I’ve put together an article today for you to educate you on two of the most effective back exercises for both strength, growth and functional movement.
If you were living 10,000 years ago, what would you be doing? What would you look like? On a daily basis, you would be running after animals. Picking shit up and pulling yourself up trees, seriously, think about it.
Climbing, now what movement would replicate climbing? Not only for it’s primal and natural movement pattern and safety. But also for the pull ups ability to grow a great back, increase mobility, and explosiveness using your own body weight. Think hard about why gymnasts and powerlifting athletes have some of the most developed and strongest backs on earth. The movement pattern of pull ups and rack pulls are ingrained in our DNA.
Today I will give you a run down on the only two exercises you need for that cobra back.
Beginners crowd around the pull-down machine while more experienced lifters only really use pull ups as warm up exercises. All this does is a disfavor to themselves, hiding the potential the pull up can bring for any level lifter. I’ve heard people say pull ups are ‘too easy’ and this is absurd.
What I like about the pull up is that because of the number of variations you can use, plus the fact that you can add weight equals limitless potential for you.
The pull up is what we call a closed kinetic chain movement. This means effort or strength you are putting into the movement moves your body; rather than a movement classified as open kinetic, where the strength you put forth moves the object.
Does this really make a difference?
Yes, this means it’s functional. You are able to use your own body weight and master it. The unique structure of your body is able to move in the way it needs to to be most effective. The shape and angle of a barbell, for example, can restrict movement of muscles responsible for stabilization.
First of all, I am in no way discouraging barbell movements as they are, for many goals such as strength – the bread and butter. What I am trying to say is that it makes more logical sense to prioritise what your body is supposed to do and knows best. Naturally, this seems to be justified on the account that the injury rate is substantially less for closed kinetic movement patterns.
Even if your gym has a pull-down machine, you must understand that even though it is, to an extent working similar muscles, it is in no way equal to the pull up. If you can’t do pull ups yet, even then I would suggest staying away from pull downs. The pull up uses your joints in a natural, free range of motion. A lot of your core is also activated meaning you should try to replicate this movement as close as possible to be able to gain the ability to do normal pull ups as soon as possible.
Check out this insightful article on functional exercises.
Nothing really comes close to lat development and functionality from pull ups. If you don’t know this already there are many different variations of the pull up. Such as the wide grip, close grip, chin up (underhand grip). I recommend the standard pull up where your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width and overhand on the bar. Obviously you can change this up from time to time, but this standard grip Is great just for assessment on your ability and for tracking improvements. As you progress, or if you are already quite strong/have a light body weight, you can hold a dumbbell between your feet, or if your gym has chains use these to increase the intensity of your workouts increasing your strength over time.
Here’s a great Multi-Grip Chin-Up/Pull-Up Bar you can purchase from Amazon for your home.
The rack pull (or a partial deadlift) is an underrated exercise for the back. I rarely see people doing rack pulls. Many will argue that the deadlift is best for back development and it’s true. The reason I rate it higher is because you can only deadlift so much weight without frying your central nervous system. Using rack pulls you are able to overload the muscle with a significant increase in weight.
The deadlift consists of two movement patterns. The first using a lot of leg drive which pulls the bar to knee height or just below. From there your traps, rear deltoids, posterior chain, basically all your back work simultaneously to push synergistically through your hips as the weight moves up and into the lockout position. What this means is that you are able to train with more sets and heavy weight.
I always emphasize that progressive overload is the key to both growths in strength and size. Since you’re able to lift so much weight it is easy, especially for the newcomer to increase weight significantly and thus progress will be seen faster than let’s say a barbell row. Not discrediting the barbell row, but for this reason, it is superior for overall back development.
As with the pull up, the rack pull has variations. Keep in mind as your hands are wider this will increase the range of motion, so adjust the height of the rack accordingly. Remember that a snatch grip deadlift a few inches off the ground is equivalent to a deadlift off the ground.
This piece is discussing the two best exercises. However, it’s hard to choose one out of the snatch grip rack pull and the normal rack pull. I would suggest including both, starting off light with the snatch grip and using it in the higher rep range for the contraction and hypertrophy of the upper back and then use the normal standard rack pull from below, or above the knee for the overload of the muscle.
Rack pulls let you pull that heavy ego boosting weight that will tear your muscles and strengthen your ligaments.
Regarding the position of your hands, wider is better for the engagement of the traps and upper back. The traps being the largest muscle in the back. Although with a narrower grip you can lift more weight, which can translate into more progressive overload for the back and general strength.
In conclusion, use both.