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Back Training 101

A number of years ago, I began to realize I know very little about the mainstream exercise market. I had for the most part went about my career, consulting with clients, working with coaches and teams but virtually having no involvement with the modern "fitness facility". I suppose I had assumed logical choices were being made for common training concerns. As you may have gathered from my tone, I certainly learned once again to never "assume" particularly when it comes to the modern iron-game. Amongst the peculiar developments of the last twenty-plus years is the near abandonment of the notion of old-fashioned common sense. As it relates to strength training, selectorized equipment and machines were meant to assist training regimes. But I doubt anyone in the development of machines would have ever considered that they would in the future eliminate fundamental barbell movements. In a bizarre twist of the business, gyms are packed with countless rows of extremely expensive machines that cannot match the work performed with a single barbell. It is never more glaringly obvious then with "back training". Regardless of your intentions, whether you are a bodybuilder, an athlete or just someone trying to get in shape, proper back development is extremely important to all your goals. But oddly enough, the modern exercise industry has pulled you away from the most important exercises. Weight lifting is remarkably simple, you're either pushing, pulling, pressing or squatting a weight (naturally lunging and extending as well). Likewise, weight (resistance) can move concentrically, eccentrically or remain constant. Yet as you move away from free weights, many of these simple movements become distorted, prone to poor movement patterns, and lack the desired training effect. The body's stabilizing requirements used in free weights is essential in creating true "strength" because it implicitly works the "weakest link" in the bodies musculature. Back training in the modern facility has gotten far off base and amongst the litany of expensive machines gleaming with chrome, you cannot beat the cold metal of a barbell and a high-bar. That's where back training starts and for the most part where it should end. So whether you're training in a finely appointed fitness facility or like me in a gym where you might do an oil change or two, there are three basic exercises that will get you the most bang for your training buck. These are:
  • Deadlifts (regular and snatch-grip)
  • Pullups / Chin-ups
  • Bent-over-Rows
Each of these exercises are mainstays of training and should be used on a consistent basis. Depending upon your training goals or "split" their use can vary, although I generally use each of the barbell movements twice per week and pull-ups three times per week for a total of twenty-one sets per week. Complicated? Not at all, but it'll get great results in an easy-to-follow system. If you follow this method using a basic five day training regime ("split") you will use each of the barbell movements on days 1 and 5 with two to three sets each of approximately six repetitions in the 80 to 85% range with no greater than forty-five seconds rest between sets. High bar work should be done on days 1, 3 and 5 and vary between pull-ups (palms facing away), chin-ups (palms facing towards you) and even towel-chins (place a towel over a bar and grasp the ends of the towel, pulling your head to alternating sides of the bar) with a rep range upwards of six to eight reps. Equally with pullups it is important to vary the grip position with a narrow-grip pullup of one-hand width apart (tremendous bicep developer) to a modestly wide position roughly that of a "Snatch-grip" width, where you hands are spread the distance from elbow to elbow with arms held parallel to the ground. In the wide variation perform this movement by pulling up to front of the bar. As we advance in pull-ups I will present some extremely interesting and taxing variations. Please note that contrary to many approaches, pull-ups are not done in this manner to failure but in a controlled "volume development" approach. For those specifically within athletic training goals, who utilize my Renegade Training™ protocols, you can use Deadlifts within either the "focus" or "supplemental" lift sections (for additional explanation please see the six part " Squat-Power" series at ProSource). In the event you are able to perform split work (i.e. Split Jerks or Split Snatches) at a high degree, I would include them as the final "focus" lift using a "snatch-grip" Deadlift variation and follow the typical protocols of four sets of six repetitions (total twenty-four reps) at sixty-five per-cent maximum rep, with heavy emphasis on bar speed and movement generation. Finally make sure you combine all of the above work with the shoulder-capsule training (internal / external rotation, cuban press and rope pulls). Follow this plan and you'll never have a question of back strength and size again. Thanks again.