T Nation

Upper Back Activation, Pain

Hey guys.
Recently I switched to using one arm dumbbell rows as my main horizontal pulling movement. I did this because when doing rows I just cant get my back to active properly. I pull from my elbows, use a open grip, and try to pinch my shoulder blades together at the end of the movement. The next day I never experience any DOMS using light weight or heavy. I was starting to fear that I was not going nearly as much stimulation as my chest and would cause me to have unhealthy even growth.

Anyways, I pretty much was doing the one arm dumbbell rows the same was and was feeling it more in the biceps like usual. I decided it was practice that I needed. What I started doing is when I am at work or at home on the computer, or even sometimes when walking, I just make the rowing motion with one arm and practice activating the back muscles.

Now when I do the motion and concentrate on activating the muscle it activates alright, but with a unpleasant pain. I worked through this my last workout and my soreness has lasted about 4 days now. It isn’t a regular type of soreness that makes you think, “damn I did a good workout”. It is more of a tight, I need to be messaged soreness.

When I practice the motion it hurts. Its like there is no in between. I either go mostly biceps or I use a back that is flexing so hard it hurts.
This is so complicated to explain. If I haven’t explained something good enough please ask.
Thanks for reading

Try switching your position in one arm dumbbell rows to having the elbow out at 90 degrees from the body. I find that hits the mid back much more than keeping the elbows close to the body.

Try stretching the lats, chest and thoracic region before attempting to row. Also warm up with wall slides, band pull aparts or band rows. If its a soft tissue thing, a wall with a tennis ball can help get in there but remember to move your arm across your body to get the scapulae out of the way.

I’ve had that pain before myself on the left side when doing rows with focus on the mid back. I found that focusing on keeping the spine really straight, abs tight and glutes contracted slightly made the movement smoother without that pain each time I’d row. Perhaps attempt contracting your abs tight along with the glutes lightly then doing the rowing motion without weight and see if that helps.

Do you have a medicine ball? If you do, start rolling your upper back. If one spot feels really tight, roll the hell out of it.

As for activating your upper back, give these a try:

I did these on my livingroom floor w/ dumbbells.

If you want to hit your upper back try this. Put a narrow to medium, say under a foot, width two handed handle on a high cable. Make sure it will allow full stretch while right under it. Sit on the floor with your knees up under the seat if you have to.

Pull the handle down to where your wrists are right on your pecs while squeezing your shoulder blades down and back. It works best if you’re pulling down more than back which means try not to lean back very much.

As far as the pain, could be a strained smaller muscle.

Hey guys, sorry for taking so long to respond to your posts, I have been occupied with other problems in my life lately. Anyways, thank you guys for the ideas. Before reading your posts I had just done a chest and back workout. I decided to try doing the one arm rows supported on a bench instead of on my knee. I find it gets ride of the pain. Unfortunately doing them with the support of the bench brings my biceps into the movement much more heavily :frowning:

Could be an over use injury. I had this sort of problem when I was trying to work on getting a 1 arm chin up in the beginning of this year. Too much, too heavy, too often. It took about 5 weeks for the pain to go away fully.

I like Tiribulus’s comment. I have something to add. During the movement try to pull the handles apart. This will keep your elbows pointed out to the side and really help make sure that you are using your back to move the weight. This one exercise in which I really feel my upper back working. Make sure that your chest is out and spread.

[quote]Fitnessdiva wrote:
Could be an over use injury. I had this sort of problem when I was trying to work on getting a 1 arm chin up in the beginning of this year. Too much, too heavy, too often. It took about 5 weeks for the pain to go away fully.[/quote]

Thanks for your response. Interestingly enough it doesn’t matter what weight I use, I actually tried it with a 5 pound dumbbell and it produces the same amount of pain. 5 pounds to 45 pounds is all the same thing.