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The way to build muscle is to create as much tension as possible in the target area to elicit a hypertrophic response. It’s all about recruiting as many muscle fibers as possible. If you cannot stimulate and recruit them properly, you’ll struggle to see any real growth.
Many people fail to reach the above goal when training back because they often find that their secondary muscles (biceps, deltoids) fatigue before their primary muscles do. Ultimately this leads to failure before the target muscle has been broken down properly, which obviously limits your progress.
The good news is that there are things you can do to immediately improve the isolation and recruitment of muscle fibers within this very important muscle group, which is actually made up of several muscles, not just the lats. I’ve listed three key points to isolate the target muscles more efficiently. Use these techniques in the sample workouts provided.
Follow my tips here and then put them to use in the three-week (Y3T) back program I’ve provided.
HOW TO DO IT
As you pull the weight up and reach the point of peak contraction, drive your elbows back and your shoulder blades as closely together as possible and hold the weight for one to two seconds. Squeeze your back muscles as hard as you possibly can. Remaining static will keep your deltoids from becoming involved. (They tend to fatigue with the constant movement rather than static tension.)
RANGE OF MOTION
One key point that I feel ties in very well with the two points above is altering your range of motion to further the degree of isolation you’re able to achieve within the target muscle. Rather than focusing on using a “full range of motion,” your intention should be to use the fullest range of motion possible while maintaining full tension on the target muscle. There’s a massive difference between the two, which I’ll explain below.
HOW TO DO IT
If you take an exercise such as reverse-grip pulldowns and use the fullest range of motion, you’ll find that it hits your biceps and deltoids every bit as much as your back. In the right context (please don’t take this out of context), it can pay to shorten that extension slightly at the top of the rep, where all of the pull comes through your biceps and moves straight back into the concentric phase, and then the isometric squeeze at the bottom is around 10% short of completion. This helps keep more of the tension in the right area. It also means failing biceps should become less of an issue.
One note on negative reps: The eccentric portion is just as important as the concentric. Be sure to fight gravity and really maintain total control to get all the benefits.
There are exercises that enable you to isolate the muscles without any flexion and extension of the arms.
HOW TO DO IT
Exercises such as straight-arm dumbbell pullovers or straight-arm pulldowns isolate the back without requiring flexion of the arm. The key is finding that sweet spot where your back is most isolated and focusing on it with a slow-rep tempo. Make the back muscles work longer within each rep with slower negatives (three to five seconds) and isometric contractions as highlighted above.
Barbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8–12
One-arm Dumbbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8–12
Close-grip Pulley Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-12
Medium-grip Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-12
Dumbbell Pullover | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-12
Wide-grip Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 14–18
Medium-grip Pulley Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 14–18
Dumbbell Row | SETS: 3 | REPS: 14–18
Straight-arm Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 14-18
Medium-grip Pulldown | SETS: 3 | REPS: 14-18
Close-grip Pulldown | SETS: 4 | REPS: 15-20
Barbell Row | SETS: 4 | REPS: 15-20
Close-grip Pulley Row+ | SETS: 4 | REPS: 15-20
Partial Deadlift | SETS: 3 | REPS: 15-20
Dumbbell Pullover | SETS: 3 | REPS: 15-20
*Eccentric portion of reps is 3-4 seconds; rest 60-80 seconds.
**Eccentric portion of reps is 2-3 seconds; rest 90-110 seconds.
***Eccentric portion of reps is 2-3 seconds; rest 120-130 seconds.