The Mistakes You NEED to Stop Making
Mistake 1: Too much momentum!
The very first mistake is easy to spot. And that’s using too much momentum on your back exercises.
Most people think that this only happens with cable exercises like low rows or lat pulldowns. But don’t be mistaken. You can definitely use too much momentum during regular barbell rowing and pullup movements too.
Is it okay to use momentum?
Using a little momentum is okay, especially by the end of a set.
If you’re using too much momentum, you’ll mostly be using your lower back instead of your rhomboids and lats, thereby defeating the exercise’s purpose and increasing the risk of back injuries.
You’re much better off using a lighter, manageable weight while performing the exercise.
The same concept applies to performing partial reps. During these, you’re not extending your arms fully at the end of each rep. This is especially common with something like a pullup.
Let’s say you can’t do the exercise right because there’s too much resistance. In that case, you should lighten the load so that you can perform the exercise correctly.
Mistake 2: Pulling with hands instead of elbows
Another mistake that so many people make is pulling with their hands rather than their elbows. They do this on their rowing, pulldown, and pullup exercises.
If you make this mistake, instead of working the back muscles, you primarily working your biceps. Although the biceps are involved in most compound back exercises, the back should remain the prime mover. The biceps assist the movement.
One of the best ways to do that is to concentrate on pulling with the elbows. So for all of your bent-over rowing movements, pull your elbows towards the ceiling. Then for all of your pull down and pull up movements, try to pull your elbows back behind you and down.
Something that has helped me a lot is rather than taking a regular grip, I like to loop my thumbs around the bar whenever I’m doing pullups, lat pulldowns, or rows.
When I do it this way, it helps me use my hands more like hooks rather than gripping the bar really tight, and that allows me to concentrate more on pulling with my elbows.
Please note, you can try this, but it isn’t required. For example, suppose you’re uncomfortable performing back exercises with that grip. In that case, you can still target your back with a regular grip.
Mistake 3: Not retracting shoulder blades
But another mistake that goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned is not retracting the shoulder blades before beginning back exercises. This is again something that will prevent you getting the results you’re after.
Before beginning any back exercise, pull your shoulder blades back and together. Imagine that you’re trying to hold a pencil in between your shoulder blades throughout the entire exercise.
The problem is that most people spend the majority of their day hunched over. There are a variety of potential reasons for this. For instance, perhaps you have a job requiring you to sit at a desk or steering wheel. Maintaining bad posture daily makes the rhomboids in the back overstretched and weak.
To counter this and activate the muscles responsible for retracting the shoulder blades, grab a resistance band from both ends, holding it straight out in front of you while maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. Open up your arms like you’re doing a reverse fly. Then, at the end of every contraction, externally rotate your arms by turning your thumbs up.
You’ll want to do this because when you’re hunched over a lot, not only will your chest become tighter while your back becomes weaker, but your arms will begin to internally rotate as well. So you can do this exercise for a couple sets before starting your back workouts to help activate those muscles.
Mistake 4: Not maintaining the natural lumbar curve
The next big mistake that’s especially common for beginners is not maintaining the natural lumbar curve with bent-over rowing or deadlifting movements. This puts excess stress on the lower back and leaves you very susceptible to a lower back injury. It’s also a terrible habit that you want to fix because it’ll carry over to how you lift other objects off the ground even when you’re not in the gym.
Now luckily, some of the tips that we already discussed will help you avoid this. Just by pulling your shoulder blades back, it’ll make it a lot harder to slouch so much while rowing or deadlifting.
But another cue that can really help you is to focus on sticking your chest out.
By focusing on maintaining a big chest, you’ll be a lot less likely to allow your back to slouch forward while also getting a more effective back workout.
Now it’s important to mention that even with a big chest if your form is off elsewhere, you’ll still be more likely to round your lower back.
For example, some beginners will try to keep their legs fully locked out while doing bent-over rowing movements. And when you do it that way, once your hamstrings start getting too tight as you bend further and further down, your lower back will have to compensate for you to be able to get down any further. So make sure you have a slight bend in your knees when performing rows as well.
Mistake 5: Using supportive accessories
Another mistake is using supporting accessories such as belts, braces, and straps all the time.
Unlike the other mistakes, this won’t prevent you from building up your rhomboid lats and traps. But besides these external muscles, you also have to worry about deep tissue internal muscles, stabilizer muscles, as well as your grip strength.
One deep tissue muscle that’s very important to keep strong is the transverse abdominis. Its job is to pull your core muscles inward and to brace the core.
When you perform regular deadlifts and bent-over rowing exercises, not only will you be strengthening your back, but you’ll also be strengthening your deep tissue abdominal muscles like your transverse abdominis.
What’s the issue?
