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					                                                                            Building a strong, functional
                                                                            physique is a process that re-
                                                                          quires constant scrutiny. Since
    Only the Strong Shall Survive




    Midback
                                                                       certain exercises are more enjoy-
                                                                       able than others, some bodyparts
                                                                       or areas of the body get consider-
                                                                          ably stronger and better devel-
                                                                       oped than others. Some disparity




     Muscle
                                                                     in strength doesn’t pose a problem.
                                                                                              Should that
                                                                   difference get way out of proportion,
                                                               however, then some changes are in order.
                                                            Your relative weakness may not reveal itself




    and Might
                                                         as an injury or even cause pain, but you could
                                                         experience diminished performance. Let’s say
                                                          your squats have hit a standstill because your
                                                     back rounds excessively when you get to the heavy
                                                       work sets. The form breakdown causes you to get
                                                      out of the proper positioning needed to grind the

     Beef Up Your Squats, Pulls                    bar up through the sticking point. Same deal for the




                                                                                                                    Model: Daniel Decker
                                                      deadlift. When you get to the max poundage, your

     and Presses by Bill Starr by Michael Neveux
                 Photography
                                                   back rounds so much that you’re no longer in a posi-
                                                                       tion to bring the bar to the finish.

296 MARCH 2007 \ www.ironmanmagazine.com                                      www.ironmanmagazine.com \ MARCH 2007 297
    Only the Strong Shall Survive
       Those are common problems if         muscles often
    you’re handling heavy weights on        overlapping, but I
    squats, deadlifts or any other heavy    believe that when
    pulling exercise, and they’re caused    you’re setting up a
    by weakness in the middle back. So      routine, it helps if
    this month I want to focus on that      you think of it as
    frequently overlooked area of the       having three parts:
    body. Not only will a relatively weak   upper, middle and
    middle back adversely affect a num-     lower.
    ber of exercises in your program,          Anyone I talk
    but if you don’t give it the proper     with about mid-
    attention, you’ll eventually experi-    dle-back exercises
    ence pain in that area. That could be   invariably thinks
    a boon to M.D.s and chiropractors       I’m referring to
    but not much fun for you.               movements for
       To be sure, the back is one con-     the lats. True, the
    tinuous plane, with the various         lats are one of the




                                            DEADLIFTS              DUMBBELL OVERHEAD
                                                                       PRESSES




                                                                                                                                           Model: Daniel Deccker
                                                                                                  major groups in the midback, but
                                                                                                  there are lots of others. You may not
                                                                                                  realize that the traps form a large
                                                                                                  portion of the middle back. They
                                                                                                  originate at the base of the skull and
                                                                                                  spread out and down—hence the
                                                                                                  name trapezius, a type of quadrilat-
                                                                                                  eral. It sweeps down and connects
                                                                                                  to your spine at the last thoracic
                                                                                                  vertebra, right in the middle of your
                                                                                                  back. The traps extend over some
                                                                                                  of the latissimus, too, which means
                                                                                                  what works for one group usually
                                                                                                  works for the other.
                                                                                                      Another muscle that makes up
                                                                                                  a part of the middle back is also
                                                                                                  named for its shape, the rhomboid.
                                                                                                  It lies beneath the middle of the
                                                                                                  trapezius. Here are the others: ser-
                                                            Building more                         ratus anterior, serratus posterior,
                                                            midback                               teres major, infraspinatus. They all
                                                            strength can                          extend into the upper back and are
                                                            help improve                          strengthened when you work that
                                                            your dead-                            area. Anytime you work your middle
                                                            lifts, overhead                       back directly, you’re also strengthen-
                                                            presses and                           ing your rear deltoids and the small
                                                                                                  groups that comprise the rotator
                                                            even bench
                                                                                                  cuffs—another excellent reason for
                                                            presses.
                                                                                                  doing some specific exercises for
                                                                                                  that area of your body.
                                                                                                      That’s especially true if you’re
                                                                              Model: Ted Arcidi




                                                                                                  infatuated with the bench press to
                                                                                                  the extent that you forsake all back
                                                                                                  work. The combination of ham-

