Workout of the Month: January 2017: “Back” After the Holidays


Your back is the largest group of working muscles in your upper body, so it only makes sense to prioritize their training. Point is, if you want to look muscular and in great shape, you will need a well developed back. There are two types of muscles on your back, true back muscles and appendicular. True back muscles are arranged close and parallel to your spine, and are important for mobility and stability during movements. While these muscles will not be addressed in this workout, they should not be ignored for optimal health. Appendicular back muscles have attachments to your arms, and are the muscles that you would work to grow and strengthen. These muscles vary by angle, size, and strength, and should be addressed in that manner.



  • Cardiovascular warm-up: 5-10 minutes: on a cardio machine (or jogging).I typically use an elliptical, because of the moderate upper body  involvement.
  • Resistance band internal/external rotation: 2×30 reps each direction: Focus on slow and controlled movements throughout your entire range of motion. int-and-ext-rot
  • Light warm-up sets: 1-2 sets x  6-10 reps: You should perform a light warm-up set for each exercise, despite how warmed up you feel. This will not only warm up certain parts of your back that have not been directly stimulated through other angles, and will also help to familiarize you to the specific movement.


I. Deadlift: 4 sets x 5-12 reps: 2-4minutes rests.

Set-up: You will need adequate room, a flat and firm surface, and a barbell. For a conventional deadlift the set-up is broken down as follows:

FEET: should be slightly narrower than a squat stance, so about hip-width. The bar should be directly above your mid-foot (remember the shoe lace its above for consistency), and toes pointed SLIGHTLY outward (10-15 degrees).

ARMS: Close to the outside of your knees, grab the bar with two overhand grips (over under can be used if experienced). Your arms should be locked, do not lift with bent elbows. Think of your arms as pulling ropes tied to the bar.

CHEST/HIPS/LOWER BACK: Chest should be up so that you could see it in the mirror. Lower back should be straight/neutral/flat. Hips should be at the height most ego-heads stop their half-rep squats at, do not go so low that you’re squatting your deadlifts.

KNEES: Your knees should be naturally set at this point, assuming you have properly aligned everything else. If not, they should be at a 115 degree or so bend.

HEAD: Head should be neutral, look at the floor about 2-3 feet in front of your toes.

Execution: Begin by contracting your core. Then, pushing through your legs like a leg press  to lift the bar off of the ground with straightened arms, and upward chest, and a lower back remaining in a neutral position. Once the bar reaches about knee height you may use your glutes and hamstrings with SOME assistance from your lower back to straighten up. Lowering the weight should be done with the same force in a pattern of hip bending before knee bending. You should properly set-up before moving to the next rep, this may take some time as a beginner, but will speed up with practice and repetition.


  • Do not bounce the bar into the next rep, instead, reset properly.
  • Stay within your weight limit, push yourself only as hard as proper form allows.
  • Do not jerk or lean back to lockout, use your muscles and strict form to straighten upward and stand tall instead.

II. Close-grip Lat pulldown: 3 sets x 10-12 reps; 120s rests

Set-up: You will need a cable machine and a narrow grip handle. Set the leg pad to a height that will keep you snug and secured to the floor. Grab the handle with a firm grip, head narrow-handleshould be neutral, and chest should be slightly “inflated” in result from engaging your lats. Your body should be SLIGHTLY leaned back (look at example pic).

Execution: After contracting your core, pull the bar down until it reaches the peak of your upper chest. Aim for a strong muscular contraction/squeeze in your lat muscles, without excessive scapular retraction (shoulder blade pinching). Your elbows should be tight to the  side of your ribs, and your chest/upper back should still be upright with proper form. A controlled return should be almost half the speed as the pulldown with an emphasis on a controlled closed-grip-lat-pulldownlengthening of your lats. Stop just short of lockout to maintain tension on the muscles.


  • It helps to take a large inhalation of air to engage your lats on the return.
  • Momentum may be minimally implemented in a manner that doesn’t feel necessary to move the weight, but helps to create a rep rhythm or better contraction.

IIIa. Wide Grip Low Row: 3 sets x 10-12 reps; superset with next exercise.

Set-up: You will need a low cable pully designed for low rows and a neutral grip lat bar (see pic). You want to have your knees slightly bent, hips at about 90 degrees, and lower back neutral before beginning. I-2


Execution: Pull the bar to your body until you reach the point 1 inch in front and below your nipple line. The pulling motion should begin with your scapulae slightly retracting, then arm motion starting at your shoulders NOT your elbows. The bend at your elbow should be last, and created secondary by the shoulder motion. Aim for a tight contraction in your upper back at the area between both your shoulders and elbows.

wide-grip-low-row Your arms should be raised about 75 degrees from your sides (see picture), much like they would be for a push-up. The return should be controlled at half the speed, and stopped just short of lockout to maintain tension; repeat.


  • If you feel your arms are doing most of the work, lower the weight and focus more on the order of pulling movement discussed in the execution.
  • I typically exaggerate the contraction of this exercise for 1-2s seconds.
  • Keep your chest erect and your elbows up, if you find they’re dropping, you should lower the weight.

IIIb. Incline Bench Reverse DB Fly: 3 sets x 10-12 reps; 120s rests.

Set-up: You will need an adjustable bench set 2-3 clicks below completely vertical, and a pair of DBs. I would suggest starting with 5-15lbs and working your way up from there, no matter your fitness level. You will straddle the bench backwards, with your head just above the top, and arms with a slight bend hanging straight down.

