Saturday, May 1, 2021

Two Great Exercises To Build A Powerful Back - By Jim Duggan

      The importance of a strong, powerful back should be obvious to anyone who lifts weights.  Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters have always known about the need to maximize their back strength.  Over the years, many legendary lifters have demonstrated amazing power, and hoisted incredible poundages.  Record-breaking Snatches, Clean and Jerks, and Deadlifts are testimony to the benefits of devoting a great deal of time and effort towards working the back hard, heavy, and regularly.  Even if you are not a competitive lifter, nobody wants to have a weak back.  

     Most people who lift weights include some form of Deadlifting in their workout programs.  Regular (conventional) Deadlifts, Stiff-Leg, Trap Bar, or even Dumbbell Deadlifts are all effective exercises for building a strong back.  Likewise, there are numerous movements used by Olympic Lifters to assist them in increasing their pulling power.  Most of us who have trained for any length of time have tried a variety of exercises in our quest for back strength.  We've all "paid our dues," and then some. 

     However, I would like to discuss two great exercises that some people may not have tried, even though these movements are familiar to just about everyone who has ever "hoisted the steel."  They may not be seen on a regular basis in most commercial gyms, but they are highly effective in building great strength.  

     1)  Good Mornings.  This is a great exercise for increasing power throughout your entire back, particularly the lower back.  Since a powerful lower back is critical for lifting heavy poundages, it is a great assistance movement for the Deadlift, as well as an excellent movement for assisting the Olympic lifts.  It may possibly be the best exercise for strengthening the lower back.  It is also one of the most demanding movements that you'll ever perform.  

     Many arm-chair experts and keyboard warriors will tell you that Good Mornings are dangerous, or "bad for you."  This is not true.  I don't believe any exercise is dangerous, however I do believe that not all exercises are compatible with all people who train.  If you have lower back issues then you should be especially careful if you have never done Good Mornings before.  The best way for anyone to do them is to begin with light weights and gradually work up to heavier poundages.  If you do not experience any back pain, then you can consider working up to heavier weights.  I have been doing Good Mornings for decades, and I have never hurt my back doing them.  I have done them for sets of 20 reps with lighter weights, and I've worked up to 315 Lbs. for sets of five reps.  I've never experienced any problems, however it is up to each individual to determine what is best for him/her.  You must listen to your body and find out what works for you, and what doesn't. Always listen to your body.

     To perform Good Mornings, set your feet at about shoulder width.  Make sure the bar is tight on your traps.  You do not want the bar moving, or rolling on your neck.  Make sure the bar is held solidly and does not move.  The next important thing to remember is to keep your knees slightly bent.  Never do this exercise with locked knees.  Keep your body tight, bend forward while looking straight ahead.  Try to imagine pushing your feet through the floor while trying to touch your chest to your thighs, even if you can't actually go down that far.  Always do the movement in a slow, controlled manner. Do not bounce!  As far as the number of repetitions, you can vary the reps in different workouts.  On lighter days, you can do several sets of 8-10 reps, and on your heavy days you can shoot for five sets of five.  Like most movements, if you train hard, progressively, and safely, you will make impressive gains that will translate into gains in your Deadlift and other pulling movements.

     2)   Stone Lifting.  Lifting stones, particularly Atlas Stones, is an activity that will be familiar to anyone who has an interest in competitive Strongman contests.  They are a popular event- both for the participants as well as the spectators.  But lifting stones has also evolved into a tremendous exercise.  This is another demanding movement that will tax your entire body.  This is definitely NOT an isolation exercise.  After an intense stone session, you will feel as if you have been hit by a truck.  In other words, this is not an exercise for pumpers, toners, or those who want to get "shredded."

     Naturally, you will have to have access to stones to derive the benefits of this great exercise, but the good news is that stones are available. Some commercial gyms have even tried to "jump on the bandwagon" and now have stones available for their members.  Even if your gym does not have stones, there are still places from which you can order them.  I have five stones ranging in size from 140 Lbs. up to 300 Lbs.. 

     There are two popular movements you can do with stones.  Most of the time, I will lift the stone from the ground and stand up with it and then lift the stone to my shoulder.  Getting into the starting position will be uncomfortable, and you will definitely be pulling with your back.  "Lift with your legs" is definitely sound advice, but when it comes to lifting stones off the ground, the back most assuredly comes into play. Your form may not be pretty, but you will utilize most of the muscles in your body.  Your legs and hips will definitely get a workout as you attempt to get a heavy stone to your chest. And, yes, momentum will help get the stone to your shoulder.

      You can also lift the stone from the ground with the goal of placing it in your lap and standing up with it while holding it against your chest.  In most Strongman contests, the stones get lifted from the ground and placed on a platform, or a "plinth."  If you have access to such equipment, then this is an excellent movement.  Recently, I had a dead tree removed from my backyard. I asked the arborist to leave a stump of about four feet in height.  At first he wondered why no would want a four foot stump remaining until he saw the stones in my yard. I now have a perfect plinth for stone lifting!

     As for incorporating stones into your workouts, they make for an excellent "finisher." You can set a goal to shoot for in a set amount of time, or simply try to get as many reps as possible regardless of time.  There are just two pieces of advice, or more accurately two warnings. First, do not use a belt when lifting stones.  Second, do not use tacky or any other grip adhesive to help hold on to the stones.  If you're having trouble holding the stones, then work on your grip.  Real men (and women) do not use tacky!


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