Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Efficient Back Workout - Fred Koch

Figure 1.
When the scapula moves, it stretches the lower lat,
thus producing a full range of motion.

Figure 2.
Behind-the-Neck lat pulldowns are inefficient.

Figure 3.
Stiff-arm pulldowns tire the back
without working the biceps.

Figure 4.
Cobras provide a full range of motion for the back.

The Efficient Back Workout
by Fred Koch (1991)

Waste, waste, waste. With so much of it around I’m sure you’ll agree that one of the last places you want to see it is in the gym. Unfortunately, the gym is one place that abounds with waste in the form of wasted energy spent on wasted exercise motions that have little to do with the way the human body is designed to work.

It’s time to make an honest appraisal of the way we work out and to eliminate those exercises that we do because someone had a hunch they would work certain parts of the body. For once let’s leave waste and guesswork behind and focus on some basic facts concerning a standard back movement, the pulldown behind the neck.

For what seems like eons, trainees have been instructed to do the wide-grip behind-the-neck pulldown on the mistaken assumption that using a wide grip will give them a wide back. This technique has been handed down from generation to generation of lifters, but the question is – does the exercise actually work the back in the most efficient manner possible?

An analysis of the biomechanics involved shows that the answer to this question is no – no matter where you place your hands. It’s true that when you work your back, the more perpendicular to the floor your arms are at the top of the movement, the more stretch and range of motion your lats go through. Since a portion of the lat actually attach to the scapulae, this hand placement results in even more of a stretch in the lower lats (see Figure 1) than when you use a wide grip. Unfortunately, it is anatomically impossible to continue this action through a full range of motion during behind-the-neck pulldowns, so you’re left with only half a back movement. You wouldn’t do only half a bench press, would you? Then why do half a back movement?

Also, consider this: Due to the way your lats attach to the upper arms, pulling behind your neck shortens the movement even more and puts the lats at a pulling disadvantage.

Arm rotation around the shoulder is another important factor. Your back muscles are attached to your arms in such a way that, with your elbows facing forward – as in an undergrip or parallel-grip pulldown, the back muscles are stretched considerably. This technique allows the scapulae to fully rotate, which means a full range of motion and greater lat stimulation, a movement that cannot fully occur when you use a wide grip.

The biceps also play an important role when you work your back, which poses a problem that involves the attachments of your back muscles to your upper arms. Ideally, you should work your back without using your hands because using the hands brings the biceps – which are weaker than your back muscles – into play. When you use your arms to work your back, the biceps usually tire first. This is why you seldom get a pump in your lats with behind-the-neck pulldowns.

The solution is to tire the lats first with an exercise that doesn’t involve the biceps. You can do pullovers, stiff-arm pulldowns (Figure 3) or cobras (Figure 4). After one of these exercises your arms will be strong and your back muscles will be fatigued, which means you can do a back exercise that uses the arms and still effectively work your back.

Undergrip pulldowns will put your biceps into the most advantageous position for you to work your prefatigued back muscles hard. Make sure you let your arms go as high as possible until you can feel your scapulae move up and around in your back. This will stretch the lats at the bottom. Then, when you feel your lats stretch, start the downward movement by pulling with your lower lats, not your arms.

Many bodybuilders stop this movement three-quarters of the way up, which is why they don’t have lower-lat development. If you do parallel-grip pulldowns, pull with your elbows and try to ram them down at your sides. Do not jerk from your low back in order to start the downward movement of the bar, but rather use a piston-type movement. Remember, you are not trying to move the bar from point A to point B; you are trying to work your back.

In order to eliminate wasted time and energy, when you go from one exercise to the next, so not start light and then work your way up to a heavy poundage. Keep your poundages consistent throughout the work sets for each exercise.

Here is a good back routine:

Pullovers or Stiff-Arm Pullovers – 4 x 8-10.
Shoulder Width Undergrip Pulldowns – 4 x 6.
Cobras (see illustration) – 3 x 8.
Parallel Grip Pulldowns – 3 x 6.

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