Back to the Future

Posted: April 17, 2019 in Uncategorized


By Edward K. Wietholder, BS, CSCS, CPT
A glaring weakness, from a bodybuilder’s point of view, of many trainees is the width of the latissimus dorsi. This is usually more apparent in natural trainees as it is really not natural to be able to hang glide without any extraneous equipment. Anyhow, no matter what most “wide latted” individuals may tell you, pronated wide grip chinning is not really the exercise to focus on.
The latissimus dorsi has an origin on the lower six thoracic vertebrae, all of the lumbar vertebrae, crests of the ilium and sacrum(upper pelvis and just above the buttocks), and the lower four ribs. The muscle group inserts on the medial side(closer to the midline) of the humerus(upper arm bone). The function of the latissimus is to extend(draw upper arm downward in the front to back plane), adduct(draw upper arm down in the left to right plane), and internally rotate the arm at the shoulder. Other interesting visible muscles that round out the back include the teres major which mimics the function of the latissimus. The middle and lower trapezius, a kite shaped muscle, is also visible from the rear. The trapezius is designed to function in harmony with other muscles of the shoulder, otherwise known as scapulohumeral rhythm. The upper and lower trapezius serve to upwardly rotate the scapula, which occurs when the arm is raised to the front or side. The middle trapezius and rhomboids allow for downward rotation of the scapula. When acting alone, the upper trapezius will elevate and retract(bring shoulder blades together) the scapula. The middle acting alone retracts the scapula. The lower will depress and retract the scapula(scapula moves down and in).
If one thinks for a moment about a set of partial wide grip chins, two things are happening that are not conducive to maximum lat stimulation. First, the biceps should be placed in the most advantageous line of pull possible. This is either supinated or neutral. Second, the grip should be shoulder width. The biceps group is weaker and fatigues before the latissimus. It does not make sense to place the biceps in a less advantageous line of pull. On the contrary, it needs to be placed in the strongest pulling position to allow the lats to go to a further point of fatigue. More fibers in the lat are recruited and pushed to exhaustion. These are simple concepts and should be applied to all of one’s exercises.

It becomes apparent that the shoulder width, supinated or neutral grip chin should be your core exercise. The latissimus needs to be placed in the position to be able to be pushed as far into exhaustion as possible before the biceps give out. The way to do this is to let the biceps function in their strongest pulling position. The first exercise in your back routine should be the shoulder width grip chin. This is the hardest group for most trainees to develop and most energy and time should be spent on it. After a good warm up, one should get to the business set of chins. By the way, do not waste an ounce of energy on your warm up sets. The first warm up should be for higher repetitions, say 8 or 10, to elevate local temperature and increase blood flow to the areas being worked. The second and third warm ups should be more for preparing the neural pathways. If the work set will be done for 6 reps, then the second warm up should be done for 3 or 4 reps. Every effort should be made to make this weight feel as light as possible. This is good mentally and it also prepares you for maximum recruitment during the set. The final warm up should be 20-30 pounds less than your work set and should be done for 1-2 repetitions. Again, every effort should be made to make the weight feel as light as possible. Prepare the mind for maximum recruitment and build confidence. Nothing ends a set faster than taking the weight off of the ground or rack and thinking that it feels heavy. This is an incorrect approach. Doubt causes antagonistic muscle groups to contract and prime movers are inhibited as a neural protective mechanism. When you get to the work set, the chin needs to be performed with controlled ferocity. The chin or pulldown bar needs squeezed for all of your ability. Pull up without swinging your lower torso or kicking your legs. Pull the elbows along your sides until the chin clears the bar. Lower under control until your torso is fully extended at the bottom of the movement. Do not “dislocate” the shoulders at the bottom. Stay tight and repeat the motion for the required number of repetitions. 2 sets of this movement is plenty.
A rowing motion also needs to be included to work on the “roadmap” portion of the back as well. The chin action works these muscles , but the rowing aspect allows greater stress to be focused on the middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and the teres major. In addition, deep to the trapezius lies the rhomboids which have postural effects and the strength of which helps to avoid the slope shouldered look. If you decide to chin like described earlier, then the rows may be more beneficial if you get the elbows out and away from the body at 45 degrees or greater. This evokes a different firing pattern since this is a different plane of motion relative to the chins. We are talking either the supported or non supported versions of the good old fashioned bent row. If you decide to choose the non supported version, you should have a healthy lower back. Maintain the natural curve as you bend at the waist. Keeping the low back fixed, row the weight to the lower sternum. No bouncing, rocking, or utilizing the low back for assistance. Another variation would include the supinated grip bent over row, utilized a great deal by Dorian Yates. The advantage of this motion is that the biceps are placed in their most advantageous line of pull and allow the back to go to a further point of exhaustion before the weaker biceps give out. 1-2 sets of one of these movements is plenty.

A motion to hit the spinal erectors should be used as well. The king of the hill concerning the development of these muscles would be the deadlift. The deadlift should not be worked on back day, but on leg day instead. Another benefit of the deadlift is that it is one of those exercises that really hits the entire body from head to toe. As a result it is very effective in stimulating the release of testosterone as well. The mechanism by which the big basic exercises do this is thought to be because of large production of metabolic acid due to and in conjunction with large muscles being used. Total work is also a factor in effecting an increased output of testosterone. Reps on the deadlift could be higher to take advantage of this benefit., say 8 to 10 or so.
An alternative way to do deadlifts would be to utilize the old time 20 rep deadlift routines that were touted as being able to pack on lots of muscle mass. Both criteria for maximizing testosterone secretion are overwhelmingly met. Maybe those old timers were on to something. I achieved my personal bests on a lot of my movements while on a 20 rep deadlift routine. I am convinced that the anabolic effects of the 20 rep style had something to do with this.
In summing, an effective back routine for natural trainees might look something like this:
1)Chins 2-3 work sets of 6-8 reps
2)Rows 2-3 work sets of 6-8 reps
3)Deadlifts 1 work set of 8-10 reps or 20 rep style(done on leg day)
Can’t grow on only 5-7 work sets, right? Wrong. A work set by the way is do or die. Not half assed.
Simple, concise, and to the point. Focus on controlled progression, attempting to add no more than 1-2 pounds per week when the weights begin to get heavy. Oh yeah, did I fail to mention that another byproduct of this routine is some size to the biceps? The chin up is the secret king of the upper body exercises. SFAMN

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