutral DB Y Raises- Bent Over Neutral DB Y Raises, Standing Cable Y Raises, Supine Cable Y Raises, Standing Plate Overhead Front Raises

Standing DB Laterals- Seated DB Laterals, Standing Poliquin Raises, Lying Cable Laterals, Band Laterals

DB Upright Rows- Cable Upright Rows, EZ Upright Rows, Hybrid Upright Rows, Upright Row to External Rotation, Standing Plate Overhead Front Raises, Band Upright RowsS
Wide Pronated Pulldowns- Wide Pronated Partial Pulldowns, Wide Pronated Machine Pulldowns, Wide Pronated Assisted Pull-ups, Wide Pronated Rack Pull-ups


Common program modifications

Advanced trainees- Take A1 and A2 to 1RIR. Work up to a max set of 2-3 on B then reduce load by ~20% and perform 31RIR. Take C1 to 1RIR and C2 to technical failure on each set. After each set of E, rest for 15 sec then continue to failure with partial pulldowns. 

Intermediate trainees- Perform C1 and C2 independently. 

Beginner trainees- Remove A2. Change B to Machine OHP and perform 3x8-10 (3RIR). C1 and C2 should be independent with C1 at 3RIR and C2 at 3RIR. D1-D3 should be reduced down to just 3x10-15 (2RIR) of Standing Lateral Raises. Move E up in the session to after Single Arm Cable Laterals. 

Male trainees- Longer rest periods between sets of B and supersets of C1 and C2. Angle of C1 can be dropped to ~45º to get a bit more pec involvement. Volume may need to be decreased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (stronger trainees may need less working sets).

Female trainees- Shorter rest between working sets and less feeders/warmup sets will generally be needed. C2 may need to be modified if the pressure on the chest is too much. Add a working set to the D sequence. Volume may need to be increased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (better conditioned trainees may need more working sets).


Common injury modifications:

Shoulders- Though this is primarily a delt focused session when it comes to pressing, the exercise selection is shockingly benign. We will definitely have to be careful with the Scrape the Rack Presses as the barbell and fixed motion can bother problematic shoulders, but the benefit there is that mobility is much less of a concern than would be typical. If the straight bar is the issue, try to move to a Swiss Bar option (but be prepared to get yelled at for damaging the bar). The High Incline DB Presses should be easy to tinker with to overcome any potential issues; start with shifting to a more neutral grip, then slow the tempo down, then as a last resort, reduce the ROM. If shoulder issues are present from the D sequence, modifications can be made by implementing corresponding band or cable alternatives. 

Elbows- Here is where we may run into a bit more trouble with the OHP variants. Effectively pre-exhausting the triceps to get a ton of blood into the elbows is a good first step to lubricate the movement. After that, the best option will almost certainly be to regress the Scrape the Rack Press and the High Incline Presses to machine alternatives to allow for more control. We could also see some potential problems due to the pulling exercises like Wide Pronated Pulldowns and the Jansen Rows but it should be relatively simple to convert to a more neutral grip to relieve the stress on the tendons and ligaments in the elbows.

Low Back- This definitely is not going to be much of an issue for most as the majority of the session is non-load bearing for the low back. However, the Scrape the Rack Press does pose a small issue only because it will be done standing and require stability to be pulled from the trunk and low back. Maintaining a neutral pelvis is crucial to protecting the low back here. But it might be better to get ahead of any potential issues and move to a Seated Smith OHP.


Additional notes:

There are a lot of interesting, strategic implementations of program design within this session. 

Starting with the initial superset, we have an example of using specific movements to illicit multiple desired responses. For both the Laterals and Pullovers, our stated intent is "overload" yet the nature of each variation creates somewhat of a conundrum for us: we want to push these hard with load/reps but we're isolating relatively small muscles with heavier, compound movements coming up next. Despite the seeming conflict of interests, we can use this to our advantage. Pushing hard on this initial superset creates an immediate hypertrophic stimulus in harder-to-reach areas AND gets our shoulders ready for the overhead pressing to come. Work smarter, not harder with programming. 

Moving into the novel OHP variation, Scrape the Rack Presses, we can get a dose of optimized strength work. I say "optimized" here because the execution parameters also act as mobility work for our shoulders and upper back. (Side note: this is a variation used often by Olympic Weightlifters to prepare for their Jerk.) Ever if we aren't necessarily looking to become gold medal worthy, having more range-of-motion in the overhead plane is never a bad thing when it comes to strength expression and injury prevention. And here, we can work in low-rep ranges with high absolute loads while not being too concerned about the limitations of stability typically present in standing overhead movements. More power and more control is a positive indicator of muscle growth and increased strength. 

Then we have the DB superset with High Incline Presses and Jansen Rows. Both of these movements serve a special purpose: to overload while forcing symmetrical output. From a technical standpoint, these are pretty boring movements (other than the Jansen Row's relatively unique execution compared to other chest supported DB rows) but the logistics are what we want to pay more attention to here (and this will be a theme moving through the rest of the session). By logistics, I'm referring to our constant desire to create more efficiency in our programming. Supersetting movements that have similar equipment and execution requirements will allow us to get more work done in less time while expending less energy overall. This is an aspect of program design that is overlooked WAY too often but it is a good litmus test for parsing out actual expertise in the field. 

The D sequence is probably my favorite part of the whole session because we're going to hit on multiple logistical optimizations. It's a mechanical dropset which will create and maintain heightened levels of intensity through only subtle adjustments to the way we are performing each movement. We can essentially perform an extended set taken to and past failure without having to set the DBs down, change loads, or move to a different spot in the gym. In this case, we're leveraging resistance curve and lever length alterations to go from "harder" movements to "easier" as fatigue sets in and failure is hit at each stage. This creates a MASSIVE metabolic response in our delts and upper back which is a stimuli not yet utilized in this session. The ability for us to create a huge hypertrophic response in a small window of time with essentially no risk of injury AND very little systemic fatigue generation is a programming cheat code. Just be careful not to spam it too much as this technique will have diminishing effects over time. 

Lastly, we can finish with some good, old fashioned Wide Pronated Pulldowns. These aren't sexy and they're not really that special when evaluating them after all that preceded this point. In my opinion, the benefit of ending a higher volume session with a movement like this is all of the ways in which you can "burnout" (even though I hate that term from a scientific perspective). At this point, we're not concerned with keeping gas in the tank or conserving ourselves; we can go berserk if we so choose. Load drop sets, mechanical drop sets (which is what is recommended for Advanced trainees above), Rest Pause sets, cluster sets, myoreps, and on and on we go! The possibilities are pretty endless for how we can absolutely destroy our upper back with pulldowns because they're one of the safest and most well-tolerated variations in the gym. So if you've made it this far, go crazy and ensure the only way you can leave the gym is sideways through the door.

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