Kenneth Lo

20 My Favourite Exercises Of Building Back Muscles

November 1, 2018

When everyone is chasing his abs, we (#Teamkenneth trainees) should focus on our upper back development.

 

Back muscles are not the mirror muscles, but doesn't mean they are not important.

 

 Back muscles are the posterior chain muscles that are the weak-links of the most of the trainees.

 

Think about that when people look at your back, they will recognize that is YOU. This is an awesome experience. 

 

Having abs is easy, having nice and defined upper back are the next level of physique. 

 

Don't forget that if you would like to improve bench press, the trainee also need to concentrate on his lats activation to stabilize the barbell movement.

 

Certainly, the compound lifts like deadlift, power clean, snatch and back squat  can build your back as well. But I am not focusing on the compound exercises today. 

 

When I am doing back squat, I have to make sure I activate my lats and squeeze my scapulae as tight as possible to maintain a good posture to do the lift. 

 

"NOTHING WORKS WITHOUT THE WORK.

Align your ambitions, dreams, and goals with reality. Effort and work are needed for improvement and results."

 

 

Introduction of rowing/ pulling exercises

 

Before performing all rowing/ pulling exercises, trainees must understand the universal languages: Scapulae Depression, Scapulae Elevation, Scapulae Retraction, and Scapulae Protraction.

 

Here are the demonstration of the languages:

 

Scapulae Depression 

 

When the trainees prepares to perform chin-ups, we must do the scapulae depression first before bending our arms. 

 

Common mistakes:

1. Using too much biceps strength to pull yourself to the top range.

2. Too much momentum. Too much body swing. 

3. Not starting from the "dead-hang" position. 

4. Lower body is too loose or doesn't engage our core muscles - lats, abs, lower back & glutes.

 

 

Scapulae Retraction & Protraction

 

The trainee must learn how to retraction his scapulae at the top range. 

Retraction = Squeezing your back.

The trainee cannot engage your lats without scapulae retraction.

 

 

 

Here are some variations to build your back muscles and strength:

 

Remember that Dumbbell, Barbell, Cable and machines are the tools to stimulate our muscles. 

But we should do "bang-for-buck" exercises first in our training sessions. 

 

Primary Exercises Selection

 

Eccentric Chin-ups x 30s

 

Steps:

Step 1: Jump to the top range.

Step 2: Engage your core muscles and control your breathing.

Step 3: Focus on slow eccentric.

Top half x 15s

Bottom half x 15s

Step 4: Stop at the "dead-hang" position

 

The beginners can start from Isometric hold x 30s first before doing Eccentric x 30s.

If you cannot perform 30s, don't worry. Do your best.

Record down the exact time.

Then next session challenge your PB.

Ideally, you should complete 4 sets x 30s eccentric. 

 

 

4s Eccentric Chin-ups x 5 reps

 

Steps:

Step 1: Jump to the top range.

Step 2: Engage your core muscles and control your breathing.

Step 3: Focus on slow eccentric x 4s.

Step 4: Stop at the "dead-hang" position

Then repeat. 

 

 

 

Pull-ups with Full Rang of Motion

 

Steps:

Step 1: Starting from "dead-hang" position

Step 2: Scapulae depression

Step 3: Pull yourself up until chin above the bar.

If you chin doesn't above the bar - NO REP! 

Step 4: Open your shoulders (scapulae retraction) at the top range.

Step 5: Slow eccentric back to the "dead-hang" position.

Then repeat.

 

Progression:

If you can do 40 reps 

5 sets x 8 reps or 5 sets x 10 reps, then you can add extra weight to perform chin-ups.

 

 

 

Pull-ups with Half Way Pause

 

Steps:

Step 1: Starting from "dead-hang" position

Step 2: Scapulae depression

Step 3: Pull yourself up until chin above the bar.

If you chin doesn't above the bar - NO REP! 

Step 4: Open your shoulders (scapulae retraction) at the top range.

Step 5: Slow eccentric to mid-range position and pause x 2s

Step 6: All the way down to the "dead-hang" position slowly.

Then repeat.

