At the rate bodybuilding is going, it almost seems as though there may be no ceiling to the kind of development a body-builder can achieve in the sport today. Legs keep getting
bigger around and more chiseled, shoulders keep getting more rounded and wide, calves are looking like gigantic inhuman attachments, and backs are spreading wider than anyone
could have ever imagined; lending credence to the idea that bodybuilder's backs truly are wings!
Let's face it, nothing inspires gasps and applause more than a pro hitting a lat spread or back double biceps shot! I don't know how to explain it, but there's just something about the width of the back that makes people go nuts and lose their minds! Believe me, judges are pretty fond of wide backs too. For that matter, any well-developed body part is a welcome addition to a complete physique, and is essentially the name of the game in bodybuilding. But there's just something about a wide back that seems capable of mesmerizing anyone looking on.
The problem is, it always seems to come down to either drugs or genetics, for the most part. Who has the most money or the best gene pool. Very few, after all, have the kind of genetics it takes to make it to the top of the heap. This is certainly true for back development. Not many can approximate the Flex Wheeler or Chris Cormier back. Fewer still can even come close to eclipsing Ronnie Coleman's wingspan that overtook the stage at the 2000 Mr. Olympia in Las Vegas! Personally, I'm not sure we're going to see anyone come close to that for a while. But it'll happen, eventually - you can count on that.
Whether or not you were born capable of developing an eight-foot wingspan isn't the issue. There's still one thing that maybe you, and many other bodybuilders like you, could be missing, and that's technical ability. It's knowing how things work or possessing workout knowledge that makes an individual more competitive. In fact, no matter how you slice it, technical ability is crucial to success in this sport. Some people have it, and some people don't. The sad thing is, it's usually the ones who don't, who think that they do.
You know, I've always said that the biggest tragedy in any gym today is the fact that most people think they know everything. Maybe they've been working out for over a year, and have learned a great deal about how the body works during workouts. That's cool. Most people do soak up a lot of knowledge about training within their first few years doing it. But knowing the ins and outs of training is just the tip of the iceberg. Still, these self-proclaimed experts, with their few pearls of wisdom, think they have it all sewn up, and think that learning k anything new about training would be . almost like reinventing the wheel.
There are a lot of people who possess enough knowledge to get by for several years. But the problem, Aside from knowing a great deal about the average back routine, workout split, "and rep and set scheme, is that most people don't understand how to take all of the information they've accrued and make it work for them in new and creative ways. You must learn how to put together a program that surpasses the results that other people are getting.
In this age of super-human athletes, basic knowledge is something reserved for amateurs and those people who just want to get and stay fit. Pros, or those who aspire to greatness in bodybuilding, must bring a great deal more to the table than just the basics. However, I've always believed that if you could give an amateur, or anyone who is non-competitive, the tools to soar to a higher level, he or she could approximate a much greater level of physical development despite any lack of professional aspiration.
These health-minded people don't have to be perfect genetic specimens and they don't have to subscribe to the "better living through chemistry" philosophy in order to see real gains. However, they absolutely must be exposed to more creative workout strategies, because the basics won't even transport them from lacking to average.
Having worked with so many of today's top professionals, I can honestly say that I have seen just about every workout scheme or trick fall flat on its face. I've also seen some very sound strategies work out well for people on a very individual basis. And every once in awhile, I come across a new, creative workout method that is effective for just about anybody because it doesn't depend on outside aids to make it work (drugs, genetics, etc.). I can say this because, on the level playing field that is pro bodybuilding, if something promises even a glint of potential for success, it's a good bet that there's something to it.
Now I may seem as though I've been wandering around the subject, but I assure you, this is all leading up to what I want to discuss this month: Technical ability. More specifically, the technical ability that sur-rounds both form and technique.
None of my readers would probably ever believe me if I told them how many pros and top level amateurs perform their exercises incorrectly or use terribly poor form. Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't a place in heavy workouts for cheat sets, or rapidly-performed repetitions that maybe stretch the limits of what superb form is all about. However, the kind of form used in some of these guy's workouts is so consistently bad, it's almost shocking that they ever made it past the local NPC level and into the big leagues! That's no lie. Believe me, I've heard countless disappointed and/or shocked comments from many a tourist/fan/visitor to Gold's Gym in Venice, where many of the pros train and where I train all of my clients, once they actually witness one of these pros' sloppy workouts.
I know I just keep sounding like a broken record all of these years, but I can't stress enough how important form and workout technique truly are. The results can be like night and day when it comes to poor vs. correct form. But, the kind of form I'm going to talk about is what I like to call acute form. It's not just performing a movement correctly, acute form means that you're performing that movement with such precision, muscles have to grow!
You've probably seen those passive electric stimulation machines advertised in the backs of magazines that promise to tighten your abs or provide the equivalent of thousands of repetitions while you lounge around your house and watch television. Well, imagine if those really worked! That would be great, right? It would be fantastic. Of course, it might make my job obsolete, but it would be great for a bodybuilder. Well, acute form is to regular or poor workout form, what electric stimulation is to good old-fashioned hard work! It's taking correct form, calling it a 'given' and then taking it to the next level.
