5 BACK EXERCISES YOU’RE PROBABLY DOING WRONG
29/05/2021 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
‘Out of site, out of mind’, isn’t usually an idiom you’d relate to training, but the truth is, many of us find it much easier to execute movements for our ‘mirror muscles’, simply because we can actually see them working. The muscles behind us, on the other hand, can be a lot harder to hit for many of us.
Here’s five movements we commonly see mis-performed, and the simple fixes that will have you targeting that back with pin point accuracy.
It’s pretty low hanging fruit to unjustifiably bash ‘kipping’ pull-ups, but the truth is this is a movement butchered in all four corners of fitness. From half reps, to wild swinging motions to desperate, gurn inducing jerks to force your chin over the bar- it’s rare to see a pull-up that actually looks like it may work the muscles in your back efficiently. The fix? Take your time and focus on moving from a full stretch, to a big squeeze. Start from full, dead hang, arms fully outstretched, pull your shoulder blades down and back and begin your ascent, keep your elbows flared and imagine trying to pull them down towards your hips. Keep the angle of your torso steady, avoiding swinging back and forth and aim to get your chin as far above the bar as possible. Pause here for a one count to abolsutely nail the rep, focussing on squeezing your back hard in the top position before reversing, under control, back to a dead hang. Slow and steady wins the race for a bigger back.
A favourite among bodybuilders and strength worshippers for building a thicker, stronger back- and with good reason, when performed correctly it’s one of the quickest ways to target your lats, rear delts, and mid back. The muscles that make you look thick as a brick from sideways on. Problems arise when your ego takes over loading the bar and what should be a long, smooth rowing motions becomes a short, quick drop to your mid thigh followed by a wild, full body effort to get the bar back to your hips. This is not what we mean when we say ‘recruit as much muscle as possible’. The fix? Begin with the barbell on the floor, or set a few inches off the ground, hinge down to pick it up and attempt to keep your torso as close to parallel to the ground as possible, throughout the entire rep. Keep your elbows tucked in and row up to your stomach with a smooth, controlled tempo. Squeeze hard and retracing your shoulder blades at the top, finishing under control, before reversing for 3 second count, all the way back to the ground.
It may be primarily a lower body movement, but there’s a good reason you’ll see these performed on back days- they build some seriously 3D muscle. Your lats act in tandem with just about every muscle in your body to pull off a successful deadlift, locking down the bar and giving you a heavyweight dose of muscle building goodness. Getting the deadlift right is deserved of an article of it’s own, but you can pimp this move for seriously impressive back gains with just one simple trick. The fix? Attach a band to the middle of your barbell and anchor it to a rack or weight 2-3ft in front of the bar. As you grip and rip, the band will attempt to pull the bar forward, forcing your lats to light up like fireworks night to keep your bar path steady, doubling down on the back attack.
Another common call out for form police everywhere; with half reps, unsolicited assistance from the legs and perpetrators leaning back like they’re ready for a lay down- all completely mitigating the back gains they’re presumably trying to achieve in the misguided quest to ‘smash the whole stack’ . The fix? Just like the humble chin-up, you’ve got to go slow to grow. Grasp the handles and sit with straight legs, arms at full stretch and a braced, upright torso. Ensure you maintain this strong upper body position as you row the handles towards your stomach, keeping your elbows tucked in throughout. Squeeze hard and retract your shoulder blades, pausing briefly as the handles reach your body, ensuring you finish each rep under control, before reversing for a 3 second count, back to a straight armed position.
SINGLE ARMED DUMBBELL ROW
This is a movement that will allow you to shift some heavy tin- but when it comes to building a bigger, stronger back (and staying injury free), it’s best to check your ego at the door. With a bit of ‘body english’ you may be able to rocket the biggest dumbbells in the rack from knee height up to your hips for a split second, but if you want to look as strong out of the gym as you do in it- then you might want to shift your focus from maximum weight, to maximum tension. The fix? Brace yourself with one hand on a bench, keeping your torso flat. Pick up your dumbbell with the opposite hand and allow it to hang freely at full stretch. Lock your shoulder blades down and back, squeeze the dumbbell as hard as possible, then, keeping your elbow as close to your body as possible, row the weight up towards your up under control. Pause at the top to nail the rep and make sure you’re more ‘go’ than ‘show’, before lowering for a count of three, back to a fully stretched arm.