Monday, April 8, 2019

Home-Grown Back - Steve Holman (2002)

Home-Grown Back: 
How to Build a Double-Wide Triple-Thick Back With Nothing But Dumbbells
by Steve Holman (2002) 

Note: Remember the "Train, Eat, Grow POF (positions of flexion) articles that Mr. Holman wrote for IronMan magazine? It always impressed a lot me that layouts for the home gym trainer were included in those. Also, when you get the chance, don't miss out on any of Steve Holman's stuff. There's a lot to be learned from his writings. 

Okay then . . . now . . . 

So you want to do some living in a double-wide, eh? No, that doesn't mean trailer parks, gals with bad tattoos on every appendage and cars up on blocks in the front yard - although some of us could easily learn to dig that lifestyle. 

I'm talking about a double-wide B - A - C - K, capable of eclipsing the sun when it's allowed to spread in its entirety on a hot summer day. And we can't forget about THICKNESS. It's got to be so beefy that when you raise your arms to stretch, your traps jump up next to your ears like two striking cobras. From the back the muscles bulge down the middle of your torso like twin pythons - right next to those manta ray lats. 

Unfortunately, that's a daydream for many bodybuilders because, for one thing, you can't see your back when you work it - unless you're possessed by the devil and can spin your head around during rows. Muscle groups we can't see tend to get ignored, or at least we give them less attention. The way around that problem is to have a plan . . . 

There's a way-great article on Yoke Building by Paul Carter here:

 . . . a plan that smacks the back from all possible ways in which it can pull. In other words, follow the right exercises and you'll be double wide and triple thick in no time. You can do it with Positions-of-Flexion training, an adjustable bench, a chinning bar, and dumbbells.

That's right, dumbbells. Too many bodybuilders think they need to have all kinds of machines, pulleys and intricate cams to build a great back, but it's just not so - and that's damn good news for home trainees. Nevertheless, as I've suggested in previous articles, home trainees may want to add some equipment before attempting the upcoming bodypart attack.

The routine has you move quickly from one set of dumbbells to a lighter set for the second exercise, for modified supersets and drop sets. [Or, as I like to call 'em, 'drip sets'. If the sweat ain't drippin' you ain't dropping right.] If you have access to a rack of fixed dumbbells, you won't have a problem, but if all you have are those adjustable dumbbells with the screw-type collars, spring for a few extra pairs so you can set up the weights ahead of time - and be wary of loose collars at all times or you may end up with achy-breaky toes. 

The Powerblock selectorized dumbbell set is a better solution than screw-collar dumbbells. 

Note: I had a set of these quite a while back. They got lost in 'the shuffle' unfortunately. But I do have these now, Bowflex up to 90's from 10's in five lb. jumps. They're real way-easy to switch poundage on -

They're kinda awkward feeling at first, but I really like 'em now, after a couple years of use. Sure a lot better space-wise than the full dumbbell rack was! Combined with a half-dozen loadable DBs I'm pretty much satisfied maximally. Not a bad plan, if you're into that sorta thing, to cut down a standard 1" hole bar or two into a bunch of different lengths. If you ever aspire to doing one-arm barbell lifts you can stick collars on 'em and use the different lengths to progressively get accustomed to the feel of a full size bar. If one ever really gets used to that one arm, full bar feel! But yeah, pretty much satisfied maximally with what I use when lifting at home. 

Hey . . . check this out. See all them Powerblocks at the head of those benches? 

Click Pic to ENLARGE
Photo Courtesy of Matt Levan

Okay . . . 'nuff of the pics already. 
The article continues: 

As for this home-grown back routine, it has a few innovative characteristics that make it brief but effective at packing on back width and thickness.

1) Positions of Flexion

Most readers are familiar with POF and working a muscle through its full range of motion. 

Note: This will clear it up for ya if you're not yet familiar with POF. 

There's a whole lot of stuff out there now. Look around for X-Rep training and you'll see. 

To determine the positions, or arc, of flexion for the back, we have to divide it into two sections: lats and midback. Each is a separate muscle structure, and by training them individually you ensure that you get a double wide, triple thick back, as the lats are responsible for width and the midback muscles, or traps, are responsible for thickness. Here are the full-range-of-motion positions: 


Stretch: You reach total stretch at the bottom of a pullover movement - upper arms overhead with the elbows slightly below the plane of the torso.

Midrange: Front-chin or front-pulldown movements - where your upper arms come into your body more from the sides than the front - work the lats' midrange position. The midback and biceps act as synergists to help the lats move the resistance. 

Contracted: You achieve complete contraction at the bottom of an undergrip chin, undergrip pulldown, undergrip bentover row, or stiff-arm pulldown - upper arms down, close to and behind your torso.


Stretch: You reach total stretch at the bottom of a close-grip cable row or one-arm dumbbell row - torso bent at slightly less than 90 degrees to the thighs and arms extended with your scapulae (shoulder blades) spread.   

