In Part 1 Chris Zaremba introduced us to this thorough an comprehensive guide to training a vital but often under-trained body part – the back.

Here he concludes this training guide to building and strengthening by completing his best back workout plan.

best back workout plan_7Middle Back – Close-grip Pull-up

This is a pull-up, rather than a pull down, as you are pulling yourself up not pulling a bar down towards you. It’s also called a chin-up, which is a good clue as to the movement range. This is a latissimus dorsi exercise that focuses on the inner section, as well as bringing the rhomboids and lower part of the traps into play.

Beyond the back, there is a substantial contribution from the biceps – it is a classic ‘pull’ movement, working both back and biceps. Hand positioning is important, as underhand grip with palms towards you targets specifically the inner lats. With palms facing each other, some portion of the effort is moved to the outer lats.

Some machines have a 45-degree angled grip which is my preference – the majority of the focus therefore on the inner lats, with a small amount on the outer.

How to Perform:

This is a bodyweight-resistance exercise, and you can use either a dedicated machine for this or the grips at the top of a cable machine. The dedicated machines have a kneeling pad to provide assistance if required. If you do this, remember that the higher numbers on the weight stack make the exercise easier – the opposite to every other machine in the gym.

If using the kneeling pad, transfer your weight to the pad from the footplates when the pad is around mid-point in its travel. Too high or too low just doesn’t work. Choose the narrow hand grips with either palms towards you (underhand) or facing each other (neutral position), or the half-way between these that is my preference and is offered by some machines.

If you are on a pad, lower to arms extended – without a pad, that is probably where you will be anyway. From here, smoothly pull up until your chin is level with the top of the machine – you should be able to look over the top horizontal part of the structure of the machine at that point. Hold for a second, then lower slower to the starting position.

Try to keep the remainder of the body rigid throughout the movement – without a pad, try crossing the feet at the ankles to help with this. With an assistance pad, make sure you keep the torso at the same length, don’t bend at the waist thereby bringing the pad up towards the head in a movement that isn’t powered by those lats.

best back workout plan_4Lower Back – Machine Lumbar Extension

The exercises for the lower back section of the erector spinae muscles all involve leaning back such that the upper body becomes vertical against resistance. There are dedicated variable-resistance machines for this in most gyms, but without a machine this can be done on an incline or flat bench with feet held in place and the upper body off the other end of the bench.

How to Perform:

Adjust the machine such that your legs are straight and you are leaning forward at an angle between 90 degrees bend and upper-torso-vertical. The exact starting position depends on the design of the machine. With the weight behind you, as it will be, this isn’t the most comfortable position in the gym.

Holding the handles for stability – not leverage – lean backwards to the body-straight position. Hold and squeeze for a second, then lower slower to the starting position. It may be that your behind leaves the seat at the maximum position in order to achieve the body-flat position – this isn’t a problem, it adds an extra few degrees into the range of motion.

Finally make sure that this doesn’t become any form of leg press by using your legs to assist in the push back motion. Some leg movement is likely but is shouldn’t assist the movement.

Six rules for the Six:

These guidelines apply within each set for all these exercises:

• Do the exercise correctly, don’t sacrifice good form to reach the numbers

• Only move those parts of the body that are meant to move in the exercise

• Lower slower – the weight can go up quickly, but should come down slowly – resist gravity

• Ex On Ex – Exhale on Exertion – breathe out as you push up

• Keep the weights moving, don’t stop at any point

• Don’t totally lock out the arms – doing so takes the effort away from the muscles

Back Workout Numbers

I perform this workout as a dedication session in the gym once or twice per week.

I undertake three sets of each of the exercises, with a target of ten reps per set, plus there’s a single initial warm up set up-front. The warm up set is a single set of whichever exercise I am going to perform first, done to 20 reps but with half the weight I intend to start with on that exercise.

After the warm up, I start on the six exercises. I leave a minute between each set on an exercise, as well as taking a minute as a switching time to the next exercise once I’ve finished all three sets of an exercise.

My weight for the first set on any exercise (not the warm up) is the weight I last used for that exercise where I achieved the 10 reps – I always write down my key workout stats so I can find the starting weight easily next time.

If I achieve 10 reps in a set, then I move the weight up by one increment for the next set. If I fail to achieve 10, then I’ll note the number I failed on and perform the next set with the same weight, trying to getting closer to the 10.

In this situation, I will also drop to a lighter weight just to complete 10, remembering of course where I failed as that’s the target to beat next set.

This all works out to a total of 200 reps for the back including the warm up (20 + (6 x 3 x 10)), which takes me about 45 minutes. I then add five minutes of static stretching at the end to make a total of about 50 minutes.

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