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Re-Thinking Upper Back Exercises

Re-Thinking Upper Back Exercises

If there is one criticism of me that I really have open ears to it is the idea that I make things “unnecessarily complicated”. While I generally have pretty thick skin (you gotta to run an internet based business for 15 years), that one actually makes me pretty sad. That is because I consider myself a teacher more than anything. A coach to me, is about being a great teacher. Of all the skills that I have tried to develop in a big way, learning to make complex ideas simple is one I take great pride in. That is why even as something as familiar to many as “back workouts” I want to give you deeper meaning than if you are hitting the lower trap or isolating the supraspinatus muscles.

functional training

A thought provoking point by physical therapist and one of the father’s of functional fitness, Gary Gray.

Why? Most people actually don’t read the research, I don’t blame them. Even professionals are busy coaching, running their businesses, etc. Trust me, I don’t read all the research either for many of the same reasons. However, when I look on studies that that are supposedly showing how we are isolating a muscle so much better there are two big flaws that people miss.

Re-Thinking Upper Back Exercises

For one, we can’t truly isolate any muscle. Our body is just designed where that is impossible. There are times where certain muscles can be MORE active, but as Dr. Stuart McGill pointed out in his book, “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance”, that variables such as our body position dictate which muscles depend to be more active or not. In other words, trying to isolate “this or that” muscle is an exercise in both futility and insanity.

upper back exercises

The other point is that these differences aren’t typically THAT big. They aren’t significant differences where we should be looking at different exercises to hit one muscle over another. We SHOULD vary variables in our training to develop a better cohesiveness of our body while we perform.

I love sharing Dr. McGill’s work on familiar back exercises. He showed just by changing the position of our bodies, how our upper back exercises changed their impact upon our body. That is because our upper back exercises SHOULD integrate the rest of the body, not remove it like so many people do in their workouts.

I get it, people remove the core and lower body because these areas of the body can limit how much they can lift in their upper back exercises. To that, I say GREAT! You just found out what is REALLY limiting your upper body strength. While we often want to blame a certain muscle in our upper back exercises in limiting our performance, the TRUTH is that our weakness is usually found in either lack of strength in an area of our body (like our core) or how we can integrate the pattern with our entire body.

Re-Thinking Upper Back Exercises

Such exercises can fatigue your upper back but as far as making you real world strong, that’s questionable. 

Why we approach even “upper back” exercises is to realize the movement comes first. If we truly believe in functional training, then we realize the pattern in more important than the exercise. We can’t perform pulling exercises without using our entire body like we would have from the beginning of time.

Re-Thinking Upper Back Exercises

When I show pulling exercises (which I like to say so much more than upper back exercises due to the pattern being most important) we want to use the lower body and core. Simply because whenever we have to use our strength in real life situations we MUST use our lower body and core WITH our upper body to be truly strong.

Cory Cripe shows some of our great ways of progressing upper back exercises with manipulating our body position. 

That is why the exercises I show in these series are designed not only to be great in building muscle in your upper back exercises, but to build strength and integration that carries over to so much more in your training!

Can’t believe this video is almost 10 years old, but it contains some simple ways where we can stress our upper back exercises through manipulating our grip! Simple, but NOT easy!!

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