298 MARCH 2007 \ www.ironmanmagazine.com
    Only the Strong Shall Survive                                                                                                                   BENT-OVER ROWS
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 even. Look straight      That’s the ideal bent-over-row grip
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 ahead, and pull the      for most people.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 bar upward until            The bar should travel in a straight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 it touches your          line from the floor to your chest. I’ve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 chest. It should         seen many pull in a backward stroke
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 be hitting right at      so that the bar touches right at their
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 your nipples. Do         navels. That’s not nearly as effective.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 the first few reps          Another important point is often
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 deliberately until       abused: Your knees must be bent.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 you get the feel of      Not much, but they should never
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 the line, and then       be locked. Models in magazines
                                                                                                BENCH PRESSES                                                                                                    start being more         are frequently shown doing bent-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 aggressive with the      over rows with locked knees, and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 upward motion.           young readers copy their form. It’s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Try to bang the bar      not only less beneficial, but it puts
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 into your chest, but     undue and unnecessary stress on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 lower the bar back       the hamstrings as well. You’ll be able
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 to the floor in a        to handle much more weight when
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 controlled manner.       you bend your knees and at the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Never let it crash       same time will be lowering the risk




                                                                                                                                 Model: Tomm Voss
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 downward. That’s         to your hams.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 potentially harmful         I mentioned that your torso needs
     Too much bench pressing without                                                                                                                                                                             to your shoulders        to stay parallel throughout the lift.
     comparable middle-back work                                                                                                                                                                                 and elbows. Pause        After you’ve been doing rows for six
     can lead to shoulder problems.                                                                                                                                                                              a brief moment           to eight weeks and have added a
                                                                                                     Hypers are a good                                                                                           at the bottom to         considerable amount of weight to
                                                                                                     warmup move.                                                                                                make sure your           your final sets, you can cheat a bit.
    mering away on bench presses              middle is as strong                                                                                                                                                back is flat and            Breaking from strict form might
    and neglecting to keep your back          as your upper and                                                                                                                                                  parallel before          be a better term than cheating.
    proportionately as strong leads you       lower back, it’s still                                                                                                                                             doing the next rep.      When you cheat on a lift, you get




