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Mass is important, but training for V taper is what back workouts are all about. While backs that appear to have gnarls growing out from
the spine and scapulae look impressive when crunched down into a back double-biceps shot, if that thickness and detail aren't accompanied
by width, you can forget about winning the competition.
Think of it this way: You wouldn't make a grocery list of six items and go to the store individual times to pick up each one. You wouldn't make six separate trips to the store - one each for eggs, milk, bread, butter, sugar and coffee-would you? No way! You'd get it all in one shot and probably do your shopping for the entire week. If you wouldn't do that with grocery shopping, why would you dolt for back-training?
Some people answer: "The back is so large, I have to split it up according to mass and width. I couldn't possibly train for both thickness and width in the same session!" Saying this doesn't make them wrong. Prioritizing two such important aspects of growth and development is difficult. Still, that doesn't mean you have to compartinentalize each area of the back. Back workouts must be synergistic, but may target one aspect each time. How it all comes together is about finding the right vehicle, and that right vehicle may just be having a partner in crime. Call it a secret weapon. Call it your sanity. Having a partner can make all the difference between a good back and a really great back.
Developing good V shape depends a lot on hard work and priority, but it also depends on the person doing the work. If you have been training alone you may want to consider the possibility that the reason you aren't getting the V taper you want from your workouts is that you need a voice at your shoulder urging you to push yourself to do more, a partner who is so in tune with you that he almost is you. Partner training is nothing new, but the way you work together is important. Here are a few guidelines for selecting the right partner.
Buddy training is only as good as each individual person involved.
Finding someone who is at your level of strength is important. You don't want to have to change the weight all the time to accommodate a weaker link in the partnership. That robs you of precious intensity (more on that later).
Find a training partner who is at your level of ability, and the two of you can grow together out of your mutual desire to surpass yourself and each other. Healthy competition is good.
Buddy training requires that each person be able to execute exercises correctly.
If you don't know how to do a movement properly, you won't recognize poor form in your partner. No one will improve using faulty training techniques. One must be a good policeman to be a good workout partner. This is particularly true of back workouts since the squeezes and focus are so subtle.
Buddy training means nothing else comes first.
Most of us have a job to go to and daily obligations to fulfill. However, if you pick a partner who is swamped in obligation and/or doesn't know how to manage his time, guess what's going to suffer first? Your workouts. If you're trying to build a great V-tapered back, you might as well train on your own because the guy with tons of things to do during the day will always put something else before your workouts.
Buddy training means keeping the intensity high.
Only a person with heart, desire and vision knows how to keep the heat turned upon a workout. Building more width into your back is difficult to do without a lot of intensity. Maintaining power and concentration is essential to forcing those lats into submission. Choose a buddy who will know exactly how to push your buttons to make you work as hard as possible. That's why you work with a partner instead of training solo.
Buddy training means two heads are better than one.
You may know a lot of exercises and how to execute them, but two heads are always better than one. Your partner comes to you with a different range of experience and knowledge. Maybe he used a really inventive variation in his old gym. Maybe you devised a technique that turns a tame exercise into a nitro-charged taper-maker. Defer to each other as often as possible. Let your partner make suggestions during a workout that will push you to your limits.
Buddy training means deflecting outside distractions.
If you're going to build a world-class back, you need to add mass and thickness as well as a lot of meat on your lats for width. How can you do that with all the normal distractions in a gym? Let your partner get rid of the lame newbie who comes up to ask you questions during a workout. He has no business there, right? The same goes for that little aerobics queen you want to take out on Friday night. There will be plenty of time to talk later. Concentration can be broken with the wink of an eye or the wiggle of a hip. Tell your partner ahead of time when distractions bother you most and let him take care of the rest.
Buddy training means two halves making a whole.
This thinking might not be wise in a relationship, but dependence and the balance of strength and weakness come into play when training partners are involved. Use his strengths to overcome your weaknesses, and vice versa. Try to find a partner who is expert in an area where you are less knowledgeable. You can make an even trade with someone who has a lot of the width that you lack, and give him the benefit of your expertise in creating the thickness that he lacks. Buddy training means working in tandem.
You may have some exercises of your own in mind, and that's okay. We couldn't possibly detail all the exercises that hit that V zone of the back. There are simply too many to list. More exercises than just pullups and pulldowns emphasize development in the V zone. The key to training for width is to learn how to use every back exercise as a tool for growing wide lats.
So let's take a look at three exercises that are effective for tapered lats. In one of these exercises we'll illustrate how using two different grips - wide and narrow - will produce similar results. You may have heard that only wide-grip exercises hit the lats, but that's not necessarily so. How you do the exercise is what matters. Depending upon how much encouragement and correction you receive from your partner, you can make great strides no matter what approach you use. That's the sort of versatility you want. If you move through each exercise knowing you can work width into your lats, you will be prioritizing your lats all the time. The first exercise in any good V-taper workout should be chin-ups. This is such a staple of back- training that its importance can't be stressed enough. Using a partner to spot you isn't a no-no, but there is a way for him to help that doesn't rob you of the benefits.
