Many times, when lifters are “attacking” their back with heavier compound exercises, they in fact, should be regressing back to more basic exercises and learning how to do them correctly. This will pay off in the long run with achieving better balance and understanding how to actually contract your muscles.

Fundamental movements, by definition, help to re-establish a better base or “foundation” so that you can train heavier and more intensely.  

I’m not saying you have to stop training, I’m saying that while you are structuring your workouts, make sure you’re checking yourself and balancing your program. The goal is to not only to train harder, but also to train smarter.

Supplemental work for the back should ALWAYS include opening up the upper back with some type of mobility or foam roller work, activating the rhomboids and traps, focusing on better posture and better breathing cues.

We always bring in face pulls to get the mid-back – rhomboids and traps – going again, but here is another exercise I’ve been loving lately.

Standing Cable Rows

Setup and Execution

1. Attach the tricep rope to the high pulley.

2. Stand facing the pulley and grab the rope with a pistol grip.

3. Get tall, neutralize the head, and anchor your feet.

4.  Deliberately row the rope to your lower chest, pulling your shoulder blades back in the process.

5.  With great control, extend the rope back to the original starting position, allowing your shoulder blades to protract – or come forward.


Why This is A Beast Exercise

Think of the difference between bench pressing and push-ups.  

Unlike bench pressing where your shoulder blades are locked to the bench, push-ups allow for the shoulder blades to move freely – without restriction.  Dynamic mobility is a crucial component of the scapula to allow it to function better as a dynamic stabilizer of the humeral head.

This rowing variation works similarly to the push-up to improve the integrity of movement of the scapula.  You develop more control in both directions – protraction and retraction – during this exercise and activate the rhomboids and trap, if you focus on controlling the tempo.

Why the lockout is another important topic.

The lifter should “rise and attack” (Supertraining, Siff and Verkhoshansky) the muscular contraction at the end-range of the row.  You do NOT need heavy weight.  Focus on the contraction, not on overloading the movement with more weight.  This will ensure the greatest potential adaptation and benefit of the movement.  Strengthening the mid-to-low traps will improve the position and function of the scapula, which in turn, is directly responsible for strength and function of the shoulders.

Don’t forget to add this movement into the Simple 3 Minute Shoulder Warm-up.

Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most "innovative strength coaches" in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach "beyond their potential." He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.