                                                                                                                                                                                                              Model: Dan Decker
    down the path to shoulder and rota-       a smart idea to have                                                                                   Vary your grip on each                                      The hardest part         inferior results. In this case, you get
    tor cuff problems that could easily       at least one spe-                                                                                                                                                  of doing bent-over       better action, and it’s safe. On your
                                                                                                                                                     set of bent-over rows.
    have been prevented by including          cific exercise in your                                                                                                                                             rows is learning         heavy sets do the first couple of reps
    one or two core exercises for your        program for that                                                                                                                                                   to keep your back        with your back parallel to the floor.
    middle and upper back.                    part of your body.                                                                                     arms dangle. That tells you where       in the same position throughout              On the final sets elevate your torso
       You must have a strong middle          Can’t hurt, and it                                                                                     you should place the bar. It’s one of   the lift. Your torso should not bend         at the end of the row. Not much,
    back in order to squat, pull or           may save you some                                                                                      the few pulling exercises done with     down to meet the bar or rise up at           just enough for you to move heavier
    press heavy weights. Yes, I include       grief later. I’ve never                                                                                the bar away from your body.            the end. I’ll amend that advice later;       weights higher. That’s helpful be-
    presses. If you doubt that you need       heard anyone com-             HYPEREXTENSIONS                                                             The grip: Use straps. Although       for now, maintain very strict form.          cause you’re still working your target
    a strong middle back for overhead         plain that his back                                                                                    you may not need them for the              If you have bumper plates, use            muscles, and the upward movement
    exercises, try doing some when that       was too strong. An                                                                                     lighter warmup sets, you will once      them. They’re easier on your joints,         is a means of overloading those
    area of your back is hurt. If you can     ounce-of-preven-                                                                                       the weights get heavy, so you might     bar and floor. With bumper plates,           muscles and attachments. Don’t
    do them at all, you’ll be restricted      tion idea.                                                                                             as well get used to them on the way     however, there’s a tendency to re-           adopt the technique, however, until
    to very light weights. Should your           Some of my ath-                                                                                     to the higher numbers. I have my        bound them off the floor to get a            you’ve established perfect form and
    midback injury be severe, you’ll dis-     letes were unable to handle much       back thoroughly before moving                                   athletes vary their grip on each set.   jump-start on the next rep. Don’t do         built a solid base.
    cover that even some of the tamest        weight on specific exercises for their to whatever you have planned for                                I have them start quite wide and,       that. It will adversely affect your line        If you have a very weak middle
    exercises, like curls and crunches,       middle backs because their lumbars     your middle back. A high-rep set                                as the weight increases, slide their    of pull and cause your back to move          and lower back or are in the process
    are impossible to do.                     were too weak for them to hold the     of hyperextensions—back hypers                                  hands in a few inches until they        out of position or to round.                 of rehabbing those areas, dumbbells
       A strong middle empowers you to        proper position on such movements or reverse back hypers—will fill the                                 end up using a clean grip, which           Start out with light weights so           might fit your needs more than a
    maintain a perfectly flat back dur-       as bent-over rows or long pulls on a   bill.                                                           is approximately a thumb’s length       you can concentrate fully on your            barbell. You can do dumbbell rows
    ing the execution of a max attempt.       machine. That’s especially true for        My favorite exercise for the                                from the smooth center knurl on         form. Do as many sets as you need            one arm at a time or both arms
    A weakness may not show up until          older trainees and those trying to     middle back is bent-over rows. You                              an Olympic bar. I alter the grip for    to find the best way to lock your            together. You can use more weight
    you try a really heavy weight. One        rehab their middle backs. In those     can do them with dumbbells, but                                 a couple of reasons. The change         back in place, where to set the bar          with one hand, but I believe doing
    thing is sure, though: If the signs are   cases I lay out a program of specific  unless your back is very weak or                                works the back muscles in a slightly    relative to your feet and where you          them together is useful as well, since
    there that your middle back is lag-       exercises for both the middle and      you’re rehabbing it, use a bar. It’s                            different manner, and the closer        want to grip the bar. During the             you force all parts of the middle
    ging way behind and you don’t do          lower back in equal doses. It works    much more effective simply because                              grip will be a bit stronger than the    learning stage, while you’re using           back to work at the same time. Of
    something about it, you’re asking for     nicely. As their lumbars get stronger, you can use so much more weight.                                wider one, thus enabling you to         light weights, use the same grip for         course, there’s no reason you can’t
    an injury. Not only that, but a hurt      they can handle more resistance on     It’s an easy lift to learn, yet there are                       handle more weight. More weight is      all your sets. There’s a score on most       do both styles, alternating them
    midback has no mercy. You won’t be        their midback exercises.               several key form points. Place your                             always a good thing.                    Olympic bars 10 inches in from the           from week to week or workout to
    able to find a comfortable position:         Which reminds me—since the          feet at shoulder width, toes straight                              After you’ve set your feet firmly    collars. It’s there to help Olympic          workout.
    Standing, sitting and lying will all be   lower back is involved in any exer-    ahead. Bend your knees and lean                                 into the floor and made sure your       weightlifters find their correct grips          I have a friend who was recover-
    painful.                                  cise for the middle back, it’s always  forward while keeping your back                                 back is flat and parallel, grip the     for the snatch. Grip the bar so that         ing from back surgery. The bar was
       Even if you’re quite sure that your    a good idea to warm up your lower      tight and flat. Very flat. Let your                             bar, taking care that your grip is      your ring finger is around the score.        too heavy, and he felt that rowing

300 MARCH 2007 \ www.ironmanmagazine.com                                                                                                                                                                                                www.ironmanmagazine.com \ MARCH 2007 301
   Only the Strong Shall Survive




                                                                                                      SEATED ROWS


    Keep your upper
    body locked in an
    upright position,
    and make your
    middle back do
    all the work.




