By Sascha Teems, Creepshow Physiques
One of my favorite sayings is, "Everything goes back to the squat." Think about the squat for a moment. Pending no knee or hip issues, the squat usually fails because of a weak back. Failing meaning, coming out of the bottom position and rounding the back and leaning forward too far. If this happens to you, one of two things happened:
- You have too much weight on the bar,
- or you have a weak lower and mid back.
Of course, technique in your squat is a big factor. But, let's say that you think your form is textbook and you just cannot keep from rounding (catting) your back. You might have set yourself up for failure with years of training the upper body, especially on back days, with sloppy form. If you are rounding your mid back when you are training your back, you will never develop the true strength required to get you out of the bottom of a deep squat. We call this the "lower back in, chest high" training philosophy.
Try to think of your back work as being done in the same position as when you are in the bottom of a deep squat. There should be no rounding of the mid back on any back exercise. Even while performing lower back extensions on a machine for example, your chest should be high and your lower back should be in (like squatting). Here is a video. Although it sometimes seems uncomfortable to be sitting in this upright/good posture on this machine and others, with proper form, you are building back strength and perfect posture.
You will find many examples of bad form on back day. Lets take the T-bar row for example. Many lifters position their upper torso really high with a rounded back and they sling the weight up. They are bending their knees and using momentum to pull the weight. This is not proper because it does not look like a squat. Remember, back exercises should put your body in the same position as the squat. This will make sure all areas of your back have that natural arch that mirrors the proper squat position. It will slowly build back strength over time even on non-back days. You can just call it good posture if you want.
Let us get even more specific with improper back training and talk about the deadlift:
The deadlift lines your body up exactly like the squat except for how you are holding the bar. Hips back, lower back dipped in, and the mid chest line should be visible in the mirror. If you cannot see your nipples while doing a squat or deadlift, you are catting (rounding the back) and have lost your natural arch. Do not be afraid to lighten up all of the weights in all of your exercises until you can keep your mid back from rounding. This will keep constant tension on your lower back. Do not be alarmed. This is your body’s natural position and it will slowly get stronger and more normal feeling.
Get in this mindset on your next back day. "Am I looking like I am squatting?" If you can get your back training to look like a proper squat, you will be more successful when you have the cold steel piled on your traps. Keep pumping that good iron.
Photography: Gustavo Alfaro