Your body is designed to adapt, so you need to learn to trick your body, always keep your body guessing. Also, changing up the routine will prevent boredom.
I maintain a training log, which allows me to track my progress and plan my workouts for the following week. Go into the gym with an idea of the exercises you plan to do (you should do this with all your training sessions). If you train at a commercial gym during busy hours, keep an open mind to altering up the order of your exercises or possibly having to replace one exercise with another. I have a day job and must train at night, so I have to keep this frame of mind.
If you train at home or a small private gym and don’t have to worry about others, you may also want to incorporate circuits (i.e., selecting three-five movements and doing all movements in one circuit, resting, then repeating for generally a total of three circuits). I think full-body circuits are great for the new person getting back into the gym. Isolated circuits (hitting one muscle group) are great for muscle fatigue. I don’t get the opportunity to do circuits because I hit the gym during the busy hours.
As previously mentioned, I maintain a training log allowing me to track progress and plan my workouts. When you’re planning your workouts, take the following into consideration:
1. What have you done over the past three-five weeks? If you’ve hit your back with really heavy weight, you may need to lighten the load and “deload” meaning take a week to let your body recover from the heavy weights by doing one week of light weights and more volume.
2. What is your objective? Do you want to build a stronger back, are you planning to compete in a bodybuilding show or powerlifting meet, or do you simply train for health and looks (nothing wrong with that)? Your training routine must correlate to your overall goals. Both bodybuilders and powerlifters have periods in which the objective is to build overall mass and/or strength, followed by periods of leaning out and dieting (or deload/recovery for a powerlifter), which requires a different approach in one’s training at very specific periods. Everyone has different approaches in training, and I’m not saying my approach is the correct approach, I’m only here to explain the approach that works for me. I am a firm believer that one must have periods of lifting heavy weight for fewer reps (e.g., 5-10 rep sets depending upon muscle group) in order to build deep, dense muscle mass. Pushing, pulling, or lifting heavy weight means you need to push yourself, you need to feel like that 10th rep was really hard to get. Growth comes from this, push yourself! Examples of the types of sets I do on a back day may include:
a. Heavy sets of 10 reps per set, three to four sets total.
b. Drop sets – I may reduce the number of reps with each drop and reduce the amount of weight too or I may reduce the number of reps but increase weight for each drop. I generally do two to three total sets with three to four drop sets within each total set (each drop will include 15-25 reps).
c. High volume sets of at least 20 reps, three to four sets total. I may go light or moderately heavy depending upon if I’m dieting.
d. Straight sets, increasing the weight with each set, consistent number of reps for each set, three to four sets total.
3. If you’re new to the gym or have limited experience with all of the various machines in the gym, you may want to consider contracting with a personal trainer for a few sessions to learn how to use the equipment. Also, one of my favorite books of all time is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. This book is great for any person new to weight lifting who wants to lift weights and build muscle. http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Encyclopedia-Modern-Bodybuilding/dp/0684857219
4. Your diet is key to your overall objectives. Calories must be significantly higher during periods of building mass and lower as you’re leaning out. If you’re lifting weights for health/looks (or you’re in off season with no show planned yet), take into consideration your training. For example, you may want to take in more calories on a leg workout day assuming you’re pushing yourself and lower on a day you may be doing arms only. Some people may disagree with this approach, but I like to stay relatively lean year round and have used this approach when I’m not planning to compete in a show or meet. If you can afford a trainer who has expertise in nutrition and diet, I would recommend you consider spending some money on this person. I use a virtual trainer for my contest preparation, attribute my success to his great knowledge and would recommend him to anyone. I don’t need a person overseeing me at the gym, I need a person who can look at my pictures and know how to tweak my diet and alter my training for success. I would be more than happy to give out his contact information if requested.
A good commercial gym will have a number of back machines that will enable you to get in a good workout.
Some of my favorite exercises include the following:
1. Standing Straight Arm Lat Pulls: I like to warm-up with this exercise focusing entirely on my lats to do the work by keeping my arms straight and knees slightly bent. I have also found that I can get a greater stretch if I increase my forward lean and have the bar travel above my head.
2. Bent Over Rows, T-Bar Rows or Dumbbell Rows: With this exercise, I will alternate my body angle (70 degree and 90 degree angles) and will also alternate my hand positioning (with the exception of Dumbbell Rows). I do this because every different body angle hits a different area of the back as does the hand positioning. Play around with this by feel, and you’ll quickly learn the areas of your back each various position hits. I tend to do at least six sets of these rows alternating on angle/hand positioning to hit all areas I want to hit that day.
3. Hammer Strength Iso Lateral Low Row Machine: We have two different ones at the gym I go to, so I try and alternate between the two since the hand positioning differs with both and hits the outer back a little differently with each. I will do two to four sets depending upon how I’m hitting the machine (heavy, drop sets, high volume, light weight).
4. Hammer Strength High Row Machine: We also have two different ones at the gym I go to, so I try and alternate between the two as the hand and beginning position differ with both so it hits the mid center back a little differently with each.. As with the low rows, I will do two to four sets depending upon how I’m hitting the machine that day (heavy, drop sets, high volume, light weight).
5. Pull Ups (pictured left): These aren’t my favorite but are a must in building your lats and building strength in your back. If you’re a powerlifter, pull ups are equally as important in building your bench. Use the Pull Up Assistance machine if they have one in your gym so you can begin to build your lat strength. Once you can do 10 reps easily, adjust the assistance weight downward.
6. Row Machine: You may have a Row/Rear Delt Machine and/or a Row Machine with both neutral grip/barbell grip hand placements. Both are seriously great machines in hitting the center back. Unless your dieting or deloading, this is an exercise you should go heavy for at least 10-15 reps per set and also alternate your hand grip position.
7. Chest Supported Rows: This is also a great exercise in building your back. I will attach handles to the bar too (partly because I can’t reach the bar on some machines and also because it makes you work the muscles harder to remain in position). Some machines also have attachable bars allowing you to use a close grip or wide grip – yes, it hits the muscles differently when you vary up your hand position (I think I’ve said this a lot already).
8. Hammer Strength Behind Neck Pull Downs: If you don’t have this machine at your gym, you can also do this exercise on the cable machine. Again, it just hits another area of the upper back that no other machine can hit.
9. Hyper/Low Back Weighted Machine: If you have both at your gym, alternate between the two. Many people either ignore or forget to hit the low back – we need to hit all areas of the back for beauty, strength and brawn! Conventional deadlifting requires a strong lower back. If your low back is weak, you will fail at PR attempts. You can add a band to the Hyper to get more tension (you’ll feel the burn doing this).
10. Shrugs: You can either use dumbbells, barbell or the shrug machine at your gym. I like super-setting between the close grip and wide grips to hit both the inner and outer traps. This is another exercise you should go heavy to build strong, big traps.
11. Good Mornings: This is a great exercise in building back strength. It’s best to do this exercise with the bar suspended on chains or bands, so it may not be an exercise you can readily do at your local gym. If your gym allows you to bring in chains/bands, this is another one of those exercises that will hit different areas of the back depending upon where you set up the suspended chains/bands. Seated Good Mornings is another variation and removes the legs entirely out of the movement requiring you to solely use your back.
I hope you find my methods informative and helpful. Play around with the machines to find a height/angle that works for you. I welcome your questions – we are all growing to achieve something and can learn from one another.