                                                                                                                                  Model: Ken Yasuda
    the dumbbells simultaneously was           design of the machine. If the lifter     on the other end, and a bar from a
    more advantageous than doing               can release the weight without hav-      lat machine or something similar
    them separately. His problem was           ing to twist sideways, fine. On the      was locked above the weights or
    that his back was too weak for him         other hand, if he has to swivel his      under the collar of the bar. The lifter
    to hold the bent-over position long        body in order to move the weight         straddled the bar and proceeded to
    enough to do any reps. So he rested        from the side and position it directly   do rows. Sometimes, when a cross
    his forehead on the padded back of         in front of him before commencing        bar wasn’t available, the lifter just
    his recliner. That gave him the sup-       the rows, then I don’t like it. Twist-   gripped the bar and rowed.
    port he needed, and he was able to         ing your torso while moving any             Here’s my view: If the bar and wall
    rebuild his back.                          amount of weight is potentially dan-     belong to you, well and good—go
        Another good midback exercise          gerous, and when you’re attempting       ahead and do them. If you’re train-
    is long pulls done on a machine.           heavy weights, the risk factor soars.    ing in someone’s facility or a uni-
    As with all exercises, form is every-         Against my advice, that type of       versity weight room, however, don’t
    thing. If you let your upper body          T-bar rower was put in the Hop-          do them. They wreck the expensive
    swing back and forth and use your          kins weight room, mostly for crew        Olympic bar and damage the wall.
    legs to provide much of the force,         and swimmers. Not surprisingly,          Why not just do bent-over rows?
    then you’ll only get marginal re-          a number of athletes from those             Rowing machines are especially
    sults. Keep your upper body locked         sports began coming to me and            good when you’re rehabbing your
    in an upright position, and make           the trainer complaining of dings         back, since the resistance isn’t that
    your middle back do all the work. If       to their backs. Since I couldn’t get     great. You get your workload in
    possible, vary your grip on the sets.      rid of the machine or discourage         through the repetitions, which is
    Start wide, and move your hands            them from using it, I suggested that     what you want when you’re dealing
    in as the poundage gets heavier.           they get someone to assist them in       with a hurt area.
    I prefer higher reps on this one,          moving the weights from the side            Although the lats are very much
    four to six sets of eight to 10 reps. If   to the starting position. Those who      involved in all of these exercises,
    you’re really piling on the resistance     listened to me did all right. Those      you might want to focus on them
    either in stacks or plates, though,        who didn’t continued to end up with      even more. Wide lats add to any
    lower the reps to five. Fewer reps         aggravated backs.                        physique, and strong lats are ex-
    done right are more productive than           Then there’s the method of doing      tremely valuable in a great many
    higher reps performed in sloppy            T-bar rows that was used long            sports activities, such as Olympic
    fashion—a truism for any exercise          before the various specialized ma-       weightlifing, crew and swimming.
    in weight training.                        chines came along. One end of an            Chins top my list of lat exercises.
        What about T-bar rows? My an-          Olympic bar was fixed against the        There was a time when everyone
    swer has everything to do with the         base of a wall. Weights were placed      who trained did chins, yet I rarely

