In life, a fresh start is very often all we need. Many people move to a new town to find the environment which suits them better. Others will go back to school, upon realizing a new career field is the fresh start their lives need. Some people start new relationships, new jobs, or new hobbies in an ever-evolving quest to find a new path, resulting in greater personal growth, in physique terms. The world is full of choices, new opportunities, and new paths we can follow.
Unfortunately, training in the gym doesn’t always provide the same wide variety of options at our fingertips. If you want big muscles, and if you wish to enjoy super-human strength, then you are going to have to train with very heavy weights. There are only so many ways a weight can move, and only so many angles that a machine can be used to replicate. Given the fact many lifters back away from the machine training predominantly, as it doesn’t recruit all of the same stabilizer/support muscle groups, it stands that a very small list of training options exist if the goal is to target our major muscle groups.
However, there is one movement which you can start to use FIRST in your back day training protocol, which may provide you with a distinct advantage over the results you’ve been seeing with your standard back day training system. Let’s dive in!
The Straight-Arm Pulldown is a movement you may have never used before. In 2016, this exercise saw a resurgence in gyms across the southeastern United States, as trainers began to realize this very fairly obvious movement, focusing upon the tenet of internal muscle group tension, can deliver results that weights alone cannot.
The free weight, in all its glory, has a very distinct relationship with gravity, being that the earth tends to pull the weight straight down. Cables allow for a brief respite from that very narrow arc of pull, giving the lifter a pretty distinct and noticeable advantage in terms of hitting back muscles which aren’t quite parallel with the planet’s center pull of gravity.
Completing the movement is easy. Find a cable pulldown station in your gym, even if means you have to wait for the perpetual cable crossover guys to finish their set. Once you have the station free, move the cable attachment to the highest setting. You’ll want to pull the weight down from very high above. Use the split-rope cable attachment, which will allow your hands to grip the weight as you distribute the workload evenly between the sides of your body.
Stand in about 4 feet back from the cable connection, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your body facing the machine. Grab the handles of the rope pressdown attachment, and bend your upper body at a 45 degree angle facing the machine. Stick your backside out just a bit. You’re working to isolate and target the muscles of the back in a continuous flexion, so you’ll be using your hands more as hooks than anything else.
Keeping your arms completely straight – very little elbow bend – pull the weight down from overhead to a point where your hands are back behind your rear end. This is a VERY wide range of motion exercise, and one which will require slow, concentrated repetitions. Each repetition should take 3 seconds on the pushdown (positive), and 2 seconds on the negative.
Many lifters utilize the pre-exhaust method for their muscle training as a way of isolating their targeted muscle group using an isolation exercise, before pummeling them with a heavy compound exercise. This assures the trainer that the intended muscle group is working at its maximum capacity during the heavy compound movement, as it’s already been “pre” trained during the isolation movement. The straight-arm pulldown delivers exactly this effect, hitting the latissimus dorsi with highly targeted isolation and flexion.
You can use the straight-arm pulldown by itself for 3 to 5 sets as a way to effectively “light up” the muscle fibers of the back with isolated targeting. You can also use it as part of a compound set. Stack up straight-arm pulldowns to isolate the back muscles, then immediately move to a set of body weight pull-ups, or barbell rows.
The second movement will involve the arms, shoulders and hips a bit more, but the back will already be afire as a result of the straight-arm pulldowns to which is was subjected first!
We’re all on an ever-changing and evolving journey in the gym. We train using the same basic movements, in pursuit of the same basic goals. However, now and then, we can discover a new path available to us, and we owe it to our future maximized potential to embrace these opportunities and hit the gym, intensely using these new ideas as a way to target our muscles for greater growth and performance than we’ve ever achieved before.
The straight-arm pulldown is one such movement. Use it to start your back day for eight weeks, and record the improvements that you see as a result of specifically targeting your lat muscles in an isolation manner before using the proven compound exercises. Good luck!