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Difficulty targeting back muscles


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Hey folks,

 

I'm worried that I'm not doing something right in terms of targeting my upper back muscles, which is important to me in attempting to correct bad posture.

 

Lower back is easy through the dorsal raise static machine/bench thing but I can't seem to target the upper back.

 

I've tried pull ups and it feels like 100% arm workout, both under and over hand grip, wide and narrow. With the vast majority of strain on my anterior deltoids to the point where it feels like I'm nearly pulling those muscles.

 

Seated rows just work my arms, pull downs just work my arms and free standing press just hurts my lumbar even just with a 20k bar no plates, so I don't do it, but when I do it's just an arm workout.

 

Any advice on what I'm doing wrong, if this is a common problem, or how to better target my upper back?

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I'm no expert, maybe someone else will chime in as well but sometimes it comes down to posture and technique. I have been shown how I was incorrectly doing some of those same exercises that you just mentioned and once I was shown the correct posture and technique I felt the muscles in my back being used much more and vs my only in my arms.

Hopefully someone else has some input too. Or perhaps google or youtube for videos to make sure you are using the proper form, posture, and techniques.

-Dylan

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Whether you're feeling it or not, pull ups are definitely targeting your back - it's physically impossible to do a pull up without recruiting the muscles in your back.

 

Also, how much you 'feel' a muscle group during/after exercise is not necessarily an indictor of how hard you've worked. If you curl a Coke bottle one thousand times your arm will hurt for days afterwards but I'm guessing you'd agree it would not indicate a decent workout. Having said that though if you do want to feel your back working more I'd recommend you focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of each rep & also make sure you are using a full range of motion by starting each rep from a dead hang (if you 'cheat' by not straightening your arms you will be taking some pressure off your back).

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If your hitting pull ups correctly your shoulders/arms should be getting worked. As above, you ARE using the back on the pull up, it's impossible not to. I use to think I wasn't hitting my lats enough, banging out 5x10 on wide pull ups soon corrected that conception. Remember to squeeze your shoulder blades together to hit a full range of motion, I see far to many people who think getting theirs

Chins to the bar is enough.

 

Can I ask how you train shoulders/arms in general? 

 

Row wise, your bicep should be pumped by the end of the set/reps. You're pulling, so your arms (forearm, bicep ect) are going to get hit. As an example I don't even do curls, no point as I do pull/hammer pulls twice a week & db rows In 5x10 sets/reps. 

 

You're using big movements in what you've listed, they aren't isolation. The body simply has to recruit more sub muscle to help you hit the main movement 

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Drop the weight to the point where you can get a full range of motion. Flex your lats and keep perfect form. Something that helped me is I stopped wrapping my thumb around the bar and I just use my fingers as hooks on the bar. It really helps isolate the muscles your trying to work, and it takes alot of the arms out of the equation.

 

Sent from my SPH-D600 using Tapatalk 2

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Are you assuming your upper back isn't stronger because your posture isn't better? Just because you strengthen the muscles up there isn't going to automatically fix that, you need to work on your posture actively.

 

 

But if you do have a lack of size up there;

-Pullups

-Pendlay Rows

-Deadlift

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Thank you everyone for you great responses, I'm going to try the lemon in between my shoulder blades things as I completely wasn't doing that at all.

 

I was hitting the gym every day trying to do 4 split groups.... legs, back, abs, chest but it wasn't working as I felt I was overtraining even with the splits (IE only targeting a certain muscle group once every 4 days) probably because the vast majority of what I'm doing is free/body weights and compound stuff. So I'm going every other day now and it's much better and not worrying too much about specifics plans but just working out what doesn't feel sore from the previous workout.

 

Strong emphasis on:

 

squats

bench

pull ups

reverse fly

crunches with plate behind head

lower back bench raises hugging plate

 

But also doing:

 

deadlifts

bench fly

ball tuck ab crunch thing

half sphere balancing squat with weight thing

 

Cardio:

 

Running: 2 mile per day maximum intensity

Cycling: 50-100+ mile ride once a week in addition to around 5miles travel daily (I have no car)

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As well as other suggestions, you could do a modified version of bent over dumbbell rowing. You keep your arm straight and just pull the weight by pulling your shoulder back and squeezing your shoulder blade towards your spine. Then extend your arm so that your shoulder goes far forwards towards the ground.

 

You could also do pull ups in this way - keeping the arms straight and just pulling with the shoulders. Be careful with this one because it can cause pain in some people. I think it has something to do with the shape of some people's acromium

 

You could lie face down on a board with arms dangling down. Then raise the dumbbells with straight arms to horizontal and squeeze the shoulder blades together.

