Back to Jungle basics – Back Training

The big thing now is, Ronnie Coleman’s back. It used to be the mammoth Brit who had set the standard for back development. I remember when Mr. Olympia Lee Haney had the back of the century. How times have changed. But, back training has not. Have you ever noticed that most back training article’s stress that reverse grip bar row is the new technique for back development. Wrong! Building back development, just like any other body part, is due to genetics, body frame, training intensity, and proper execution in each back exercise – Not reverse-grip bar rows! You must get back to the basics if you want to be a creature of the iron jungle.

The back is probably the most difficult body-part to train, other than legs, and a training area neglected by most individuals too. Why is the back one of the hardest areas to train? Well, first off, basic anatomy tells us the back consists of many interrelated muscle groups: the latissimus dorsi, the rhomboids, the teres major, rear deltoids, and the trapezius muscles. One of the other dilemmas’s when training back that bodybuilders and individuals in the gym face, is that they cannot seem to feel the movement as well as feeling triceps or biceps while training. So, to gain size and strength in back training, you must concentrate and work more on isolation, rather than more weight. Think of training back as if you’re performing a concentration curl.

If we are to start with the basics, then we better begin with the granddaddy of back training exercises, the BENT OVER BAR ROW. You thought I was going to say DEADLIFTS, didn’t you? Guess what? The deadlift, when done correctly, is not an absolute back movement. Take a moment and analyze the movement; either regular style or sumu style. Most of the movement incorporates leg and glute muscles especially on the initial pull. Why, do you think powerlifting guru Loui Simmons preaches doing box squats as an auxiliary movement for deadlifts? I know, all you self-proclaimed open book certified test taking experts think I am full of BS! Well, maybe I am, but if you take a biomechanics or kinesiology class, or even ask an ELITE-World Champion powerlifter than you will realize that the deadlift is not a total back exercise. Now, Lets get back to bent-over bar rows, you can do either reverse grip, or regular overhand grip.

The proper positioning for a BAR ROW is place your upper torso at a 45% angle, and brining the bar up to your navel area, but slowly, with no herky jerky up and down movement. Do one warm-up set of 12 and then go into 3 sets of 6-8 reps with a moderately heavy weight.


Everyone does chin ups, but if you want to increase your mass by doing chin ups then strap on some weight. Chins primarily work the lats, but they work the rhomboids and activate the shoulders into action too. So, reach up and grab the chin bar with a slightly wider than shoulder overhand grip. Start with a warm-up set of 10-15 using your own body weight. The next three sets should be performed gradually in the 6 – 8 rep range. If you have never done chin-ups with weights, then add 5 pounds per set to start.


Trying to start a lawn mower? There are different positions for dumbbell rows, and that is not one of them. The correct position is to keep both feet on the floor and one hand on the bench, or one leg on the bench-one foot on the floor, and one hand on the bench. Also, keep your back flat and parallel to the floor. A good test for correct weight is to hold the dumbbell for a count of one, each rep, at the shoulder level. If you cannot, then the weight is too much. Perform 2 sets of 6 reps with dumbbell rows.


I have not seen that many people partake in this movement. Why? Maybe because Incline Dumbbell Rows are not readily featured in most bodybuilding magazines as an exercise performed by the pro’s. Place an adjustable incline bench at about a 45 % angle or higher, but not straight up. Lay stomach first on the bench with your upper chest slightly over the front of the bench, then place your feet on the floor stationed behind you. Grab two moderately heavy dumbbells that you can get 2 sets for 12 reps. Draw the dumbbells up close to the bench, like your doing rows with two dumbbells. Don’t keep your chest flat on the bench, as you slowly move the dumbbells up to the midpoint, arch your back to get that extra squeeze. This movement will build the trapizeus and give the upper back thickness like you won’t believe. The pump you will get from doing incline dumbbell rows is incredible too. Give them a ride and watch everyone in your gym copy you.


The pulldown to the front is the number-one movement in most back routines. The important thing, and I do mean- the important thing, is to use a weight that allows you to use correct form. Correct form is to keep your torso fairly upright, with a slight arch in your lower back, so that it looks as though your chest is up in the air, and keep this stature throughout the whole movement. Start with your arms fully stretched and then pull the weight toward the base of your chin, so that you are not bouncing up and down out of the seat. No matter how you grab the bar – overhand or reverse grip – do not use your biceps as the main pulling power. In addition, you need frightening traps, so finish your back off with a hulking set to failure of bar shrugs.

Remember, you cannot see your back when you’re training. So, you must develop a mind-muscle connection. Also, when training back, you cannot just move the weights you must actually move the muscle. Furthermore, you must visualize the exercise, slowly execute the movement, and contract your back. So, shrug, pull, and squeeze if you want to be member of creatures in the jungle.

Written By Curtis Schultz

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Back to Jungle basics – Back Training discussion thread.

Critical Shoulders

Training, Impingements & Injury Prevention

What do you and weight training have in common? Well, other then cold iron and yourself; how about constant irritating achy shoulders. Yes, achy shoulders. The shoulder joint is the main fulcrum in all upper body movements. So, if you want to accomplish your goals in the gym you cannot afford to have shoulder problems.

