T Nation

Back Contraction Problems


#1

Hey guys,

I'm having problem contracting my back. Some workouts I feel everything in my back, get a wonderful pump and pull great weight. The next workout I feel one side of my back and not the other, I'll have pain in the trap on the side that I do feel (right side) and my other trap (left side) will feel non-existent. I've tried pull downs, pull-ups with pauses, pull-ups going half way down and back up again, it's seems as though nothing will work.

The strangest part is that there are no visible differences in the musculature of my back it just feels extremely fucked up. I'm thinking that I'll try barbell rows for a while to try focusing on scapular contraction on both sides simultaneously instead of one handed work which has made up most of my back routine.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.


#2

One thing you can do to see if there is an imbalance is to record yourself from the front view to see if you have a tendency to move to one side or twist.

Why do you feel pain in your traps? Your shoulders should be down the entire range of motion when pulling, not up. You shouldn’t be shrugging the weight during a deadlift. This leads me to believe that you aren’t using your lats properly. Not bracing the lats and abs properly can lead to muscle imbalances as well since these muscles resist any twisting motion. When I didn’t know how to use them properly, my right erector spinae would consistently be more sore than the left side and my body would rotate during a heavy squat or deadlift. The loading evened out once I learned how to brace myself.

You need to learn to actively use those muscle while performing the movements. Strengthening them outside the lift doesn’t guarantee you will use them correctly when it matters. It seems you have engaged them correctly in the past by accident. It shouldn’t take long to learn to actively do it.


#3
  1. Establish a better MMC. IMO, this can be accomplished best via one-arm pulldown work (Hammer Strength pulldowns are perfect for this). The trick is to reach across your body with your free hand and place it on the lat that’s doing the work.

Use this hand to feel the muscle contracting, and while doing this, experiment with little tweaks to your form (eg, try elbow out a little more; elbow in a little more; change your posture slightly; etc), and see how they affect lat contraction. In no time you will be very in-tune with your lats.

  1. Lighten the weights. Whenever I lose the ability to feel an exercise in my lats, it is inevitably due to the fact that I let my ego dictate the load.

#4

[quote]YouDefineSuccess wrote:
I’m having problem contracting my back. Some workouts I feel everything in my back, get a wonderful pump and pull great weight. The next workout I feel one side of my back and not the other[/quote]
If you feel the back working on some days and not on others, I’d lean towards a technique issue and/or too much weight like Dentist said.

But pain on one side and not the other could indicate a possible pinched nerve or something similar. Pretty weird.

Have you tried starting workouts with stiff-arm pulldowns, kayak rows, or a similar type of isolation exercise?

Any strength difference between sides?

It could also simply be that you’re fatigued when you get to the second side, reducing your ability to perform maximally. Do you always start one-arm exercises with the same/strong side? If so, flip it and start each set with the “off” side.

[quote]EyeDentist wrote:
The trick is to reach across your body with your free hand and place it on the lat that’s doing the work. [/quote]
I love this technique and try to use it whenever possible. 1-arm curls, pressdowns, and laterals; standing leg curls; seated calf raises; side bends. Pretty much any time I can reach/touch the working muscle without interfering with technique. Makes a huge difference.


#5

@lift206 When working on a high row machine I try to keep my chest on the cushion but I may be coming back more on one side, I’ll take more careful note of that the next time I lift.

@eyedentist I’ve been trying to keep a hand on my back when doing one arm exercises and I usually have difficulty feeling my upper back as opposed to my lats. And I’ve been trying to hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds on every rep.

@Chris I think you’re spot on with the pinched nerve but I tried barbell rows yesterday, playing around with weight and grips and I have FINALLY felt my left trap again (it’s killing me today) so I’d say that the BB rows were a huge success but we’ll see over the course of the next few back workouts. As for the strength differences there aren’t any, whichever side I start with does well and the second side always suffers due to a little fatigue, but other than the pump and mind-muscle connection which waivers occasionally they’re the same.

But I’m hoping that I’ve finally got a hold on things with the BB rows now.

Thank you for your time and advice!


#6

I found it helpful to wear straps with all of my backwork. Made it real easy for me to “pull with my elbows” when I had essentially removed my hands from the equation. Might be worth giving a try.