Written by Charles Glass
Bodybuilding’s Ace Trainer Solves Your Training Problems
1) Big Back Attack
This is a novice question, but I was hoping you could help me out. When people speak of training for back thickness versus training for back width, what does that mean? What muscles of the back constitute thickness, what muscles of the back constitute width— and what exercises are usually used to emphasize thickness versus width? Thanks a lot!
You really can’t totally categorize any muscle or muscles of the back as being strictly responsible for thickness, because as a general rule any muscle will become thicker as it grows. But typically when we talk about back thickness, we are referring more to the spinal erectors of the lower back, the rhomboids and the trapezius, which actually starts at the back of the neck and inserts midway down the back. You can’t have a thick back without thick lats either, of course— but we tend to talk about the lats more as being the muscle that contributes more to back width.
For thickness, I like to have my clients perform barbell rows, one-arm dumbbell rows and rack deadlifts (I feel pulling deads from the floor not only involves the lower body more than we want, but over time many trainers do build thicker midsections from them as well). Free-weight rows are the best for overall back thickness, but cable and machine rows also have their place. The key is to squeeze the lats hard and release slowly for a full stretch. Just pulling the weight won’t be anywhere near as effective.
For width, nothing beats wide-grip chins. Pull as high as you can, and try to touch your chest to the bar even though most people don’t have that much shoulder mobility. Wide-grip lat pulldowns are also very effective. Stretching the lats also seems to help improve width. At the end of your back workout, sit down at a lat pulldown station and let the weight stretch your lats in the top position of a rep for a full 60 seconds. Just be sure that you don’t totally relax your shoulders, as it can lead to injury with heavy weights.
2) Delt Training: Get a Grip
I want to try wide-grip barbell rows for side delts. What about shoulder impingement regarding the closer grip, as I’ve been warned about? I personally don’t feel any pain or discomfort with a close grip, but I don’t want it to lead to any injury down the road. Is it easier on the shoulders with an EZ-curl bar? Or should I use dumbbells for increased range of motion?
First of all, close-grip barbell rows mainly work your traps— so unless traps are a special concern for you, you should be fine-training them with various shrugs. The wide-grip upright row is excellent for the side delts, done either with a barbell or dumbbells (really a matter of preference and which one feels best for you).
Any type of upright row can lead to shoulder impingement if you consistently pull too high. Lead with the elbows and pull until the side delts are fully contracted. Depending on your particular structure and arm length, this could be anywhere from the bottom of your pecs to your upper chest. I see some guys pulling the bar up to their eye level, and that will definitely set them up for shoulder issues eventually.
You should experiment with lighter weight until you really get the form down and feel them where you want to. With a bar, you can use a straight bar, but most trainers do feel less wrist strain with a cambered bar.
3) Cardio on an Empty Stomach?
You’ve talked about using cardio for fat loss many times before. What do you recommend, a steady rate the whole time, or HIIT style where you alternate sprints with more moderate-speed periods? Also, does it matter whether you have carbs in your system during a cardio session in terms of how much fat your body will burn?
I’ve tried them all, and it’s safe to say that no one style of performing cardio is dramatically more or less effective at burning fat than others. Many people do love the interval style— but it seems like a lot of them lose muscle mass, especially in the legs, as they get leaner. My guess is that it might be due to them doing that demanding style of cardio on an empty stomach. Most of us have been doing cardio in a fasted state for many years, as we found it to be highly effective for burning fat— though new research is showing that we might have been better off doing it with carbs in our system all along. If you are going to do your cardio on an empty stomach, you can’t go wrong with longer sessions at a moderate intensity level, such as a very fast walk on an inclined treadmill. The risk for losing lean muscle mass is much lower.
4) EZ-curl Bar Not So Hot for Biceps Growth
I’ve heard that using an EZ-curl bar “cheats” your biceps out of growth as opposed to a straight bar, because your hands are already supinated and you miss out on the supination. My issue is that the straight bar KILLS my wrists! Should I still use it anyway?
The short answer— yes! The biceps don’t just flex the arm (bring the hand closer to your shoulder), they also supinate your hand, or rotate the thumb away from your body. I do have some suggestions to eliminate most, if not all, of your wrist pain. First of all, get some wrist wraps or supports. These will keep the wrist stable. Next, drop your wrists down slightly as you curl to put more stress on the biceps and less on your wrists. Finally, do your barbell curls last in your biceps routine, so that your biceps will already be fatigued and you won’t have to go as heavy. Most guys start off with barbell curls so they can handle the heaviest weight, and over time it often leads to issues with their wrists and biceps tendons.