Buddy spotting tip: Bend your knees and hold your legs in that position using your hip flexors. No matter how much you lower your weight onto the tips of your partner's fingers, you can't put full weight on his hand because your knees are bent and your tendons are holding the legs in place. You are forced to use your lats to pull you up.
o But how about machine attachments? You can hit the lats with either a narrow or wide grip, but putting your elbows in a certain position will maximize your potential to use the lats to pull you up when using a narrow grip. Grip so that your elbows point outward. Typically in any narrow grip you'll have the elbows in close together and you'll pull up to your chest. Doing a chin this way uses at least 50 percent biceps. Keep your elbows bent slightly in the start position. When you begin to pull up, your elbows should move outward a little farther. Keep them in this position as long as possible before having to bring them inward to complete the full range of motion of the pullup. You'll find this method much harder, but it's almost pure lat during the first half of the movement.
o Using a wide grip is obvious, but the key here is to employ visualization to help you focus solely on the lats. Wide grips tend to wreak havoc on the biceps and forearms. However, putting your mind into the lats helps tremendously to stay focused.
Buddy intensity trick: Here's where a partner comes in handy. Have your partner stand on a chair behind you. Now you're on your own with a toe spot. As you pull yourself upward, have him tap or pinch your lats on either side to create the feeling of a vise. He shouldn't hold hard, just firmly. This trick will get your brain into your lats and keep it there.
The second exercise is the pulldown. We commonly associate moderate- to wide-grip pulldowns with lat-training, but they can also work well with a narrow grip. A pull- down is nothing more than a seated pullup. You do both in almost the same position. You tilt the chest upward and extend the lats before pulling up. In this case, however, you pull the weight to you and your lower body doesn't cause resistance. Instead it's held stationary to isolate the back.
Buddy spotting tip: Your partner puts two fingers on the outside of your lats and holds them there so that you can visualize the lats pulling the weight down. He can also talk you though each rep: "All lats no arms ... c'mon all lats . .. no arms!" Don't underestimate the power of that encouragement.
o Perhaps you think you can't reach your lats with a narrow grip. Well, you can. In fact, if you use the same grip and elbow position as you did with pullups, you can involve your lats for at least 50 percent of the range of motion. Keep those elbows pointing outward with a slight bend in your arms. Pull down just with the lats.
o Don't take such a wide grip that you lose leverage and end up involving mostly biceps. About 20 percent wider than shoulder width on either side is ample. Your partner should put two fingers on the lower lat insertion with a wide grip because the wider the grip, the lower down the lat attachment the effort can travel. Getting in touch with those hard-to-feel reaches of the lats is important in developing the ultimate in V taper.
Buddy intensity trick: Your partner can help you with negatives after you've finished each rep in the set. When you are exhausted, have him pull the cable down 75 percent. You pull the last 25 percent and then let the weight go hack up slowly. You can have your partner put you through grueling supersets alternating wide and narrow grip. Or you can instruct your partner to push you through 50-rep sets of pulldowns. Remind him that you aren't willing to quit until the 50th rep!
The third and final hack exercise is seated row. Seated rows are the mainstay of building thickness in the back, but not many people use them for width. The stretch potential with this exercise is so great that not using it for V taper seems a shame. Stretching between reps is a normal function of working the negative portion of the movement, but stretching between sets too is a great way to effect change in size, definition, thickness and width.
Buddy spotting tip: A partner can spot you in two ways. Have him vise-grip your lats, or place two fingers in the middle of your back so that you crunch his digits with your thick spinal erector muscles. This is a great means of visualization since the hack is behind us and we can't see what we're doing there. The other way, more pertinent to lat development, is to let the weight down slowly, bend forward at the waist and get the maximum stretch forward possible. At a certain point you should let go of the lats at the base of their attachment and allow the scapulae (shoulder blades) to spread out and stretch. Once you're about 10 percent away from reaching a full stretch forward, have your partner lay his open palms across your scapulae and gently rock you forward. If you prefer, have him just apply light pressure forward with no rocking. Either way you'll get a great stretch. When you're ready to pull back again, you'll be pulling from a deeper point of insertion in the lats. Your partner can keep light pressure on your back for added resistance on the way up (at least 10 to 20 percent up).
You can change the angle from which you assault your lats by using varied hand grips and different types of bar, such as the kind with curved ends or rounded grips. Keep in mind that narrow grips can also work well because of the stretch at the bottom of the movement. Disconnect at the scapulae and then pull with the lats alone. This method may hurt at first, but it's a worthwhile experiment in training your muscles to elongate. The more elongated your lat muscles are, the more there will be to spread. Your lats can appear much wider because of this technique.
Buddy intensity trick: This exercise can be intense enough if you work each rep slowly, but, if you want to turn the heat up, try doing three-part isolative rows. Start bent forward at the waist. Have your partner hold you down with slight pressure. In the first part you completely isolate the lats by pulling up with lats as far as your chest while remaining bent forward. In the second phase you keep the bar where it is and raise your torso slightly. Pull the slack into your chest once again. In the third part sit upright and pull the bar in using just the lats. This wide-grip exercise is exceptional. A good partner will help you through it so that you can maintain perfect form. This is excellent practice for isolating the lats, and it might help you to have a better feel for them onstage.
Buddy training can make all the difference in lat development. Stretching is one important element. If you can do that during your workout, the synergy between resistance and stretch will net great results. Remember, improvement doesn't come without struggle. A partner will help lighten the load by making certain movements possible, but he will also increase the load by making you work much harder. Buddy training is invaluable. Determine what's important to you in a workout, define your goals, and then pick a partner who is walking the same path as you are toward huge bat-wing lats.