 

Keys:

Keep constant tension on your lats.

No body swing.

You should STOP if you cannot reach to the top range. 

 

 

 

1 1/4 Pull-ups 

 

Steps:

Step 1: Starting from "dead-hang" position

Step 2: Scapulae depression

Step 3: Pull yourself up until chin above the bar.

If you chin doesn't above the bar - NO REP! 

Step 4: Open your shoulders (scapulae retraction) at the top range.

Step 5: Slow eccentric to mid-range position.

Step 6: Pull yourself up to the top range again.

Step 7: All the way down to the "dead-hang" position slowly.

Then repeat.

 

Keys:

Keep constant tension on your lats.

No body swing.

You should STOP if you cannot reach to the top range. 

 

 

Rings Muscle-ups

 

Rings Muscle-ups (MU) are the basic gymnastics movement. MU involves chin-up, transition and dips. 

 

Once you mastered the Chin-ups and pull-ups, the trainees can practice the MU with false grip.

False grip is the very painful position. It is not comfortable way to do chin-ups on the rings. 

If you are looking for the advanced training method, Rings Muscle-ups are the one of the most difficult exercises for the general population. 

 

Again, MU is only for the tough male and female trainees. 

 

Steps:

1. Start from the "dead-hang" position with the false grip.

2. Press yourself up until chest touching the rings.

3. Keep elbows close to your body.

4. Like doing crunches (hollow position) at the transition position.

5. Press up (dips) until both arms are lock out at the top range with external rotation.

6. Then do the reverse movement with slow tempo back to the "dead-hang" position.

 

 

 

Rings Archer Chin-ups

 

Archer Chin-ups is the regression of the One Arm Chin (OAC). 

OAC is the super advanced pulling exercises. 

I did it once with left and right arms. 

It's a brutal exercise. 

Not many trainees can do it even their back muscles are big and strong. 

 

Steps:

Step 1: Starting from "dead-hang" position.

Step 2: Scapulae depression.

Step 3: Pull yourself up until rings touch your chest. 

You can kiss the top range of the rings.

Step 4: Push one arm to the side with straight arm.

Step 5: Then slowly back to the "dead-hang" position.

 

 

 

 

 

Secondary Exercises (Accessory Exercises) 

 

 

Bent Over Row

 

Bent Over Row literally is one of the most difficult exercises. The trainee must have certain strength to maintain the neutral spine posture, then he can perform bent over row properly.

 

And the exercise also involves the posterior chain muscles as well like lower back, glutes and hamstrings.

 

Steps:

1. Retract the scapulae.

2. Bring (NOT pull) the bar to the belly (waist level).

3. Contract your Lats as hard as possible.

4. Eccentric.

 

Common mistakes:

 

1. Too much body swing.

2. The body is too upright.

3. Pull the bar to the chest level.

4. No eccentric. 

5. Too quick to finish one rep. 

6. Zero Lats contraction.

 

 

 

 

Rings Unilateral Inverted Row

 

Unilateral  = Single arm

 

Unilateral exercsie can improve the Bi-lateral deficit.

 

If I want to emphasis on my lats on the right hand side, I, sometimes, would like to unilateral work.

 

Steps:

1. Start from the "dead-hang" position, feet on the floor. 

2. Keep body as solid as possible.

3. Focus on scapulae retraction rattan than biceps strength.

4. Bring your body to the ring.

5. Engage your lats as hard as you can.

6. Slow eccentric to the "dead-hang" position.

 

 

 

 

1 1/4 Seated Row

 

The reasons of 1 1/4 Seated Row is to increase the time under tension (TUT) instead of increasing the weight (intensity).

 

It also can improve trainees' mind-muscle connection.

 

Steps:

1. Arms straight.

2. Scapulae retraction.

3. Bring the handle to the waist level.

4. Contract your Lats as hard as you can.

5. Release the handle 1/4 range.

6. Then bring the handle to the waist level again.

7. Focus on eccentric.

8. If your goal is to do 10 reps, actually you are contracting your Lats x 20 times. 

 

 

 

DB Pullover

 

Some people said it's for the chest. But for myself, the key of DB Pullover is to "stretch" your lats 

so that I don't suggest to lift too heavy weight.