Midrange: Behind-the-neck chins or behind-the-neck pulldowns work the midrange position of the midback. The lats and biceps are the synergists that help the midback move the resistance. 

Contracted: You achieve total contraction when your scapulae are squeezed together with the resistance pulling on a plane that's almost perpendicular to your torso. For example, you reach this position at the top of a shoulder-width cable row, bentover row, or bent-arm bent-over lateral raise. 

Upper Trapezius

Midrange: You work this position during delt work with upright rows or lateral raises. It also gets work during lat and midback exercises.

Stretch: You reach total stretch at the bottom of a forward-lean dumbbell shrug, when you allow the 'bells to come together.  

Contracted: You achieve total contraction at the top of a forward-lean shrug, with your shoulders pulled up and back as high as possible and your hands out to your sides. 

You may not have been expecting that last section, upper traps, but it's necessary. The trapezius muscles, like the pecs, are fan-shaped, so you have to work them in sections. Luckily, the upper area gets a lot of midrange work during delt and lat exercises, so all you really need to finish the upper traps is shrugs. 

POF protocol says you use one exercise that trains each of the positions, and you've got an efficient full-range back attack. Go through the above list and pick one for each position: 

Pullovers (lats, stretch)
Chins (lats, midrange)
Stiff-arm Pulldowns (lats, contracted)

One-arm DB Rows (midback, stretch)
Behind the Neck Pulldowns (midback, midrange)
Bent-arm Bentover Rows (midback, contracted)

Dumbbell Shrugs (upper traps, stretch and contracted).

Just doing a few straight sets of each of those exercises in standard POF order - midrange, stretch, contracted - will give you a very complete full-range workout thanks to precise multi-angular training and optimal muscle fiber recruitment. However, when you combine POF with the postactivation supersets and some drop sets thrown in for good measure, you've got an even better back-blasting routine. 

2) Postactivation

While POF provides extra fiber recruitment via its stretch-position exercises and activating the myostatic, or stretch, reflex, postactivation can give you even more. One of the most common ways to use it is in modified superset fashion, combining a compound (midrange position) exercise, such as chins, with an isolation (contracted position) movement, such as stiff-arm pulldowns. Unfortunately, most home gyms don't have a pulldown unit (note: they're not too pricey to pick up used if you're patient long enough, and if you have the room, two pulley setups with the upper and lower deals can be set up to do all manner of cable flyes, laterals, crossovers etc.) . . . so, you use the next best thing - bentover scapulae rotations. 

To do that exercise, you bend at the waist with a dumbbell in each hand hanging down at arm's length with a slight bend in your elbows. From there you drive the dumbbells back, keeping the slight bend in your elbows, till your arms are just behind your torso - as in the finish of a triceps kickback but without locking your elbows. That's the contracted position for your lats, so squeeze for a count before you lower to the start. 

To integrate postactivation into the POF back routine, you alternate between sets of chins and bentover scapulae rotations. Rest about one minute between sets. The rotations help recruit more motor units in the lats, priming your central nervous system for maximum fiber recruitment on chins. You'll feel it - have a fire extinguisher handy.

3) Time Under Tension 

Most bodybuilder's sets last only 10-15 seconds. You don't believe it? Go to the gym and watch.

Note: Here's something related/interesting from Richard A. Winett:
See the section titled An Anthropological Expedition.

Better yet, time your own sets. For optimal hypertrophic-stimulation, you need a variety of rep ranges - up to 40 seconds of tension time. If you're like most bodybuilders, you neglect the longer tension times. Why?

Because high-rep sets are hard (they can burn like hell), and they're boring. Bit to mention the fact that bodybuilders are brainwashed into believing that only heavy, low-rep sets build muscle.

Yes, Hogwash! By avoiding longer tension times, you miss a lot of potential development. 

If you don't like higher-rep sets, drip, er drop sets can help you achieve an extended time under tension. Do a set on which you reach failure at around 8 reps, and then reduce the weight and continue repping out, hitting failure at around 7 reps. Two back-to-back sets like those can help you get your time under tension up to near 40 seconds - if you use a 2-seconds up/2-seconds down cadence on most reps. For example, on the this back routine you'll finish with a drop set of dumbbell pullovers. Do a set of DB PO's with a dumbbell in each hand, hitting failure at around rep 8. Then decrease the weight and continue to rep out, hitting failure at around rep 7. If you average about 3 seconds per rep, that's 45 seconds of tension time - 24 plus 21 - with many seconds of lat-sizzling action toward the end of the 2nd set.

Okay, your mind is grasping all the concepts, so let's get to THE ROUTINE. If you don't quite have the POF and/or postactivation protocols down pat, seeing them in a program may help. Remember, you rest about one minute between exercises in a modified postactivation superset. 

