Tips for Effective Back Training

It's odd that back training gets largely ignored in the world of strength training. For one thing, the low back muscles are the antagonistic muscles to the abdominal muscles and keep that area of the torso in proper balance. The web and late-night television are full of ab exercises and gadgets yet barely ever talk about the opposite muscles that are equally important.

Secondly, low back pain is among the most common medical complaints of both men and women. Strengthening these muscles is an easy way to, in many cases, get total relief from chronic pain and is infinitely better than an addiction to Oxycontin or Vicodin.

So let’s look at a few ways to get more out of your back training. I’m going to assume that you’re already doing the Static Contraction workout in Train Smart which means you are using the #1 ranked exercises for upper back, lower back and trapezius. But here are some ways to get a bit more out of them.

When you perform lat pulldowns don’t let it become a biceps exercise by bending your elbow any more than necessary. This is why you want to perform the pulldown at the top of the range where it’s your lats doing unassisted lifting. Raise the weight stack an inch or two and hold it there. This way you won’t use your biceps to help with the load. Pull the weight by consciously squeezing your lats and feeling them contract.

Also on the pulldown, experiment with a wide grip, a narrow grip and under-hand and over-hand grips to determine which configuration allows you to hoist the heaviest weight.

When (not ’if’) you get strong enough to use the entire weight stack try adding a dumbbell or two to the stack to make it heavier. (In the USA, consult with an insurance adjuster, a personal injury trial attorney and financial adviser before doing this.)

When that isn’t enough weight you can also do the pulldowns one arm at a time, effectively doubling the intensity.

Deadlifts are a compound exercise, meaning there are several muscles and muscle groups that assist in the movement. But your objective is to maximize the use of the spinal erector muscles in your low back. So pay attention and don’t use your legs or traps to move the weight. Keep your back straight and your head up and pull with your low back to raise the barbell an inch or two from the power rack.

Shrugs have a short range of motion so don’t worry about getting your shoulders to touch your earlobes. Just use your traps to raise the bar an inch. Resist the temptation to use your biceps to raise the bar higher. This isn’t a biceps exercise so leave them out of it.

Take three deep breaths before any of these lifts. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Really fill your lungs on every breath. And as you exhale on the third breath force the weight up as you exhale.

If possible, give a loud yell or grunt as you lift as this has been shown to generate 12% more strength in static contraction test subjects.

If you have an aptitude for distance running, cycling, martial arts or other endurance sports, try doing the Beta workouts for these exercises using 4 ‘sets’ of each exercise and see if your numbers improve faster. (I know martial arts isn’t really an endurance sport but many serious practitioners have told me the Beta workouts are better for them.)

Seriously, this is my #1 tip for these exercises: Get a pair of my friend Dave’s lifting hooks. On these pulling exercises people just don’t realize how grip strength is limiting the weights they use. The day they use hooks every weight goes up. Way, way up. And that translates to extra muscle growth stimulation. If a nutritional supplement delivered these kinds of weight increases on day one it would be constantly sold out and featured on the cover of every fitness magazine. Using lifting hooks is what I call training with your brain. 

Have a great workout,






In the spirit of well-rounded self-improvement and spending fitness time wisely and efficiently, this Static Contraction article was brought to you by the Latin proverb:


Acta Non Verba
"Action, not words"











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