Achy shoulders mainly happen because of improper lifting technique, changing your exercise routine too often, or overloading and pushing to much weight in an exercise. One of the most common problems, to occur with the weight trainer, when performing weightlifting exercises, is shoulder impingement. These types of shoulder injuries are reoccurring, and take a very long time to heal.

Impingements can hinder your ability to perform most pressing movements. There are many different forms of impingements. The most common is the Subacromial impingement; known more as “Bursitis” and it is a common condition of the shoulder. A shoulder impingement also gives an uncomfortable achy feeling just from sitting and lying down. An impingement occurs when compression over the shoulder joint is against the surrounding anatomic structures. Anatomically correct, the affected area is the gleno-humeral joint and supraspinatus. The anterior acromion and cora-coacromial ligaments are the most common sites inflamed. An impingement could also be due to incorrect exercise technique or weak rotator cuff muscles. A rotator cuff strain, with all it’s swelling, causes what is called mechanical impingement. This type of impingement is the pinching of the tissues described above between the humeral head and the acromion. Shoulder pain could transpire from a pinched nerve, which occurs between the neck and shoulder blade area.

Exercise Review

Since we are discussing shoulder problems that arise from exercising, let’s take a look at some of the most common exercises that can have potential for shoulder adversity. The first is the military press, which is performed behind the neck or to the front. Dumbbell presses, and side lateral raises are basic shoulder exercises that can create a shoulder impingement too. As you know, most of these exercises can be performed standing or seated, with free weights or with machines. The bench press is a very common shoulder impingement maker. A grip too far outside the shoulders places tremendous stress on the anterior deltoid. One other exercise, that causes shoulder injuries, is the back squat. Yes! That’s right I said squats. The bar is placed behind the shoulder girdle and lays on top the trapezoids, or lower in-between the shoulder blades and traps if you’re a powerlifter type. By performing the above exercises with too much weight and/or incorrect technique usually lead to impingements.

Testing: One-Two-Three

Let’s survey a few of these shoulder exercises and describe correct lifting technique for them. Now, the most common shoulder exercise performed in-correctly is the side lateral raise. Side lateral raises, to do them right, need to be done step by step. So, stand with a pair of very light dumbbells at your sides, now turn your thumbs slightly down, maybe a half-an-inch and then bend your elbows 35 degrees tops – this alignment ensures that the resistance is placed directly to the side delts. Now, without changing the position you are in, raise the dumbbells. You should resemble a huge letter “T.” The dumbbells and elbows should not elevate over or under your shoulders. So, if you are one of those individuals that raise the dumbbells over your head, resembling a bird trying to take off, then it’s time to call in the Undercover Gym Police and ticket you for erroneous procedures! Either that, or we will have to give you clearance for take-off.

The next shoulder exercise is military presses and dumbbell presses. These exercises are designed to hit all three deltoid heads. Both movements are best to be performed seated. Why? Well, first of all this prevents you from cheating. You have to focus on pressing the bar or dumbbells upward, working the deltoids. The execution of a rep should be smooth and controlled.

Remember, I mentioned that bench press and squats could also be at fault for shoulder problems. Most of us link a pectoral tear with bench presses not a shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury. But, the latter is more common to occur from bench press and squats.

Curtis benching @ the USPF Venice Beach Open
Curtis benching @ the USPF Venice Beach Open

Dealing with the Pain

First, like we discussed earlier, watch your form on all upper-body exercises. You can become injured very fast if the exercise itself is not performed properly. Being in the correct anatomical position, and the correct lifting angles then injury doesn’t have a chance to occur. I always see individuals jerking weights up and down, relying mostly on momentum, and forcing their shoulders out of alignment all the time.

After an impingement injury has been identified, rehab treatment should be performed. Treatment consists of the following techniques: If any discomfort is noticed while performing an exercise then it should be avoided for a couple weeks. Rest the area, and apply ice twenty minutes a day. If you don’t know it yet, ICE is the miracle cure-all for injuries. But, there are those few who do rehab with heat. I would still apply ice to the shoulder first just to reduce any possible swelling in that area. But, if you insist upon pushing through your training then apply an ice pack after each workout to your shoulder.

Dr. Pete Gratali, from ESPN’s Body Shaping, instructs to perform internal and external rotations on a low cable pulley for 30 to 50 repetitions with 5 to 10 pounds prior to starting ALL your upper body exercise programs. “It is good practice to perform internal and external rotation exercises prior to each and every upper body workout, even if you are not experiencing an impingement problem, the exercises are great for warming up the whole shoulder girdle.” Explains Dr. Pete. You can also perform these simple exercises with 5 or 10 pound dumbbells. Internal and external rotation exercises are simple rehab and warm up exercises to help you get around in the gym better.

You should always see a chiropractor or doctor when a shoulder injury occurs, and make sure you consult a certified physical therapist for the correct technique for all rehab exercises. I had the chance to work along-side athletic trainers and school team physicians when I worked as an assistant collegiate strength coach. This education and knowledge has allowed me to insure proper technique for rehab exercises. We have examined shoulder problems, exercise technique, and rehab recommendations giving you a better nucleus on your shoulder training. So, do not become injured from executing wrong exercise technique. You must train shoulders smart.

Written by Curtis Schultz.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Critical Shoulders discussion thread.