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This Is Our Trainer's Favorite Routine for a Bigger, Stronger Back

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When it comes to weight training, there’s a simple but underrated truth everyone should know: your pull muscles are more important than your pushing muscles—even if by just a bit.

The muscles responsible for pull exercises comprise your posterior chain. These are the muscles you can’t see when you look in the mirror. Their strength and development, however, will have the greatest reach toward an impressive physique, healthy joints, and even stronger performance in other movements that are push oriented.

What Are Pull Muscles?

What do we mean by posterior chain, exactly? Here’s a list of its key muscles:

It’s imperative each of these muscle groups can pull their own weight in order to prevent imbalances and promote overall strength and healthy function. Strong glutes and hams are the cornerstone of athletic power and pain-free hinging. A nice, wide, and thick upper back also presents better when it comes to standing posture, overall width, and imposing size. 

Related: This Push Day Workout Will Bring Size and Strength Gains in 6 Weeks

What Is a Pull Day Workout?

Many athletes schedule their weekly strength training around a push-pull-legs split. That’s three strength sessions, each dedicated to a specific set of muscles, spread over seven days. Breaking training programs into push, pull, and leg days is ideal if you’re seeking more muscle mass because it allows you to direct more volume and working sets to fewer groups of muscles that all serve a similar function.

Pull exercises differ from push exercises simply due to the nature of the motion. It’s as plain as, if you’re moving the weight toward you, it’s a pull pattern. If you’re moving the weight away from you, it’s a push pattern. 

Related: 50 Best Shoulder Exercises To Target Full Range of Motion

The Best Pull Day Workout

What makes this program so damn effective? Put simply, it starts big, so you have the neural drive for the exercises that provide the most bang for your buck. As you get a bit more fatigued (which means it’s working), the workout shifts toward isolated movements that require less horsepower but more precision to complete. These lifts focus on the little things to sculpt your posterior chain. It’s the perfect storm. Perform this weekly pull-day workout for six weeks to see gains in size, strength, and power.

1. Barbell Deadlift

Barbell deadlift.

James Michelfelder

Muscles Worked: glutes, hamstrings, quads, core

How to Do It

  1. Step up to the loaded barbell, and get close, to ensure the bar is above the shoelaces. Keep the feet hip width apart.
  2. Without bending at the knees, reach down and place the hands on the bar, just outside the shins. Your back should be fully rounded.
  3. Next, dig in. Wedge your body into a tight position by dropping your hips down and raising your chest up as high as possible. This tension you place on the bar should help get your spine flat. It helps to think about turning your elbows to face behind you and squeezing your armpits down.
  4. Keep a full stomach of air, and stand up with the barbell. Squeeze the glutes and get tall.
  5. Lower the weight, keeping it close to your body. Push the hips back first, and think about sitting once the bar has crossed the knees on the way down.
  6. Perform 5 sets of 4 to 6 reps.

2. Pullups

Pullup.

Beth Bischoff

Muscles worked: lats, biceps, infraspinatus

How to Do It

  1. Using an overhand grip just outside shoulder width, hang from the pullup bar. Keep the thumbs wrapped around the bar; don’t use a false grip with the thumb on the same side as the fingers.
  2. Keep the body tight and still. Avoid any swinging. The arms should be fully extended. This is your start position.
  3. Set the shoulders by raising the chest and lengthening the neck first. You should feel your upper back pull your shoulder blades down toward your back pockets when you do this correctly. This is how to initiate each pull and engage your back more than your arms.
  4. Pull through your elbows until your chin clears the bar. Lower slowly and repeat.
  5. Perform 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps (or max reps, if fewer).

3A. Bentover Row

Bentover row.

Muscles Worked: lats, rhomboids, spinal erectors, trapezius 

How to Do It

  1. Stand upright, and hold a barbell with your bench press grip. Hinge forward so the weight is hanging at just below knee level. Keep a flat spine.
  2. Create tension in your upper back by drawing the shoulder blades together, and row the weight up by pulling through the arms. Aim to make the weight contact the ribcage. Keep the elbows wide.
  3. Perform 10 reps and move on to 3B without resting to form a superset. Do 3 total supersets.

3B. Cable Reverse Flye 

Cable reverse flye.

Muscles Worked: rear delts, rhomboids, trapezius, lats

How to Do It

  1. Set up two cable pulleys at forehead level and stand between them. It’s best if they have no handle attachment. Load them light.
  2. Stand tall, and hold the left pulley with the right hand, and the right pulley with the left hand. Keep the arms long, and abduct the arms for a flye pattern.
  3. Squeeze the shoulder blades together on each rep to encourage upper back activity.
  4. Perform 12 reps, supersetting with 3A’s bentover row 3 times.

4. Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl

Swiss ball hamstring curl.