Lats - 
Chins (warmup), 1 x 6
Scapulae Rotations (warmup), 1 x 8
Modified postactivation superset: 
Chins (with weight added if possible), 2 x 8-10
super set with
Scapulae Rotations, 2 x 8
2-Dumbbell Pullovers (drop set), 2 x 8(7).

Midback - 
Chest-supported Bentover 2-Dumbbell Rows (warmup), 1 x 8
actually found a pic of the exercise being done with Powerblocks! 

Bent-arm Bentover Laterals (warmup), 1 x 8
Modified postactivation superset: 
Chest-supported Bentover 2-Dumbbell Rows, 2 x 8-10
superset with
Bent-arm Bentover Laterals, 2 x 8

Upper Traps - 
Forward-lean Dumbbell Shrugs (drop set), 2 x 8(7).

If you have a good handle on the positions of flexion for each back section, you may think there's something missing from the midback part of the routine - a midrange movement. Midback midrange exercises are listed as behind the neck pulldowns and behind the neck chins. Because the midback works as a synergist, or helping muscle, during chins to the front for the lats, you can consider midback midrange work taken care of.

That means for the midback postactivation superset that's listed, you're actually doing a stretch movement (chest-supported dumbbell rows), supersetted with a contracted position exercise (bent-arm bentover laterals). You finish with upper-trap work. You hit the stretch and contracted positions with shrugs - the midrange position was taken care of during the rest of your back work. It's a very efficient, precise program and a total multi-angular blast.

Here are a few exercise performance tips to help you get the most out of the program: 

Chins - Take a grip that's about five inches wider than your shoulders on each side. Remember, the midrange position for lats has your upper arms pulling into your torso from the sides, not the front. Pull yourself up till your chin clears the bar, then lower slowly to a count of two. Don't extend your arms completely or you could damage your rotator cuff. Begin the next rep immediately once your arms are almost straight, and keep moving in a piston-like manner, no pause at the top or bottom. Add weight when you can by strapping a plate or dumbbell around your waist.

If you can't do enough chins, have a box or bench under your feet so that when you hit failure you can stand on the chair, lock yourself in the top position and lower yourself slowly to a count of six. Do as many of those negative reps as you can - till you can't control the descent. These negatives should help build your strength quickly do you're doing 8-10 regular chins on your own in a matter of weeks.

Bentover Scapulae Rotations - I described this exercise earlier. It's basically a stiff-arm triceps kickback performed while keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Be sure to get your upper arms behind your torso and squeeze your lats for a count before you lower the dumbbells. You may feel your triceps getting a little work, but that's okay, as long as you feel your lats too. The slight bend in your elbows should minimize triceps involvement. 

2-Dumbbell Pullovers - You can do these lying on a bench or perpendicular to the bench with just your upper back supported - as in a one-dumbbell pullover. 

Note: Check this out if you're doing the cross-bench variety: 

Have a dumbbell in each hand at arm's length above your face. Lower them with a slight bend in your elbows till your upper arms are on the same plane as your torso or slightly below it. You should feel a wicked stretch in your lats, but don't pause. Begin the next rep immediately to activate the stretch reflex and get more fibers into the action. The weight should be heavy enough that you hit failure around rep 8. At that point grab a lighter pair of dumbbells so that you can continue to rep out in drop set fashion. 

Chest-supported Bentover 2-DB Rows - With a dumbbell in each hand, lean forward and rest your chest on an incline bench. You can rest your torso on the bench or position yourself so your torso is parallel to the floor and just your pecs are on the bench. Lower the dumbbells, holding them parallel and close - palms facing each other - so you get a stretch in the midback, but don't pause at the stretch position. Immediately pull the dumbbells up and out, rotating your hands so the palms are facing back at the top and your arms are angled away from your torso. That gets you from the stretch position to the contracted position. You'll minimize lat involvement by keeping your arms angled away from your body. Remember, no pause at the top or bottom.

Bent-arm Bentover Laterals - Sit on the end of a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend over till your chest is almost resting on your upper thighs. With a bend in your elbows slightly greater than 90 degrees, raise the dumbbells out to your sides and feel your scapulae move together at the top of the rep. Hold for a count, then lower slowly. If you don't feel your upper back contracting and releasing on each rep, you may be using too much weight.

Forward-lean Dumbbell Shrugs - With a dumbbell in each hand, stand and let the inside plates of the 'bells touch in front of your thighs. Your palms should be facing back. That's the stretch position for your upper traps. As you shrug your shoulders, allow the dumbbells to move out to your sides so you get a complete contraction in your upper traps. When you hit failure around rep 8, grab a lighter pair of dumbbells and continue to rep out, shooting for 6-8 more.

One last point: If your midback is lagging, you can train it first, followed by lats and ending with shrugs. Or you can alternate, working lats first at one workout and midback first at the next. Any way you use it, the home-grown back routine will give you a wicked all-out back blast. 




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