Execution: Raise your arms up and out to your side while maintaining the same bend at your elbows and keeping your palms facing downward. Upon contraction, your arms should be either directly out to your side or slightly in front of your shoulders. The contraction should be focused just slightly higher than the previous lift with a slight db-reverse-flyretraction of your shoulder blade. Control the return until just before the starting position; repeat.


  • Unlike the low rows mentioned earlier, the motion should begin at your shoulders and end at your scapulae.
  • If your elbow angle increases or you fail to reach a good squeeze at the peak of the rep, the weight is too heavy, bro.
  • Do not expect to increase much in weight with this exercise. I have not seen clients increase more than 10-15lbs over their initial weight, no matter the starting fitness level.



The picture below has some recommend stretches to do following this back workout.

Do each stretch for 2-3 sets of 10-20 second holds.

Back stretches
Back stretches (click to enlarge)


Kyle Blair, BS Exercise Physiology, CPT, SPT


God gave you another day, and another healthy workout.



Workout of The Week 1/18/16: Tri and Keep Up

Cover image: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Pre-note: Whether you call them pythons, guns, weapons of mass destruction, or pipes, there is no questions that a pair of well developed triceps are crucial for a great set of arms. The actions of the triceps include elbow extension and shou-

i-1 (click to enlarge)

lder extension. The muscle is made up of 3 parts, hence the “tri” portion of the word. These parts are the long head, the short head, and the lateral head, which are arranged in a horseshoe-like pattern (i-1). Each portion is targeted through different movements, so a solid workout should consist of overhead, underhand, pushing, and extension (isolation) movements. You should note that the triceps are indirectly worked during any pressing exercises such as bench press, military press, etc.. Therefore, this should be factored into recovery time.




Cardiovascular machine- 5min-10min: A treadmill, bike, elliptical, stair master, rower, etc.  A slow to moderate pace is sufficient. Focus on breathing technique.

Resistance band / thera-band extension warm-up: 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps

tricep ext.
Thera-band triceps extension



Light warm-up sets: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with very moderate weight. This will familiarize the movement, and bring blood to the arms







Set-up: You will need a bench with a barbell. Use a smith machine if you do not have spotter. Your hand grip should be slightly narrower than shoulder width. It is important not to go too narrow, as this places unneeded stress to the wrists.

Execution: Begin by placing your feet flat on the ground and your hands in an appropriate position (as discussed above). After you lift off the bar, pause for a second to feel out the balance. Slowly descend, much like you would while benching. Some people prefer elbows to be tight to the sides, however, I prefer them to be 4-5 inches away. I feel this better activates the triceps. Unlike the bench press, you do not need to touch the bar to your chest. Instead, stop 2 inches short. Then press the bar up, until just short of lockout.

close grip press

Close grip triceps bench press



Tip: This is a compound exercise, so I would suggest going slightly lighter than maximum. This will help you to focus on the triceps as the prime mover, and not the shoulders and chest. To further isolate the triceps, mentally imagine the triceps being the only muscle straightening the elbows as you are pressing the bar up.






Set-up: You will need a barbell or ez-bar (curvy bar), and a decline bench. Stay modest at first, and feel it out; the last thing you need to do is actually crush your skull (hilarious, I know). Your hands should be shoulder width apart.\

Execution: To begin the movement, bend your elbows and lower the weight towards your head in a slow and controlled motion. During the lowering motion, slightly allow your upper arm (triceps part of your arm) to rock back. If done correctly, the rocking motion should allow the bar to end above your head at the bottom of the motion, and


Decline BB skull-crusher


not your forehead. Then reverse the exact same motion, and straighten your elbows until you feel a solid triceps contraction.


Tips: Rocking the arms back slightly does not only improve the stretch and muscle activation, but reduces the stress to the elbows alike. Which leads me to the next point- avoid this exercise if you have elbow tendinitis. It is important that you keep your wrists neutral (straight), as well.

PRONE TRICEPS KICK-BACK: 3×10; super-set with next exercise

Set-up: You will need a bench, and 2 dumbbells. I would advise getting a lighter set of dumbbells to introduce the movement. Lay your body prone on the bench (belly down), with your upper arms tight to your rib cage.

Execution: Once you are positioned as instructed above, you are ready

triceps kickback

Triceps kickback


to begin the movement. In a controlled manner (no swinging!), straighten your arms simultaneously until the dumbbells are even with your hips. Emphasize a good contraction with a 1-2s isometric hold at the top, then return to the starting position in a controlled fashion.


Tips: It is crucial that you do not swing and/or use momentum, this is not an ego lift by any means. I could probably do this movement with 45lbs, but I would get much less triceps activation. Instead, I use 15-25lbs, and feel a much greater pump/burn.


Set-up: You will need a cable pulley and a small handle attachment. Set the pulley to the highest setting, and a weight that is moderate (don’t expect to stack it lol). Grab the handle in an underhand position, while keeping your chest and head up.

Execution: Once you are positioned as instructed above, you are ready to begin the movement. While keeping your wrist neutral, extend the arm until you feel a solid contraction of the triceps muscle. Much like the previous exercise, it helps to hold the


1 arm reverse ext.


squeeze for 1-2s. On the return, only allow your arm to reach slightly more than a 90 degree bend.


Tips: I don’t think there is a triceps movement that better hits the medial head. Keep your head up, because you cannot drop the chest with a raised chin. Also, if you have trouble keeping your upper arm still, try holding it in place with the opposite arm. Lastly, if you have a left and right triceps imbalance, begin each set with the weaker/smaller side.




The triceps are great to pair with: chest, shoulders, or biceps.


  • 3-5 repetitions per stretch
  • 10-20s second hold each


You had another healthy workout.


Kyle Blair


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