 

In a handstand position, keeping your arms straight, you could shrug your shoulders so that you rise up and down a bit by the movement of your shoulders. Again, be careful with this one.

 

If any cause pain, try changing your hand position - pronated, supinated, neutral.

 

A popular and successful posture correcter is Esther Gokhale. She has a book about backs and posture.

 

If your pecs are too strong/tight they will affect your posture. If you sit at a desk all day this could also affect your posture.

 

You might need to work on the flexibility of your thoracic spine.

 

Scapula press ups might help.

 

Some rotator cuff exercises might help. They helped to reduce my winged scapula and I now have no pain in my left shoulder, which plagued me off and on for years.

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My first year of lifting, I think ALL my upper back work was more of a biceps workout than anything else, I know what it's like. Basically, once you learn how to activate the lats on command (via a lat flare style bodybuilding pose), you'll know just how upper back training should feel as you'll realize how to actually pull with your lats vs. using your arms.

 

I'd suggest learning how to activate the lats properly before doing too much upper back work as if you have too much accidental focus on biceps, you leave them prone to being easier to injure, so you'll want to learn how to activate the proper musculature before long. Not to mention, you'll be shorting yourself on overall upper back progress in your training.

 

You don't necessarily need to squeeze the shoulder blades together to activate the lats properly for rowing or pull-ups/chins, rather, here's a few ways to visualize how the lats should activate properly -

 

ALWAYS think "Pull with the elbows!", every single set for any rowing or vertical pulling movements. You should NOT think to actually intentionally use your biceps on pulling movements unless you're struggling to finish a last rep and need a bit of help, otherwise, you need to essentially train upper back as if your arm stops at the elbow. Any direct intentional incorporation of the biceps for pulling will change things in a negative way immediately, so while learning to incorporate the lats, you need to completely remove all thoughts of the biceps being able to assist on such movements. Yes, your biceps will be recruited indirectly to some degree and may be sore, but if you do an upper back workout and your biceps are pumped and aching and your lats barely feel anything, then something's definitely wrong and needing correcting.

 

There are two machine movements can can be excellent for training on how to better incorporate the lats for other lifts. Those would include the pullover machine (if your gym has one), otherwise, straight arm standing pullovers on a lat pulldown system or cable tower will also work. Video here for how to perform the movement -

The pullover machine will be self-explanatory, but for the straight arm pullover, it's similar to doing a triceps pressdown, except that you keep the arms either totally straight or a fraction away from being locked out 100% straight (just a few degrees of a tiny bend, barely any), and it will then activate the lats for the movement. If you keep the arms from bending through the movement, you'll find that the lats are what will be doing the work during the lift, as your arms will only work as levers on which the weight moves, but won't do anything much to actually move the weight themselves. It might take a few tries and a few sets to get the hang of it, but it will be one of the easier ways to show how it feels to activate the lats. Once you become proficient at how it feels when they come into play, you will know EXACTLY how it should feel on pull-ups and rows as well. You can also try the Cobra lat pulldown as shown here: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/best_of_back

 

This site has some good tips on lat activation - http://relativestrengthadvantage.com/how-to-unleash-your-pull-up-work-out-potential-with-lat-activation/

 

And, I also recommend lat stretching, where you grab a pole or small pillar with both hands at around belly button height, toes are up against pole or close to it, and slowly shoot your hips back behind you to while holding the pole tightly to REALLY stretch the lats out. You can do it with both arms at the same time, or, one at a time as in this clip:

 

A good lat stretch will help you recognize the feel of where you should be seeing things activate during your lifts. Eventually, the benchmark to being able to fire your lats properly is that you'll be able to flare them on command, or, at least make them cramp up just by pulling your elbow into your ribcage against an imaginary resistance. Once you can do those things, you'll be set for life on how to get them working on your other lifts!

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VE, thanks for the t-nation link. I love that site & anyone reading this post should use t-nation as their first point of research.  

 

I like the straight lat pull overs & it's one of a few machine movements I'd use. Also face pulls for a high rep ranges are great, low weight with 25ish reps in 4 sets. Really strengthens the mid back.

 

I find dumbbell rows awkward. From the waist up my forms good but no matter where I position my feet It feels wrong. Be that stood up bent over  or on a bench. 

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Yeah, VS, I don't usually recommend machines much, but pullover work is one way that people can really learn to feel their lats activating, so anything that gets people in tune with how they should work during back movements is a good thing, at least while in the learning stages!