Beth Bishoff

Muscles worked: hamstrings, glutes, abs, lumbar

How to Do It

  1. Lay on your back with a Swiss ball positioned under the feet (start with straight legs). 
  2. Elevate the hips and remain stable. Brace your core so the ball doesn’t roll you to the left or right. Pressing the arms into the floor can also help.
  3. Keeping the hips high, roll the ball in toward your glutes, using your heels. When you’ve gotten the ball in as close as possible, return to full extension slowly. The eccentric rep matters more than the concentric here, so be mindful of keeping it under control.
  4. Perform 4 sets of 12 reps.

5. 45-Degree Back Extension

45-degree back extension.

Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors

How to Do It

  1. Set the back extension machine to a position where the pad is located just below hip level. This will allow unrestricted freedom of rotation around that joint.
  2. Position yourself in the machine, and be sure the thighs are pressing firmly against the pad on the front, while the calves and ankles are pressing firmly against their support behind.
  3. Maintain a flat spine and pivot downward as far as your spine will allow. You should feel a good stretch in the hamstrings.
  4. Squeeze the glutes first in order to initiate the movement up to the top position. If you want to involve your glutes more than your lower back, then keep the ribs tucked downward (shoulders will round a bit to do this). If you want more lower back involvement, then allow the ribs to flare upward. Lower slowly and repeat. 
  5. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.



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Health

Preteens and skincare: What parents should know – CHOC

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Published on: April 16, 2024
Last updated: April 9, 2024

Should teens and preteens be using so many skincare products with fancy ingredients? A pediatric dermatologist answers parents’ questions.

Link: https://health.choc.org/preteens-and-skincare-what-parents-should-know/



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Living With Crohn’s: My Daily Routine

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By Michelle Pickens, as told to Danny Bonvissuto

As early as I can remember, I’ve had issues with my health. When I was little, I had severe constipation, nausea, vomiting, and food sensitivities.

As I got older, those symptoms transitioned into diarrhea, irregular bowel movements, and pain. I was always very fatigued and my immune system was weak: The second someone in my class had the cold or flu, I’d get it, too. Looking back, it was a sign.

From a mental perspective, my anxiety was high. What if I need to find a bathroom? What if I’m nauseous? Doctors would say, “Oh, you’ll grow out of it. It’s just your anxiety.”

Finally, a Diagnosis

After years of misdiagnosis, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2015. I was 23 and had just finished up college while working full time. My symptoms were getting worse. I had a lot of vomiting and pain. The fatigue was at the point where it was difficult for me to work or even get out of bed some days.

It was so bad it pushed me to seek additional care. I took a couple months off, looked for another job, and went through all the doctor appointments it took to get the diagnosis.

There’s no blood test for Crohn’s. No way to prove what you’re feeling. Eventually I saw the right doctor, who did a test with a pill camera called a small bowel capsule. (This is a pill-sized camera that you swallow, allowing doctors to see inside your digestive system.) It tracked my intestines and was able to get into a blind spot where neither a colonoscopy nor endoscopy can see inflammation. 

It was such a relief to get the diagnosis because it made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. For so many years I knew something was wrong and couldn’t name it. I also felt hopeful. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I knew I could work to get to a better place.

Sharing My Story

In 2016, I started a blog called Crohnically Blonde as an outlet to connect with people as I go through the stages of dealing with Crohn’s. When I first started to share, there weren’t as many people talking about it.

I’ve been able to form relationships in an online community through shared experiences. I hope someone can see my story and feel that, if they’re at the beginning of their journey, there’s a way to get through.

Managing My Medication

At first, I was on a lot of medication that wasn’t working well and was a huge imposition on my schedule. Now I get infusions of an immunosuppressive drug every 7 weeks.

It means being away from my family and job for 4-5 hours, and managing child-care coverage during the treatment and the weekend after, because I feel almost flu-like. The extra help allows me to rest and fuel back up after the treatment.

I have the option to be on more medications to control my symptoms. But I try to shy away from those and manage it on my own because I don’t want to be on medicine for every single thing.

Before I had my son, I was more willing to try different medications. But while I was pregnant, I could barely be on any of the Crohn’s medicines. After I had him, it didn’t make sense to be reliant on them.

Crohn’s, Pregnancy, and Motherhood

Crohn’s affected me throughout my pregnancy. I got very sick in my third trimester because I went off my immunosuppressive drug to avoid passing any on to the baby. I ended up having to be induced early so I could get back on the medication as soon as possible.

My son, Maddox, is 1 now. Crohn’s changed my expectation of what I thought motherhood would be.

I’ve learned that I’d rather be present and able to enjoy him in the good moments than push it when I’m sick. It’s been difficult. But if I’m not well, I can’t be there for my child. I try to be with him as much as I can, but there are times when I need to step back and take an hourlong nap.

I have a great support system: My husband, mom, or mother-in-law can step in and help out for a little while, and when I feel better, I can be a better mom. There are also days when I don’t have accessible help. In those situations, I’ll do lower-key activities that I can enjoy with him but that aren’t physically demanding on me.

Schedule and Adjust

Right now I’m in a pretty good spot. I work from home now, as a recruiter for a tech company, and that makes a huge difference. A lot of my anxiety in the past was around being in an office and being sick. Now that I can work remotely, it’s such a game changer.