 

Suggested tempo 3110.

3s down

1s pause at the stretched position

1s up 

0s No pause at the top range

 

Steps:

1. Start from the chest position, engage your chest

2. Bring the DB down slowly until the arms are slightly below your ears.

Arms are slightly bended. 

We don't "lock" the elbows.

3. Stretch 1s at the disadvantage position.

4. Back to the starting position. 

 

 

 

 

Single (Unilateral) Arm DB Row

 

In spite of Seated Row, Bent Over Row, we still can do Single Arm DB Row or Single Arm Cable Row sometimes. It can emphasis on your Lats with relative lighter weight. 

 

Steps:

Step 1: Set up the bench deg 20-30.

Step 2: Scapulae retraction.

Step 3: Bring the DB to your waist line.

Step 4: Contract your Lats as hard as possible. 

Step 5: Slow eccentric

 

Common mistakes:

- The back is not neutral, rounded back.

- Pull the DB to the chest level instead of was it line.

- Too much arms power

- NO eccentric phase, free falling.

- NO Lats contraction

 

 

Inverted Row

 

If the beginner cannot perform the chin-ups, you can do the basic pulling exercises like Inverted Row instead. 

 

Steps:

Step 1: Set up the bench deg 20-30.

Step 2: Scapulae retraction.

Step 3: Bring the body to the bar (just below the chest line).

Step 4: Squeeze your back and contract your Lats as hard as possible. 

Step 5: Slow eccentric.

 

 

Cable Pressdown with Straight Arms

 

Steps:

1. Set the pulley at the shoulders level.

2. Retract your scapulae.

3. Pressdown the handle with straight arms.

4. Pause 1-2s at the bottom to contract your Lats. 

5. Focus on eccentric. 

6. No rush. 

 

 

 

Remedial Exercises

 

Facepull

Steps:

1. Set the pulley to your eye level.

2. Retract your scapulae.

3. Bring the handle to the level just above your eye level.

Actually, a trainee can perform 3 different levels:

Level 1: To your neck level.

Level 2: To your eye level.

Level 3: above your head.

 

Tempo 3011

3s Eccentric

0s Pauase

1s Pull

1s Pause

 

 

 

DB Cuban Press

 

Cuban Press = External Rotation

 

Focus on the rotator cuffs. 

 

Key points:

Fix the elbows position.

Only rotate your rotator cuffs.

 

Tempo 3010

3s Eccentric

0s No pause

1s Up

0s No Pause

 

 

Single Arm Cable External Rotation

 

The exercise is similar to the Cuban Press, both exercises are focusing on the rotator cuffs. 

 

3 different levels: Bottom, Knee Level and Waist Level 

 

Common mistakes:

1. Using too much arm strength.

2. Elbow is too far away from the body.

3. Twist the body instead of rotating the shoulder joint.

 

If the trainee cannot open his shoulders, normally because of the rotator cuffs issue. 

 

 

 

 

Bonus Exercises

 

Calisthenics 1

- Pull-ups with wide grip

- Pull-ups with mid-grip (shoulders width)

- Pull-ups with narrow grip

- Lean away Pull-ups

 

 

Calisthenics 2

- Assisted One Arm Chin-ups

- Type Writer Pull-ups

- Assisted Chin-ups with towel

 

 

Calisthenics 3

- Rings Archer Chin-ups

- Assisted OAC

- Bar Muscle-ups

 

 

Calisthenics 4

- Bar Dips

- Windmill

- Tucked Front Lever

- Ice Cream Maker

 

 

 

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “Garbage in, Garbage out” (GIGO). To perform at a champion’s level, transform GIGO into “Gold in, Gold out.”

 

The quality of your work in practice (input) determines your performance in competition (output).

 

Just remember that it’s not about how much practice time you put in; it’s about what you put into the practice time. The most important thing is that you think of each training session as an opportunity to buff up your body and mind—Polish the rock, sharpen the sword—to shine on the field.

 

The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive

by James A. Afremow, Jim Craig

 

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