T Nation

Tweak Tips on Exercises?


I wanted to check in a couple different exercises/tweaks and the thoughts about them within the T-Nation community.

Planks - Along with Deadlifts and Squats, I am using planks to rack my core. I was wondering if it is better to go for longer time increments, say 3 minute holds, or to add weight to my planks by having some one place a plate on my mid back. Thoughts?

Shrugs - I have cut upright rows out of my shoulder days due to the overwhelming conclusion around here that they are the devil, and was wondering what the best substitute for them would be. I've started with smith machine shrugs with the bar behind my back but am game for anything. Thoughts?

Using Straps - I have been holding off using straps on back days as long as possible because of some rumors I've heard about straps, but I am pretty sure that to step up in weight I am going to need some help holding onto the damn bars. Thoughts?

Rows and Close Grip Pull Downs - On back days I do both rows and CG Pull downs along with 3 other exercises (WG Pull downs, Face Pulls, Body Weight Pull Ups 2 X Failure). Is doing rows and CG Pull downs overkill? Should I be subbing something else?

Any good advice would be great, and I might have some more questions to add later. Thanks in advance.



I see nothing wrong with upright rows; they have their place.

On straps, I would avoid them as long as possible, until you find that your grip strength is truly limiting your lifts. The only way to get a stronger grip is to work it along with the rest of your muscles. Try mixed grip, etc. instead.


I do heavy DB upright rows where I start with the DBs together in front of me with a slight lean forward and shoulders rolled back with scapulas retracted. As I start to pull upwards,I lead with my elbows out to the sides as I straightened up mu torso until my elbows are parallel with the ground and the DBs are even with to just outside my shoulders. I like to do these heavy with just a little body english. I do these for traps/upper back but I think they strongly work the side delts too. They are a hybrid upright row/ high pull with DBs- works for me.


Thanks for the advice forlife and bwhitwell. I do love upright rows and haven't really found anything that rivals them, and haven't had any problems with my shoulders even with weight above 135 lbs, so maybe I'll get back on 'em.

When you say mixed grip, do you mean trying that on everything, like rows and pull ups? or are there specific instances. I am 5'11" 175 lbs and am doing pull downs at 210 with some grip strength problems. Does this sound normal for my size or do I just need to put some time in on grip strength?


Mixed grip is good for heavy vertical rows, deadlifts, etc. For pulldowns, have you tried using a supinated grip (palms up)? Most find that to be easier than pronated since it uses your biceps.

If you're 5'11 and only 175 pounds, it sounds like what you really need is....FOOD.


Mixed grip is just for deadlifts (and axle cleans). First of all try using chalk - it can make a surprising amount of difference in grip. Failing that you can try the hook grip or try adding in some grip work (from reading around deadlifts from a deficit and thick bar work have the most carryover - I can't confirm as I haven't had any real grip trouble yet). Alternatively just squeeze the hell out of that bar and wait for your grip to improve along with your rows/pullups/deadlifts.

This is the bodybuilding forum though so if your grip is holding back your back development then go ahead and use straps and just add in some forearm work.

If you're set on doing planks then a better alternative to weight is a harder variation (1 arm planks, elevated feet)

I know absolutely nothing about upright rows so I won't comment there. As for your back work I really like deadlifts but it is possible to build a big back without them. You do have a lot of exercises for back, do you find your intensity drops off on the fourth or fifth exercise? You could safely drop one of the pulldown variations and in the grand scheme of things I don't think it matters which one you choose.


He asked about specific exercises, the answer to every question isn't to eat.


Thanks for all the help, I love this community.

I have been using mixed grip for my deadlifts, and will continue to do so. The reason I don't like the supinated grip for pull downs is because my biceps are already one of the stronger parts of my body, and I don't like using them to cheat on my back, if that makes any sense.

Also, the food comment is logical, the only reason that I am low right now is that I just returned home from a 3 week trip to Russia that robbed me of almost 13 lbs.


What would you suggest as better alternatives to the plank? Most of the literature I have read on this site says its one of the key staples of core development (along with deadlifts and squats).

Also, thanks for the deadlift suggestion, I already do those twice a week and love 'em. As for the drop off question, I don't really experience a drop in intensity, but then again maybe that's because I am used to it. If you could only do 4 back exercises, but with extra intensity, which would you choose?


Upright rows hurt my shoulders, but did UR cause the problems, or did I have poor mobility/flexibility and shoulder pain is just a symptom? I don't know. But any exercise that causes joint pain - end the set immediately. A lot of guys say UR are problematic but everybody is different.

