The back is often overlooked when working out. But just because we can’t see our backs without a mirror, that doesn’t mean we should ignore them. Neglect your back at your peril – a bloke with a well developed front and a poor back is like a guy with a quiff and a bald patch…
Straight arm double cable pulldowns
Stand at a cable station, with the cables set high. Extend your arms to the sides and slightly ahead of your body. Exhaling and keeping your arms straight throughout, pull the cable handles to the sides. Pause for two seconds at this point – the peak contraction point. Inhaling, slowly return to the start position. Try to keep your wrists flat throughout. Try to do this exercise at the start of your workout – as the biceps aren’t being worked, they’re saved from becoming fatigued for the later movements. The back muscles are more powerful than the biceps, so pre-exhausting them means it’s a more level playing field for the later exercises.
Straight arm pulldowns
Stand at a cable station with a straight bar, arms extended and knees slightly bent. Exhaling, slowly pull the cable down to your body, keeping your arms straight throughout. Pause for two seconds at the lowest point – the point of peak contraction. Inhaling, slowly return to the start position. Try to keep your wrists flat throughout. Do this exercise – or the straight arm double cable pulldowns – at the start of your workout, so that you don’t tire your biceps out too early (see straight arm double cable pulldowns, above).
Sitting at the lat pulldown machine, with a wide, overhand grip, lean back and make sure your core feels strong and supportive. Exhaling, slowly pull the handle until it reaches upper chest level. Try not to arch your neck, and at no stage shrug. Slowly return to the start position, keeping rocking to a minimum.
With your left knee on a bench and your back in a flat, neutral position throughout, pick up a dumbbell and, while exhaling, raise it until your elbow is at its highest point. Pause for two seconds at the top point, making sure your upper arm and elbow are close to your torso. Inhaling, slowly lower the dumbbell back down to the start position. Avoid dropping your shoulder on the lifting side – try to keep both shoulders as square as you possibly can. To add a further element of contraction, as you reach the high point, slightly rotate the right side of your body towards the floor.
Sit upright at a seated row station with a narrow grip attachment and slightly bend your knees. As you inhale, slowly pull the handle towards you, leaning back a small amount with a strong back. When the handle reaches your abs, pause for a few seconds – you should be able to feel the contraction in your upper back – and then slowly return to the start position.
Wide-grip pull ups
With a wide, overhand grip and starting from a straight arm ‘dead hang’ position, exhale and pull yourself up until the chin reaches the bar. Pause for two seconds at this point of peak contraction, feeling your upper back muscles flexing. Then slowly lower your body back down to a dead hang position and repeat. If pull ups are beyond you at the moment, fear not. Work on lat pulldowns with good form and try negative pull ups – jump up to the ‘pulled up’ position and then very slowly lower yourself. You’ll soon be doing pull ups like a good ’un.