Matt (in Part I and Part II) goes on to say that training the back is by far the most important thing (I’m paraphrasing here) to do if you want to protect your shoulders, be strong as hell, and, of course, bench big and support all your other lifts.
Matt himself, is a 600 plus pound bencher and a freaking BEAST!
The reason is because he works on his back A LOT and that’s one of the primary reasons he is strong as FUARK and has good shoulder health, even benching at such a high weight. He says he does about double or more of the work on his back than he does on the front. He will fatigue himself first with rows and pulls first to warm-up the back and then tackle the bench after. If he ever feels his chest hurt, you better believe he is going to destroy his back to offset that tension in his chest.
It’s because Matt clearly understands that keeping a strong body is key for long-term success, in lifting, athletics, and general health. A key factor in that is a strong back. Without it you’re asking for trouble with your shoulders, and injuries are knocking at your door. Believe me, I’ve had my fair share of shoulder problems, and I’m dealing with one now right now!
That’s why hitting the back is essential, especially if you want a big chest.
The back is your FOUNDATION for any pressing like the bench press, and if you don’t have a solid foundation everything else suffers.
Continuing to do the bench press, cable flyes, and pec deck without ample back work is a recipe for disaster. It will ruin the shoulders and cripple posture, and, ultimately, wreak the pursuit of that BIG CHEST (especially with incorrect technique that fails to incorporate the back).
Remember, to have the body we want we need LONGEVITY in the sport of lifting and strength training, and using improper training (over-doing it with excessive pressing) will cause that.
Just think about all the chest exercises and what it causes.
It puts the body into a position that tends to be the norm nowadays: shoulders internally rotated, upper back rounded, with a forward head. Almost all take this position when we sit, eat, and work at one point, and most are doing nothing to correct or off-balance this. When a lot of horizontal pressing (bench press) and shoulder adduction (cable flyes) is practiced it exacerbates the problem and MAKES THE BACK WEAK!
WHEN YOU HAVE A WEAK BACK YOU’RE WEAK IN EVERYTHING ELSE.
This is what excessive pressing and anterior work causes, resulting in your back muscles being under-worked and overly stretched, making them weak and not capable of working like they should. Essentially, they “turn off” so to speak. This causes a host of shoulder and upper back problems, which has ripple effects to other parts of the body (think links in a chain) because compensations will be made in other movements to perform them (e.g., not being able to do a squat or deadlift with good posture with a neutral spine).
That’s why we got to hit the back…A LOT!
We’ve established that training the back is important, but how should we go about it?
There are many ways, but you have to got to get really good at rowing and pulling and being able to feel your back “turn-on” and work.
That’s what Dorian Yates (pictured above) did to help him win 6 consecutive Mr. Olympia contests. He worked on his back and made the reverse barbell row famous. He learned how to feel his back work and do it masterfully.
I’m sure if you ask Yates and others like him, they will often say that when someone may work on the back they have poor posture and lack overall strength to get into a position where their shoulders are retracted down and their chest elevates and feel their back working. You have got to be able to master this position and understand that feeling.
When you actively engage the back you retract the shoulders down, which allows the back to “turn on” so to speak. That’s why if you do a bench press THE RIGHT WAY you retract the shoulders down into the bench to anchor your upper body, while actively thinking about bending the bar as you go down to utilize the back as an active mover when you press with your lats.
That’s why you must master the UNIVERSAL POSITION — shoulders retracted down, pinched together, causing your chest to get “BIG” or elevate.
Watch any powerlifter get into position for a bench press and you’ll see this in action. They have an arch in their lower back (sometimes extreme) to get the best leverage they can by retracting the shoulders down. This is essential to actively engage the back and protect the shoulders.
This is also essential for all the main lifts. We bench on our back; we squat with the bar on our back; and the back must be strong to deadlift. It’s practically the center of everything performed, so it must be strong.
BUT, if you do too much pressing this is extremely hard to do and everything else suffers. You will not be as strong as you can be if you have a weak(er) back compared to your front (chest, front deltoids, etc.).
Guys want a good chest, like Arnold or Yates, but without the foundation — THE BACK — it is not going to happen. If it does you’ll be handicapped before you know it, meaning you won’t have full range of motion and function of your body.
Get good at rows, pulls, pull-ups/chin-ups, farmer walks/carries, and lock in your technique with the deadlift and squat and you’ll be on your path to a STRONG ASS BACK.
Even Arnold made sure to hit the back when he hit the chest. Just look at his workout below.
Now that you know go do it!
As always, thanks for reading and stopping by. If not a subscriber please subscribe.
Until next time, be strong and be you.