With straps, I used them a lot in the past, and my grip strength wasn't great. So I started training with no straps ever. My grip has improved for sure. But now I believe that using straps on your heaviest or hardest sets is a very good idea (for me anyway). Otherwise, your grip is a limiting factor for your entire body, pretty much. For example, with shrugs I can do about 10 reps with 225, before my grip starts to fail. With no straps I can shrug 315 for a couple reps. When I strapped up I could shrug 315 for 10... that's a huge jump in weight. So not only will my traps benefit directly, but traps are an important structural support for every other exercise (curls, bench, military press, deadlift etc). A strong base of support positively affects everything. Using straps for my shrugs, I expect to accelerate my gains on other exercises. My grip will indirectly benefit from handling more weight on other exercises (just handling heavier bars is helpful for grip strength, even in exercises like bench press IMO). General strength increases will increase the loads on my grip.

And then there is the whole-body anabolic effect you get from handling heavier weights on exercises like deadlifts and shrugs. It's going to carry over to your entire body (including grip, ironically) just as a whole-body general anabolic/growth hormone stimulation. So I would recommend training without straps as heavy as you can, but when you get to the heaviest sets where your grip is now causing you to lose reps, bust out the straps and continue from there. IMO don't let grip strength limit the speed of your progress.


Those movements are different pathways/planes of movement. Pulldown is a vertical pull, and rows are a horizontal pull. If anything could be considered overlap, it would be that you're doing multiple variations of pullups/pulldowns/chins. I'm not saying your program has too much vertical pulling (maybe, maybe not) but you definitely want to keep rows in your program. If you're thinking of eliminating a back exercise because of redundancy, you don't have an excess of horizontal pulling in your routine, IMO.


How are people NOT using straps ?

As long as your not competing in Power Lifting then why not use them ?

My Deadlift - Shrugs would be WAY less if i didn't.


Thanks for the strap advice, I agree and think that is a great idea to avoid using them until my heaviest sets, and then bring 'em in then for a little help at the end.


Great point and clear way of explaining it, thank you. Are the only back exercises that involve horizontal pulling just different variations of the row? If not what else is there? and if so what are peoples favorite variations on the row beside DB single arm rows and machine rows?


There are T bar rows, Kroc rows, bent barbell rows at various angles, chest supported rows and probably others I've missed. I like pretty much all the row variations but I probably use the bent row the most (I'm in no way huge though).

My 4 back exercises would be a deadlift, some kind of row, some kind of pullup/pulldown variation and then change the 4th depending on any weaknesses (for example if back width is lacking you could add an extra pullup/pulldown variation, lacking traps then you can put in some shrugs). You can sub the row and pullup for other variations when progress stalls excessively. The deadlift can be subbed with rack pulls, snatch grip deads, romanian deadlifts or any other variety you happen to like. Just stick with each variation until progress completely stops before changing. As far as exercise order goes thats pretty much up to you and what your focus is on.

As far as alternatives to the plank go I prefer non static ab work such as weighted sit ups, hanging leg raises(personal favourite), lying leg raises with a dumbell, inverted situps, DB side bends and standing ab pulldowns. Some people like static ab work, some don't, there's no harm in doing both.


Love it, tomorrow is back day so I'm going to take some of these tips to heart. As for ab work, I prefer to stay away from crunches in all forms because of the dangers they pose to the spine and the fact that I already herniated 2 discs playing collegiate lacrosse.


Also from a nutrition standpoint I was wondering if there is anything simple (BCAA's, Glutamine, Leucine, etc.) that I should be adding to my peri and/or post intake. Currently I eat steel cut oats with berries and a whey isolate shake (Isoflex) before my workouts (40g Protein and 40g Carbs), and a whey blend shake (Nitrean) after my workouts usually with fruit and some brown rice (40g Protein and 60 Carbs). Thoughts?

Also, I have to eat mainly gluten free, so bread and pasta are out of the question.

Let me hear it, what can I add to my peri and post?


I dont really get what the questions are?

1) Skip the planks, and do front squats and/or some kind of rollout.
2) Heavy db rows (kroc rows), high pulls, DB snatches are all as good as upright rows and shrugs, just pick one or two.
3) Straps - Use them for deadifts, kroc rows, and shrugs any time they will allow you to do more weight (Its much better to do 10-20% more on all of these exercises and then add in a set or two of barbell static holds at the end of the workout to strengthen your grip.)



Look in Christian Thibadeau's forum, he seems to be onto some cutting edge thinking re: workout nutrition. But right off the bat I would consider leucine, creatine and Vitamin C. There is a specific thread in CT's forum that explores this topic in depth.


Thanks for all of the advice, sorry to throw in the nutrition questions there in the end, I guess I got ahead of myself.

So I think the conclusions are that straps are good when lifting heavy

Planks are fine, but that there are other exercises such as squats that can rack your core

Upright rows aren't the devil for everyone, and for those the do suffer from them, there are plenty of other options (kroc rows, high pulls, DB snatches)

Sounds great y'all, if there are any more comments on this set let me know!