Proper Back Training
Back is one of the hardest muscle group to target. Most people have trouble activating and stimulating the muscles of the back and therefore get very little muscle growth response. A good back can never be too thick or too wide in physique competitions and good back development usually separates the top competitors.
Getting great back development is not easy and if trained correctly; the back should be as grueling a session as legs. The back functions in many planes and ranges of motion and this is where the confusion begins. Researchers using back exercises as examples proved that the plane and range of motion in which a muscle functioned was far more important in recruiting the largest segments of the muscle to contribute to contraction. It means that no matter how hard one trains, if you think you are training back, but you are not in the plane or range of motion within which the back functions most appropriately then no matter how hard you train you won’t be able to correctly target the muscle.
Because most back exercises allow the athlete to begin in a mechanically advantage leverage position, the trainee usually ends up using that leverage to lift the weight, rather than the back muscles. And since leverage advantages allow one to train with more weight, ego trainers, usually put on more weight than they can actually lift with their backs. Then in order to lift the weight they lean or shift out of the very plane of motion most suitable for back development.
Two examples are bent rowing and pull downs. The most productive plane of motion for bent rows is at about 80-90 degrees bent over, with knees slightly bent. With pull downs, trainees tend to use way too much weight and lean their backs completely out of the plane of motion where they would get the maximum muscle fiber recruitment. We’ve all seen people training back, doing pull downs to the front, and are leaning practically 90 degrees backward in order to lift the weight. Combine that with the initial use of leverage in both movements and what you have really is a complete waste of training time. All because of a lack of training knowledge, and letting ego training take over. To train the back properly you need to isolate the back in the many planes and ranges of motion within which it functions and then train, “every inch of every rep of every set” in order to insure that you are not using leverage or momentum to lift a weight; instead, use the muscles you are targeting.
Research shows that if a muscle is stretched with resistance, the contraction is more complete and more intense. In order to get a full range of motion in the back from any movement you have to first properly stretch the back with the weight in the eccentric phase of that movement. Next you need to know how to stretch the back within the movement. To get a full range of motion doing back work you need to lean into the movement, not away from it. Most trainees will knowingly or unknowingly stretch into a back movement, but then stretch their arms and not their back by locking their arms during the movement.
You need to keep a slight bend in the elbow, just slight, and NOT unlock that bend through the stretch phase of any back movement. When you lock the arms to initiate the concentric (lifting) part in any back movement the immediate stress goes to the biceps and brachialis because by locking and unlocking the elbow in that plane of motion, you have now stretched the arm with resistance and the back will only act synergistically at best, but the main stress goes to the biceps.
So target train the muscle and not the ego, and get the most out of that training by thinking through every inch of every rep of every set, by stretching the targeted muscle and then initiating contraction with the same muscle. With back training this takes tremendous concentration, to make sure you stretch the back properly by keeping a slight bend in the elbow through the whole range of motion and lifting the weight by contracting the back and not using leverage or momentum. For example when doing a row as you pull the weight towards you push your chest forward and then retract the shoulders back and down, don’t just lean back.