I may sound like a broken record, but I can’t emphasize enough how important a healthy back is to your overall health. Besides the constant discomfort, a bad back can lead to a cascade of pain and injuries in your hips, knees, feet and limbs as a result of compensation. That’s why I cringe when I walk into a gym and see people compromising their form when they’re lifting. The desire to build that strong chest, broad shoulders and bulging biceps often leads people to attempt too much weight, or break down their form as they try to lift that one last rep. The next time I see someone doing a standing biceps curl with a barbell and arch his back way back to finish off a rep will be one time too many.
The fact is, there is an exercise you can, and should, be doing that will work out that entire upper body: chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps—and back! It’s the good old fashioned chin-up, and its cousin, the pull-up. Properly done, the chin-up and pull-up exercise more muscle groups than isolated presses, curls or lifts. And, importantly, the chin-up and pull-up are the best exercises you can do to strengthen your upper back.
Your upper torso involves many muscle groups. Chin-ups and Pull-ups recruit just about all of them. And, the more muscle groups you can recruit, the more balanced and more effective your particular exercise will be. That major muscle system recruitment is one of the reasons why chin-ups and pull-ups give so much bang for your buck.
So, let’s dig in a little deeper. First, terminology: the chin-up is done with palms facing you, and a pull-up is done with palms facing out. Both are excellent upper body workouts, but each will stress slightly different muscle groups a little more. Chin-ups work the chest a little more, while pull-ups recruit more heavily in the lower trapezius and shoulder muscles. Second, let’s not fool ourselves. Both chin-ups and pull-ups are HARD! For most of us, especially beginners, we don’t have enough upper body strength to lift ourselves over the bar from a dead hang. That’s ok though. The chin-up and pull-up can be effective exercises by working our muscles on the way DOWN, rather than focusing on the way up.
If you have access to a machine that can take some of the weight off to help you, you may be able to do the traditional chin-ups and pull-ups from a dead hang because the machine can be set to take off some of your body weight. If you are going to use this method, you are going to still want to use the right tempo. From a dead hang, explode up until your chin is over the bar, the hold for a count while you squeeze your shoulders together, then lower yourself SLOWLY back to a dead hang. Remember to lower yourself slowly. When you hit the dead hang, explode up again and repeat. Try to do three sets of ten. The dead hang is critical. That explosion up from the dead hang and slow descent to full extension is what will recruit those upper back muscles.
If you don’t have a machine and are just using a traditional bar, no worries. Instead of lifting from a dead hang, position yourself under the bar, perhaps with a step or stool beneath you. While holding the bar, jump up to a starting position with your chin over the bar. Hold for a count, then lower yourself to a dead hang as SLOWLY as you can. You may want to bend your knees so you can get all the way to a complete extension without landing on the floor. Take a LONG time to go down. Try to take at least eight seconds going down. As you progress, slow it down even further. Do three sets of five reps. If you are able to master the slow descent, you will build enough strength to eventually do a traditional chin-up or pull-up from a dead hang. But it will take time!
You can alternate the chin-up or pull-up in different workouts since both provide slightly different benefits. But both will do what those isolated curls and presses will do—strengthen the arms, shoulders, and chest—while at the same time providing needed strengthening of critical back muscles. If you can only do one upper body exercise, these are the ones you should be doing.
For more information and to schedule a training session with a personal trainer who will bring out your best and promises to alleviate your back pain PERMANENTLY, call me at (312) 550-7033 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out my web site at www.hadleyallenfitness.com for special offers, and keep liking and especially SHARING my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/hadleyallenfitness. And if you think this kind of content is valuable enough to share more broadly, go to my GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/hadleyallenfitness and help me grow the Hadley Allen Fitness brand and reach more people like you!