So how does one take something that's perfect and improve upon it? It's not easy, but it's something that you can learn to do. You do need a workout partner or someone who will facilitate your workout for you for the first month or so while you learn what acute form looks and feels like. Think subtle and you'll have a good idea of how understated and refined this technique actually is.
Since we're talking about making the back wider, we'll deal only with those exercises. However, acute form can be used with just about any exercise for any body part group. I think it works best for larger muscles groups like the legs, back and chest, however, because these are body parts that require a great deal of workout volume and load. Because of that, a lot of subtlety is often lost. It's not like ab work, where varying your floor position can move the focus from one square inch to another. But, that's a great analogy because that's about how you must think of acute form when dealing with larger body parts. Think ab work for the back, and you'll be on the right track.
Now, this is somewhat of an arcane work-out; it requires a lot of open mindedness and vision. If you want to understand what I mean, just refer to the concept of "mind/muscle" connections and you'll understand that it's a very similar kind of thing. In fact, I can already hear opponents voicing their loud opinions about the kind of a concept that requires as much intuition as it does ability to follow instructions. Many of the old guard of bodybuilding just don't believe in the gray area subtleties of a concept such as this.
Are you used to doing anywhere in the neighborhood of 40 sets for your legs or back? By typical workout standards, this is just about right for a large muscle group. Perhaps 40 total sets for legs, 30-35 total sets for the back, and 20-25 total sets for the chest would be normal when using conventional workout methods. With acute form, you'll be doing about half that much work and will be netting better results.
The key to using acute form is two-fold. You must be familiar enough with the anatomy of the body part in question (in this case, the back) to dissect it and divide it into units, and, you must know how to utilize movements and their many variations to access all of the many areas of the back.
But let's take first things first: Divide your back into five distinct areas and ten specific parcels. Here's how I define that: Upper trap/scapula, left and right, middle/lower scapula, left and right, spinal erectors, right and left, low back, left and right, and lats, left and right.
These are five distinct areas (ten total when left and right is distinguished) that must be compartmentalized once you get into your workout, in order to utilize the acute form method. Once you've done this and you're clear about where these areas are on your own anatomy (have someone stand behind you and point to the areas so you are aware of them before beginning), you'll be ready to begin. Here are the rules:
Choose one or two exercises per area. You may find that the benefits of one particular exercise serve more than one area. This overlap is okay, but try to find different exercises for each area.
Perform just 6 to 8 reps per set. On occasion, you may want to bump reps to 8 to 10, but generally, you'll want to keep reps low, quality high and form acutely accurate.
Choose a weight that will allow you to go heavy, but will also allow you to move the weights very slowly. If you can handle a weight for 6 to 8 reps, moving through each range of motion with accuracy, yet maintain a slow pace, using ultra strict form.
Vary hand position. Vary attachments, and use more than one variation of the same exercise, as long as it still addresses the area you're trying to focus on.
So how slow is too slow? There is definitely such a thing as moving too fast or too slow through a range of motion. There is a certain rhythm to any repetition that determines the outcome of that particular pace. Having said that, in the case of acute form, it's crucial to move slowly, but more importantly, to get inside the muscle group, so that you can not only imagine every fiber working, you can actually feel it working!
You see, this is the whole idea behind what I call acute form. Mind/muscle connections are all well and good for those who are intuitive enough to make it work for them. But not everyone has that the ability to take a movement and mentally command it. I say it's because most of the mind/muscle concept has to do with trying to feel the whole muscle group working, rather than just a small portion of it. Having to focus on the ENTIRE muscle group is far too overwhelming for most people to understand, let alone actually do. That's why I started breaking the muscle group down into very small, manageable parcels that anyone can connect with for two sets at a time and a low number of repetitions that are executed with only "feeling" in mind.
After all, isn't it silly to assume that you can connect your mind with an entire body part, when perhaps you're doing an exercise that only hits just a small portion of that body part? Think of it this way: How can one say "I feel my entire leg moving this weight" during a leg extension exercise, when maybe that person's mind only connects with a small fraction of that muscle group, in the lower right teardrop around the knee?
You see, if you know you feel a particular part of the muscle during a particular exercise, reserve that exercise for that very specific parcel of the muscle group, and find other exercises that target and effectively stimulate other parcels of that same muscle group. In fact, you can even divide your basic muscle groups into parcels that actually make sense to you and how you normally feel your muscles working during an exercise. Take that basic technical workout knowledge you developed early on, and think about the areas of the back that you feel most during certain exercises.
The point is not to waste needless sets and reps on exercises that maybe only address a small portion of the entire muscle group. The point is to parcel out the muscle group sufficiently, so that you can find exercises that address just those small areas. Doing seated rows, for example, for a total of 6 sets, might be overkill if it only works one small portion of your back. Don't waste time trying to make that one exercise benefit other areas that you just can't seem to make a connection with throughout the course of executing that movement.