But Crohn’s still affects my day-to-day. I have days where I’m feeling sick, and need to rest and change my plans so I’m home and not out somewhere.

No matter how planned-out I have my day or week, if I’m not feeling well that takes precedence. I like to be a very scheduled person. But I have to roll with the punches and have a plan B.

The biggest challenge is managing my sleep and stress. They’re both very influential in symptom flare-ups. I have to get at least 8 hours of sleep, no matter what. And I try to incorporate time to de-stress, like reading a book or relaxing at the end of the day.

Going to therapy helps offset stress as well, and is now part of my ingrained self-care schedule.

Social Life Strategies

My co-workers, family, and friends are very understanding. But that wasn’t the case at first. The more open I’ve been about Crohn’s, the more people understand that I’m not flaking out if I have to change plans; there’s an underlying reason.

I only have a certain amount of energy, so now I pick and choose. I know I need to work and be with my family, which means I have less energy to put into social situations.

I plan out what I’m comfortable doing, but have also become comfortable with changing plans. Even if I’m excited to go out to dinner with a friend, I don’t push it if I feel terrible that day.

Food in Flux

I’ve followed a gluten-free diet for years. I started with an elimination diet and realized that gluten was bothering me.

Other foods aren’t as black and white. I can eat a salad one day and it’s fine, and eat the same salad the next day and it makes me sick. I repeat the safe foods that don’t make me sick and stick to a general schedule of three meals a day that are pretty much all gluten free.

Sometimes the timing matters: I’ll wake up and feel nauseated and need a starchy food like dry cereal. If I’m going on a road trip, or have a big event, like a wedding, I plan it out and try to be careful about what I eat leading up to it because I don’t want to be sick. But it’s hard because you never really know. It’s kind of a gamble.

Flexibility Is Key

I’ve learned to be as flexible as possible. I never know what each day is going to bring, I just have to trust that my body is telling what it needs for that specific day. That’s my priority, and everything else can wait.

 



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The PowerBlock Adjustable Dumbbells That Shoppers Say Are 'Better Than BowFlex' Are $89 Off Right Now

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Men’s Journal aims to feature only the best products and services.  If you buy something via one of our links, we may earn a commission.

Adjustable dumbbells are an integral piece of fitness equipment to have in a functioning home gym, as they can be used for working on the chest, arms, shoulders, and many other muscle groups. The sweepingly popular BowFlex SelectTech 552 has been the choice of many for over a decade, but the price has shot up in recent years. If there’s another brand to know about, it’s PowerBlock, which packs just as much power and convenience as BowFlex dumbbells but for less—and now its bestselling set is on sale.

The PowerBlock Elite EXP Adjustable Dumbbells are on sale for $360 on Amazon—a 20% discount on the normal $449 price. These squared-off dumbbells have earned more than 1,700 five-star ratings from shoppers who have gone as far as saying they’re “better than BowFlex,” maker of the iconically popular SelectTech adjustable dumbbells

PowerBlock Elite EXP Adjustable Dumbbells, $360 (was $449) on Amazon

Courtesy of Amazon

Get It

The PowerBlock Elite EXP adjustable dumbbells offer a range of weights from 5 to 50 pounds in a slim, rectangular form that’s unlike any other model. The handle sits inside a cage-like design that’s padded with thick foam to protect and stabilize your forearms when lifting. Adjusting the weight is simple, too: Just use the color-coded guide on the top of the dumbbell to pick your weight, remove the magnetic selector pin, and pop it through the weight plate of the corresponding color. Once your weight is selected, everything is locked into place until you remove it again. What’s even better is that, once you’ve graduated from 50-pound weights, PowerBlock offers two expansion weights to build on your existing set.

Those who have brought PowerBlock’s adjustable dumbbells into their home gyms have raved about the high-quality build, the comfort, and their compact design, but many obsess over how easy they are to use. “I did quite a bit of research before pulling the trigger on these, but they’re exactly what I needed,” one shopper stated. “These are very easy to use. Changing weights takes me maybe 30 seconds between sets. They’re super compact and easy to store, too.” Another shopper agreed, simply stating that they’re “the most versatile, easy, and well-built that I have used.”

Many shoppers also praised the design of these dumbbells, specifically how their length is relative to the weight you select. “The weights feel great in the hand, and it is smaller when you’re using less weight as opposed to the BowFlex 552, which has the same length throughout,” one shopper described. Another shopper pointed out that with longer, fixed-length dumbbells, you “cannot get [them] close together when doing chest exercises,” but this model will allow you to achieve that complete motion.

PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells are a fine choice to feature in your home gym because of their ease of use, comfort, and design, but they’re even more of a no-brainer now that they’re on sale for just $360 and more affordable than the BowFlex SelectTech 552. We’re not expecting them to sell out, but the price could shoot back up at any time, so make sure to take advantage of the $89 savings and pick yours up soon.



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