There are more than a few ways to work your posterior chain (any muscle on the backside of your body): reverse dumbell or cable fly, deadlifts, and lat press downs, for instance. But a big one—perhaps the best “bang for your buck” exercise for this region—is pull-ups. This exercise is excellent for back development. Pull-ups recruit a great amount of muscle fibers and give you extraordinary benefit in a short amount of time. This should be a part of any successful training program. With the bar above your head, your body uses vertical pull mechanics to perform to exercise. Pull-ups can be performed assisted with a band, on a machine, or with bodyweight as the resistance. If you need more weight to make it more challenging, you can always throw a dip belt on your waist or use a weighted vest or backpack, but this is a rather advanced approach. Regardless, pull-ups are essential to build a functional body and they are a great benchmark to display your pound-for-pound strength. Let’s explore this dynamite exercise a little further.
The primary mover (the biggest amount of muscle fibers recruited) when executing a pull-up is the latissimus dorsi (lats), which are your split big-wing-looking muscle on your back. They can expand out and under your armpits which can give you a wide look. The “lats” can’t complete this exercise solo, though; there are quite a few different secondary movers (following the primary movers in assistance) that kick in to stabilize and execute the vertical pull motion. Secondary movers involved are the teres major, rear deltoid, bicep peaks, rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor), obliques/erector spinae (core muscle), and finally, as weird as it sounds in a pulling motion, your pectoralis major and triceps. Holy smokes, that’s a lot of muscle contraction going on! Now you can see why this exercise should be used in any successful workout plan: It can deliver a big benefit in a short amount of time.
How to perform
Starting with the bar above you, reach up if you’re on a box or jump up to the bar. There are many different grips and widths, but let’s stick with a standard shoulder-width supinated grip (palms facing away). Once you’re on the bar, set your shoulders down: They should not be elevated at any time while engaged in the exercise. Letting your body all the way down will take tension off of your back, and we want the time under tension (TUT) to be as great as possible. Keep your chin up (I like to pick something up above to look at) and pull your body up to the bar. Make sure you get that chin over the bar or it doesn’t count. Also, get that bar as close to the top of your chest as possible. Then, in a controlled movement, return to the starting position slowly. Don’t forget to keep your shoulders down throughout the exercise and don’t go to a dead hang. If you arrive at a dead hang with your shoulders up, good luck completing another rep. It’s hard to pop out of the bottom and get your momentum going up! Another tip: Think about your back. I know it sounds strange, but there is something to be said about mind/muscle connection. Do your best to not engage in mindless lifting; instead, think about what you are doing and your objective.
What’s the point?
Having a developed back is key to maintaining a well-balanced, functional physique, and it will help you in the field. It gets overlooked because it can’t be seen in a mirror. Frequently, people like to train only what they can see. Having a strong back not only keeps your posture in the proper position (shoulders back) it is the main driver when trying to pull anything toward you or pull yourself up to something. A couple of good examples might be pulling yourself up onto your tree stand platform, drawing your bow straight back with ease, or dragging a deer out of the woods.
Two other added benefits that come along with training your back are bigger biceps and improved grip strength. Who doesn’t want bigger arms and a more pronounced handshake? These types of big-muscle exercises are also great for the added calorie burn they provide: They require more energy during the movement while also taking more to repair when the work is done.
One final tip
If pull-ups are out of reach for you right now, don’t worry about it. Start with pull-downs and build your strength that way. You can perform pull-downs with bands or on a machine.