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Are you looking to get that stagnant bench press moving, add some lockout strength to your deadlift, or simply working on building that v-shaped back? Adding in additional back assistance exercises is the key to achieving your goals. As a competitive strength athlete for over 25 years the foundation of my back training has been heavy sets of deadlifts and squats. This being said; I have always maintained the training philosophy that it is important to add in additional back assistance work. I feel that my strong upper and mid back has been the key to locking out heavy deadlifts. In addition, when I am benching, with my most efficient form, I feel most of the strain being handled by the upper back and traps.
My first choice for back assistance is the overhand grip barbell bent-over row. I have been training this exercise for over 35 years. This is a great exercise to work the entire back: latissimus dorsi (lats), rear deltoid, trapezius (traps), rhomboids, and several smaller muscles. I use a fairly wide grip. I take my time loading up my hamstrings. I tighten everything up and squeeze my abdominals. This allows me to maintain my arched back position and avoid standing upright. I bend at the elbows, squeeze the upper back and bring the bar to my chest. As a bonus this exercise helps to build grip strength so I generally avoid using straps unless going very heavy. It is critical to maintain the safety and integrity of the movement by avoiding any excessive upright movement. Be careful when starting out not to use too much weight.
Sometimes during the training cycle the body feels a little too beat up or tired to train heavy bent rows. On these occasions I will turn to lat pulldowns, or seated v-bar cable rows. Both of these exercises work well to train the upper and mid back while giving the lower back a rest. In recent years I have been adding in Kroc rows as an extra back assistance exercise after squatting. Kroc rows are Matt Kroc’s version of the one arm dumbbell row. Generally trained by performing one set of 20-25 reps with a high level of intensity. I allow my lat to stretch at the bottom and then I squeeze my shoulder blades together at the top. If you perform this exercise with intensity you will really be gassed when you are done. This is a brutal ending to my Friday night workout. I use this exercise a lot with the wrestlers that I train as it teaches intensity, builds the back, and is a tremendous grip exercise. Demo video for Kroc rows can be found here.
Train smart, stay healthy, set your goals high, and make sure to add GNC Pro Performance HMB along with BetaTOR and BetaATP products, available at your local GNC Store, to supplement your strength, energy and recovery needs.