 

Face pulls are good with hands held with thumbs at top, it all depends on hand positioning many times for lat activation. I was taught to do them with a rope with a knuckles-up grip which tends to be more of a rear delt/rhomboid-centric pulling movement rather than one that has much lat incorporation, but it only takes a slight hand adjustment to change the feel of the movement to definitely be more lat focused!

 

DB rows, I learned one trick that really helped me out with lat focus - I was told to let the DB tip downward, so that it's angled in the hand about 30-45 degrees with a tilt so that the grip is primarily in the fingers, and that helped me to put more lat focus on rowing. If I don't use straps when going heavy for higher reps, I always go that route, letting the DB tilt downward at the front and it does two things - my grip is better for holding on longer, and the angled pull in takes off the forearm and biceps focus to put it all to lats for the movement. Give it a shot sometime, for some people it can really make a difference!

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DB rows, I learned one trick that really helped me out with lat focus - I was told to let the DB tip downward, so that it's angled in the hand about 30-45 degrees with a tilt so that the grip is primarily in the fingers, and that helped me to put more lat focus on rowing. If I don't use straps when going heavy for higher reps, I always go that route, letting the DB tilt downward at the front and it does two things - my grip is better for holding on longer, and the angled pull in takes off the forearm and biceps focus to put it all to lats for the movement. Give it a shot sometime, for some people it can really make a difference!

 

This is fascinating. Do you mean during one-armed lat rows with one knee and a hand on a bench for support? Or is this for bent over forward rows with both hands? Can it be employed in a seated row machine? I was told by an awesome weight room manager to visualize pulling with only the lat muscles, nothing else, and pretending the arms and hands were merely tools, imagining squeezing a quarter between my rhomboids all the while, up high or down low, depending on the grip and lat area targeted. Works on me like a charm.

 

Baby Herc

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VE, I will defiantly give that ago when I row on Thursday! So thanks for the tip!!!

 

I was really aware of my pull up form last nigh after this topic, made sure I getting my lats moving. Got a

Nice squeeze at the top & had the bar level with my sternum. Managed 4x10 wide & 1x10 hammer grip.

 

Used the mts hammer strength machine for extra back work & also focus on the movement from the elbows. I actually lost a plate either side doing this

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DB rows, I learned one trick that really helped me out with lat focus - I was told to let the DB tip downward, so that it's angled in the hand about 30-45 degrees with a tilt so that the grip is primarily in the fingers, and that helped me to put more lat focus on rowing. If I don't use straps when going heavy for higher reps, I always go that route, letting the DB tilt downward at the front and it does two things - my grip is better for holding on longer, and the angled pull in takes off the forearm and biceps focus to put it all to lats for the movement. Give it a shot sometime, for some people it can really make a difference!

 

This is fascinating. Do you mean during one-armed lat rows with one knee and a hand on a bench for support? Or is this for bent over forward rows with both hands? Can it be employed in a seated row machine? I was told by an awesome weight room manager to visualize pulling with only the lat muscles, nothing else, and pretending the arms and hands were merely tools, imagining squeezing a quarter between my rhomboids all the while, up high or down low, depending on the grip and lat area targeted. Works on me like a charm.

 

Baby Herc

 

Hey, Herc!

 

Yep, I'm referring to one-arm DB rows using a bench and opposite arm for support. Doesn't work the same with a barbell, but with a DB you can shift the leverages a bit better to make the lats work harder with a few tricks. So, you'd get into normal DB row position on a bench, but instead of gripping the DB evenly, let it tilt forward and slide down in the hand a bit (you can use the wrist to support the weight as the plates [or hex end] will inevitably come in contact with your hand as the tilt occurrs and the weight slides forward), and it makes it easier to remove the biceps recruitment and make it almost a fully lat-centric pulling movement.

 

The DB being braced by the hand/wrist also helps aide in holding on longer for a better grip, as it takes some of the strain off of the fingers as well, which means less need for using straps if the grip is weaker.

 

And yes, the advice you got was spot-on - you only want to think of the hands and forearms as hooks attached to poles that keep the weight attached to your body for the lift, not that they should be a focal point for use to get the weight moving. The sooner people can learn to forget their biceps completely on a rowing or chinning movement, the better off they'll be!

 

Think about it this way as well - you could in theory still build a massive set of lats even if you didn't have a lower arm past the elbow, so long as you could attach the weight to yourself still. The biceps couldn't be recruited in such a way, but the lats would still be able to do their function without any problem. Which brings me to pointing out this tool that would probably be the best way fors someone to be able to learn how to NOT use their arms for rowing/pull-ups -

 

http://isolatorfitness.com/

If they weren't so expensive, I'd want to get a pair just to see how it feels to use them!

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