302 MARCH 2007 \ www.ironmanmagazine.com
     Only the Strong Shall Survive
                                                            chinning ability? I’ve          machine hit the lats directly. You
                                                            known some who did              need to do them in a smooth fash-
                                                            weighted chins, but they        ion, not herky-jerky, and always to
                                                            were very advanced and          the front. Again, you can handle
                                                            already doing 20-plus           more weight in the front; why irri-
                                                            without any resistance.         tate your shoulders and rotator cuffs
                                                            The average person isn’t        for no good reason?
                                                            going to benefit from              An exercise that builds strong lats
                                                            adding weight. Here’s           is the wide-grip high pull. Olympic
                                                            the formula I give my           weightlifters do lots of these to help
                                                            athletes. It’s simple, and      them snatch more weight, and the
                                                            it works. Do four sets of       top athletes in that sport have some
                                                            as many as you can do,          of the most impressive lat develop-
                                                            and then add the total          ment in the world. Use straps for
                                                            number of reps. Our             these and stay with five sets of five
                                                            sample athlete did 10,          until you’ve perfected the form and
                                                            8, 7, 6, a total of 31. The     start handling heavy poundages;
                                                            next time he chins. his         then do three sets of five, followed
                                         WIDE-GRIP          goal is to add at least one     by three sets of three. Switching to
                                           CHINS            rep to his previous total.      lower reps will help you maintain
                                                            The increase is generally       your form.
                                                            accomplished on the                Speaking of form, one of the main
                                                            first set, although some        points to remember when doing
                                                            do better after a warmup        any exercise for your middle back
                                                            set. The athlete did 12, 8,     is to keep your entire back rigidly
                                                            7, 6 for a total of 33 at his   tight. Anytime you round your back,
                                                            second chinning session.        you diminish the benefits. The best
                                                            And so on and so forth.         way to maintain a locked back is
                                                            Should he not be able           by squeezing your shoulder blades
                                                           Model: Berry Kabov




                                                            to add to the total on a        together and keeping them in that
                                                            certain day, he’ll do an        position throughout the perfor-
                                                            additional set.                 mance of the exercise. I realize that
                                                               An athlete at Hopkins        some rounding is inevitable when
    see people do them now, unless            came to me requesting a program               you get tired or load up the bar.
    they have a special reason. Some          to improve his chinning strength              Some is okay, but when it becomes
    jobs—fire departments, police and         because he was going to be tested             excessive, stop. Lower the resistance
    government security—include chins in six weeks at the FBI Academy. He                   so you can do the next set flawlessly.
    as part of their physical fitness tests.  was able to do a dozen at the first              A strong middle back is criti-
       If you’re looking for a wide flair,    workout. At the end of six weeks, he          cal to long-term progress for any
    do chins with a very wide grip. Few       was up to 28 and breezed through              bodybuilder or strength athlete. The
    do enough chins to warrant the            the test.                                     power generated by the legs, hips
    need for straps, but if you feel they         There are several other reasons           and lower back has to be carried
    help, by all means use them. Always       I like chins. They’re great for build-        through the middle in order for the
    chin to the front, never behind           ing bigger, stronger biceps, and who          upper back, shoulders and arms to
    your neck. As I’ve stated before, the     doesn’t like that? As they enhance            use it. When the middle is weak, that
    shoulder girdle isn’t designed to         strength in the biceps and the prime          transition doesn’t occur properly.
    deal with behind-the-neck move-           movers of the upper arm—brachia-                 In addition, a strong middle is
    ments. You can do more reps in the        lis and brachoradialis—that new               necessary for you to support heavy
    front, so to me it’s foolish to tempt     strength can be used in all of your           weights on your shoulders, back
    fate. Why invite trouble? You’ll find     pulling exercises.                            and overhead. It also enables you to
    plenty without asking for it.                 Chins also help me self-adjust my         maintain perfect technique on all
       I don’t much like helping some-        back. Just before doing my first rep,         pulling movements, front and back
    one through the sticking point when I exhale, relax my lower body, then                 squats, jerks, snatches and presses.
    he’s chinning, just as I don’t like       explode upward to the bar. I can              On the more practical side, keeping
    giving anybody the “all-you” during       feel my back pop and the tightness            your middle back strong will save
    any other exercise. Weight training       lessen.                                       you a great deal of physical—and
    is not a team sport. Either you make          As I recommended for bent-over            financial—pain.
    the chin on your own, or you don’t.       rows, move your hands in a tad on                Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a
    Otherwise, your numbers are based         each set. Not much, because you               strength and conditioning coach
    on false assumptions. When you get        want to hit your lats. About a thumb          at Johns Hopkins University from
    tested, no one is going to help you.      length is enough to make a differ-            1989 to 2000. He’s the author of The
    Get used to it.                           ence.                                         Strongest Shall Survive and Defying
       So how can you improve your                Of course, pulls done on the lat          Gravity. IM

304 MARCH 2007 \ www.ironmanmagazine.com

				
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