Monday, April 21, 2014

2 Exercises To Build Stubborn Shoulders And Upper Back Muscle

Classical upper back and trap lifts will only build strength / muscle to a point (think shrugs, DB raises, etc). 

After years of training these lifts earn you diminishing returns.  Try these two exercises to help!

5 Reasons To Care About Shoulders And Upper Back

5.  Thicker front to back helps all exercises including pressing

4.  So your head doesn’t look like a bowling ball balancing on a hot dog…

3.  Balanced “pushers” and “pullers” (muscles) will help shoulder health

2.  There is no big fat layer over your back like your abs, so if you can’t get a 6 back, at least you can still flex your back in the mirror…

1.  For the deadlifters, often the upper back is too weak to support the weight

In all seriousness, the upper back and shoulder muscles are essential to reach closer to your training goals.  Being able to activate your lats will aid bench and squat while assisting in core stabilization (core as in everything that is not your arms or legs). 

2 Back and Shoulder Muscler Building Exercises

1.  Farmers Walk. 

No special equipment required!  Of course having the farmers walk handles is nice, but using dumbbells will be fine for an accessory exercise. 

Variation 1:

  • Pick up HEAVY dumbbells.  Brace your core, hold your shoulders neutral (don’t sag) and walk 20 yards and back.  Repeat for 4-6 trips with a 30-90 second rest.

Variation 2: 

  • Perform the first variation except walk FAST.  If you can run, the weight is too light.  The fast walking causes the shoulders and back to resist against more bouncing during the walk

Variation 3:

  • Perform either variation 1 or 2.  Half way through, pause and complete 5-10 shrugs then finish the walk.  The shrugs add time under tension as well as a small movement for the muscle groups.

Variation 4: 

Exercise #2 Rack Pulls

 Deadlifts are great, but may already be a regular staple in your program.  In order to keep the volume and your central nervous system in balance, rack pulls will do more than work on your dead lift lock out.

Since rack pulls use a partial range of motion, you can really load it up (always pending proper form).

At 6 ft 5 in tall I like to rack pull from 3 positions. 

  1. Mid shin
  2. Right below the knee
  3. Right above the knee

In the picture above, the bar was right at the top of the knee.  We rotate which height position based on the programming and/or the individual lifter’s needs.

Each height has a different benefit.  We are using the #3 position to add the load for the shoulders and upper back as well as strengthen the hands/grip.  If this was off the floor, I would not be able to get up to 750+ lbs, but at this range (around 12 inches ROM for me) a new challenge is presented for the supporting muscle groups. 

Training Considerations

As  an important note, we typically use both these lifts as accessory training and still perform our primary lifts. 

If you have a weak core, perform more farmers walks first to stabilize the core before you attempt heavy rack pulls.   Concentrate on proper posture!

- Joe -

PS.  Finally shot my first “post son’s birth” explanation video yesterday.  It will be up by the end of the week!  Thank you for your patience.

PPS.  If you like this kind of training, check out our original strength manual:  Bull Strength



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