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Target training: The upper back. (Powerline 2003).

MOST YOUNG ATHLETES spend a great deal of time in the weight room, chiseling the "show" muscles of the chest and anterior shoulder region with a variety of pressing movements. The upper back tends to receive much less attention. ("Out of sight, out of mind.")

This is unfortunate because of the importance of this area in athletic performance and the stability of the posterior aspect of the torso. These large muscles are critical in all throwing and pulling actions. Since these muscles also maintain a strength balance for the prevention of injuries, it is essential to pay as much attention to this area as you would for the anterior aspect of the torso.

Diags. 1 and 2 depict much of the superficial and intrinsic musculature of this area. Collectively, these structures are responsible for such actions as adducting (toward the mid-line of the body), abducting (away from the mid-line of the body), and extending the arms.

The four rotator cuff muscles (two of them--the infraspinatus and teres minor, are shown) play key roles in much of this arm movement.

Let's look at a short list of some of the more important muscles of the upper back, along with their primary functions:

Trapezius (sections 1-4 are shown): This large muscle, as can be seen, has insertions all along the posterior aspect. Collectively, it elevates, depresses, and fixates the scapula, along with extending the neck.

Levator scapula: Though it has its origin in the neck, this muscle inserts in the scapula (shoulder blade), and is responsible for elevating and retracting it.

Rhomboids (major and minor): Retract and stabilize scapula.

Latissimus dorsi: Adducts, medially rotates, and extends the arm.

Upper Back Exercises

Over the years, we have used numerous exercises for this area - free weights (barbells and dumbbells), machines, body weight, and manual resistance. You will note that all of the exercises involve the "pulling" motion, regardless of the mode used.

We also incorporate several movement planes (i.e., high-to-low pulls, horizontal pulls, and low-to-high pulls) for variety purposes.

Photos 1-4 illustrate several of our favorites:

High Row (photo 1): Can be performed with several pulley type machines or the plateloaded variety shown here. This exercise incorporates the "high-to-low" movement plane we mentioned earlier. Pull the weight from an overhead, incline position to a point where the hands reach the chest area. After a slight pause, return it under control to the starting position, which is depicted here.

Horizontal Row (photo 2): Again, a plateloaded machine is pictured, but any type of apparatus that allows the arms to be placed horizontally to the floor can be used. Pull the arms as far back as possible, trying to get the elbows deep behind the back. After a slight pause, return to the starting position. In the photo, the athlete is shown pulling the weight back to the mid-range position.

Low Row (photo 3): The mode of choiceis again a plateloaded machine, though there are several low pulley devices that can be used. We are now incorporating a "low-to-high" movement plane. Start at the lowest possible position and pull the weight upward and toward the body. Note the deep elbow position in the photo, which depicts the mid-range position. After a slight pause, return the weight under control to the starting position.

Towel Pulls (photo 4): This is a great variation of the chin-up, using a towel in place of the chin-up bar. The towel is more difficult to grip, thus working the forearm muscles to a greater extent, while still targeting the upper back musculature with the pulling movement. From the fully extended arm position, pull the body upward to a point where the chin is even with or above the hands. (The athlete has nearly reached the mid-range position.) After a slight pause, return under control to the starting position.

Final Rep

What about sets and reps? Regarding sets, we recommend that you balance the number of pressing and pulling movements performed during the course of the training week as much as possible.

Whether you perform both types of exercises on the same day or incorporate some type of split routine through the course of the week, the total number of sets for each area should be very close to equivalent. This will provide strength and stabilization to the entire torso, without running the risk of overtraining one particular aspect.

Reps are usually in the ranges of 10-12, 8-10, 6-8. You can "cycle" these ranges, if you prefer, on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis, by gradually increasing the weight loads as the reps decrease.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Ken Mannie, Michigan State University, Duffy Daugherty Building, East Lansing, MI 48824 (517) 355-7514
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Author:Mannie, Ken
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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