However, if you only do these exercises with a belt, the belt will be doing all the work for your transverse abdominis since the belt will keep your core drawn in. So while you’re building up strength and lifting more weight with your back, your transverse abdominis isn’t getting stronger.
One day, if you forget your belt, you’ll be a lot more likely to get an injury since you haven’t functionally trained your muscles. This can also happen outside the gym if you have to lift something heavy off the ground and you don’t have your belt on you.
Same thing with straps. If you always use straps, you’ll miss out on one of the primary methods you can use to improve your grip strength.
Suppose you’re constantly wearing knee braces or elbow braces. In that case, you won’t be improving the strength of the surrounding stabilizers, which can actually increase your chances of injury when the braces come off.
Can supportive accessories be used?
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can never use this equipment. On the contrary, belts and straps can make it possible to lift heavier and heavier loads that would be impossible to safely and effectively lift without them.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also incorporate plenty of moderately heavy sets that lead up to your heavy sets without using the supportive equipment for those relatively heavy sets.
You can also do full workouts where you don’t use any supportive equipment to help keep your stabilizer muscles strong.
Mistake 6: Performing exercises incorrectly
Let’s move on to another mistake that you’ll usually see on lat pulldowns.
When you perform a lat pulldown, you want to bring the bar under your chin but not lower than your upper chest. Once you get that low going any lower will no longer be working the lats. Instead, you’ll probably be using relatively weak rotator cuff muscles that are responsible 4 internally rotating your arms.
Obviously, this can lead to an injury. It also will prevent you from using heavier weight since you won’t be able to get that low without going lighter. Trying to go that low will also limit lat activation because it’ll cause you to pull your elbows forward in front of you rather than keeping them out to your sides.
To prevent this from happening, try pulling your elbows back behind you and don’t go lower than your upper chest when performing lat pulldowns.
Mistake 7: Not incorporating a variety of exercises
Next, we have the general mistake of not switching up your exercises and not incorporating any variety.
Of course, exercises like deadlifts, barbell rows, and pullups indeed are some of the best that you can do to build up your back. But you should also incorporate other exercises that allow you to target your back from unique angles and in different ways.
Exercises like face pulls, unilateral cable pull downs, and long angle dumbbell rows can all be very effective at targeting the back differently.
Repeating the same exercises over and over again will eventually lead to your body adapting to them and you hitting a plateau. A great way to prevent this from happening or break a plateau if you’re stuck at 1 right now is switching up your exercises every 4 to 6 weeks.
Even switching from a regular barbell row with a pronated hand position to a reverse barbell row with a supinated hand position can help you target your muscles differently.
Also, suppose you perform the same exercises repeatedly. In that case, there is a genuine issue you can run into, known as pattern overload, which will increase your risk of developing an overuse injury. So make sure you’re switching it up.
Mistake 8: Not incorporating unilateral exercises
Another mistake along the same lines is not incorporating any unilateral exercises.
Again it’s easy to stick to things like deadlifts, barbell rows, and pullups since they’re such effective compound exercises for your back. But every workout should also have some unilateral work that isolates one side at a time.
This is because if you’re always performing exercises with two arms, one side can get stronger than the other and can start compensating, making that other side even weaker. This can lead to disproportionate muscle mass on your back and on your arms.
One of my favorite unilateral exercises is the long angle dumbbell row which is performed just like a regular dumbbell row except you keep your arm opened up at a wider angle, aiming to bring the dumbbell back towards your hips. This targets the back of your shoulder in a way that’s going to be very difficult to do with a barbell.
Regular dumbbell rows are great, too, as well as unilateral cable exercises. All of these will prevent you from having one dominant side over the other.
Mistake 9: Not finding the correct balance of isolation work
The last and final mistake I want to go over is doing too much or too little isolation work.
Suppose your workouts are made up of mostly isolation exercises instead of the major compound exercises that we’ve been talking about. In that case, you’re going to have a tough time adding thickness to your back.
You’ll also find it a lot harder to overload your back exercises progressively since isolation work will require you to usually use a lot less weight.
With that said, if you’re not doing any isolation exercises, you’re going to have a lot of trouble with lagging muscle groups that aren’t keeping up with other muscles that might have grown faster.
For example, a lot of people have lagging lats. And pullups are great to help you build up those lats, but if they’re still not growing, incorporating exercises like straight bar pulldowns and pullovers can really help your lats catch up to the rest of your back.
If you’re having trouble with the back of your shoulder or if it’s just not proportional to the front and side of your shoulder, doing isolation work with exercises like reverse flys can really help as well.
What is the right balance?
Even though everyone is different and some people will need more isolation work than others, you want about 80% of your workout to be focused on major compound lifts like the rose the pullups, and the deadlifts, and about 20% of your workout to be focused on the exercises that isolate parts of your back.
So those are the nine major mistakes that I see a lot of people making with their back workouts. I really hope this has helped you out.
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