Saturday, September 27, 2014

Upper Back Training for Powerlifters, Part Three

Part Three: Power Bodybuilding for the Upper Back
Greg Reshel (1994)

Last month's article mentioned that the muscle groups that stabilize the upper back are important for all three powerlifts and by strengthening them you will indirectly cause all three of the powerlifts to move forward. A deep foundation in upper back training will allow you to achieve a much higher potential in your sport. Simply, you will be capable of much higher lifts and totals. Do not neglect to introduce upper back training into your routines. 

Last month we described a deep off-season upper back training routine. This month we will present one of the upper back bodybuilding (hypertrophy) routines that we use to increase mass in the upper back stabilizers. This increase in mass will normally provide better leverage for handling the big weights in all three powerlifts. This mass building program is designed for intermediate level lifters, especially those who lifters who have not had a lot of variety in their training routines. Without this variety, most athletes will not maintain mass and condition in the many small muscle groups of the upper back and shoulders.

A 'power bodybuilding' program of this type will produce, restore, and enhance upper back size, strength, and conditioning. Master powerlifters need to pay close attention to programs of this type. After the age of 33 we all move through a growth hormone 'menopause' that signals a dramatic decrease in GH and IGF-1. We all will tend to drop bone mass, drop muscle mass, and store more bodyfat after this point. The GH menopause causes a cascade effect that triggers a large and varied number of 'aging clocks' that gradually decrease metabolic function in a number of areas. Bottom line is that lifters over the age of 35 need to perform increasing levels of work at 30-60% of their max effort. This low load work is designed to increase joint tissue, ligaments, and tendons at the 30-40% level and increase and maintain muscle mass at the 50-60% level. 'Bodybuilding' style workouts of this type - low load and fast pace - will greatly increase cardiovascular condition, local muscle endurance, and mass/leverage related stability of master powerlifters. You do not have to resign yourself to steadily decreasing performance levels after the age of 45. You must work harder at lower loads and allow longer off-season routines to provide the foundation for future gains. Do the work that builds more 'horsepower in the engine' and then watch your totals go up.

Power Bodybuilding for the Upper Back

Note: this workout is designed to be accomplished as quickly as possible. Do not use heavy weights, but rather strive to find a weight that requires concentration but one which will not be so heavy that you are in danger of missing any reps. The key is to work this routine in your schedule once a week for 6-8 weeks. Each time you perform the routine you must work faster, with less break or rest between sets, performing the required work in less total time. The first time you do the workout it may take you 60 minutes to complete it. After 8 weeks of practice you should try to complete the same amount of work with the same weights in 25-35 minutes. The upper back muscle groups that we are targeting with this workout need greater size, endurance, and stronger attachments as much as absolute strength to increase our potential in the powerlifts. When you perform the workout with moderate weights and consistently excellent technique in significantly less time you are creating an endurance and stamina foundation in the upper back muscle groups as well as increasing their size and attachments.

1) Smith Machine Upright Row, 4 sets of 8 reps.
Stand with back straight and shoulders back at all times while maintaining a 15 degree forward lean at the hips. Pull the bar up to the collarbone by raising elbows out to the sides. Keep the bar close to your torso at all times. Lower the bar slowly to arms' length. Begin with a light weight and increase weight each set.

Superset the following two exercises. After completing the first two sets of the first exercise move immediately into the first set of the second exercise without resting. Following the first set of the second exercise take a short (30-60 second) rest before continuing through another round of both exercises without resting between the first and second exercises. Continue this way until all sets are completed.

2) Partial Front Overhead Press, 5 x 10.
Stand or sit with a 24-32 inch grip on a straight bar held chin-height about 4 inches in front of your face. Keep your back flat and stomach tight at all times to stabilize your spine. Rotate your elbows forward so that your forearms are nearly vertical and your elbows are under the bar. Press the weight vertically upward so that it stays in front of your head and does not travel rearward to a position over your head. You will stop several inches before lockout with your elbows just slightly bent. Lower the weight slowly to the start position at chin height. This is not an explosive exercise, do not cheat by using your legs or leaning back while performing the exercise. You should feel a lot of effort in your shoulders, shoulder blades, and your mid back as your mid back must stabilize the motion. You will greatly improve your squat and deadlift with this exercise.

3) Behind the Back Upright Row, 4 x 8.
This exercise is not a shrug where most athletes would be tempted to drive their shoulders up and forward. Rather, it is a vertical rowing motion where you attempt to raise the bar to the level of your lower back by raising your shoulders vertically and bending your elbows to lift the bar behind you. Keep the bar close to your body at all times. Do not lean forward. You will be more comfortable and stronger if you look down and move your head forward to allow your traps to work more efficiently. Always lower the bar slowly and with control. Lifters who have a large backside may elect to use a cambered bar (sometimes called a MacDonald bar) to allow a fuller range of motion.          

4) Standing Lateral Raises (Railroads), 2 sets of circuits.
Each circuit involves the following: 
10 reps at 10 lbs
6 at 15
6 at 20
6 at 25
3 at 30
5 at 25
5 at 20
5 at 15
limit at 10.
That's right, you perform all the sets listed with no rest. Wait 1-5 minutes and them perform all the sets listed again. You will hate this exercise but will love the results.

5) Cambered Bar Lateral Rows Lying Face Down on a High Bench, 6 x 6, increasing weight each set.
Lie on a flat bench face down. Position a cambered bar under the bench at right angles to it so that you can grip it properly to perform a rowing motion. Raise the bar by lifting your elbows directly out to the sides so that at the top, when the bar is near the bench, you will be in a position similar to a face down bench pres with your upper arms at right angles to your body and your forearms vertically above the bar. Lower the bar slowly to arms' length. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you raise the bar. Try to keep your chin off the bench as you lift the weight and also keep your traps and neck long as you pull your shoulder blades together and down toward your hips.

6) Standing High Pulley Straight Arm Pulldowns, 5 x 12.
This exercise is best performed using the high pulley from a cable crossover apparatus but will work acceptably from a lat pulldown machine. Face the machine and grab a straight bar attachment with an overhand grip, shoulder width or a little wider. Keep your back flat and your shoulders pulled back at all times. Bend your elbows slightly and then lock them in that position for the entire exercise. Keep the bar at arms' length as you sweep the bar in a smooth arc to your legs. Raise your chest high as you bring the bar against your legs. Slowly return the bar to the top position, about forehead height.

Remember to take as little time as necessary to rest after each set and to work with a moderate weight that will challenge you but will not be so heavy as to risk missing any reps in good control. Cheating these exercises will not help your upper back stabilizing muscle groups as cheating will only put the stress on different groups and will not stimulate the upper back stabilizers to grow.      


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