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Tips of the week Development of the back muscle

Tipps der Woche Entwicklung zurückliegenden Muskel

How you can build up a muscle that is behind in its development

How you should not proceed

When it comes to compensating for a weakness in muscle development, most exercisers will simply do more work for the lagging muscle: more sets, more reps or an extra training session. However, this approach can come at a price as it can affect your recovery and therefore your overall body-wide gains. Ultimately, your body only has a limited capacity to adapt to new demands.

Adding more exercises and more work to your training program should always be the last strategy you use to compensate for a weakness...and you should only use this strategy when all else has failed. Instead, follow the path of least investment to solve problems with unbalanced development.

The smart way

Look at your training program and see if there is a way to modify it to address your problem without adding more volume. Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Modifications to some exercises
  2. A switch to a few other exercises
  3. A change in the way you perform your repetitions
  4. Additional isolation training
  5. An additional training session (but only as a last resort if all else fails to achieve the desired effect)

Step 1

The first thing you should consider is making slight modifications to some of the exercises you are already doing. For example, if your quadriceps are lagging behind in their development, then you could try raising your heels when performing squats. You could also try taking shorter steps when performing lunges and split squats. If your triceps are too small, you could try using a slightly tighter grip on all your press exercises.

Step 2

The next step is to take a closer look at your exercise selection. Can you use alternative exercises that put more stress on your lagging muscles? For example, if your quadriceps need more training and you are doing traditional squats and deadlifts, then you could use front squats and deficit deadlifts (standing on an elevation) with a wide grip (keeping your torso as upright as possible) instead. If you are doing lunges, you could use Bulgarian split squats instead.

Step 3

If this is not enough, you can take the next step to solve your problem: change the way you perform your repetitions so that they put more strain on the muscles that are lagging behind in their development. For example, if you are doing squats, you could use a 2 second pause in the 90 degree position to increase the work done by the quadriceps. If you want to emphasize the load on your chest more, you could use one and a half repetitions on the dumbbell bench press instead of regular repetitions.

Step 4

If even this isn't enough, it's now time to go one step further up the 'investment scale' and increase the volume. Remember, however, to always look for the path with the lowest investment. Do not add another heavy basic exercise to your program at this point.

Instead, choose your favorite isolation exercise for the lagging muscle group and perform 2 to 3 sets to muscle failure at the end of the training session. Focus on the quality of the contractions - don't even count the reps, just keep going until you can no longer contract the muscle hard enough to move the weight.

If this doesn't get you the results you want, do this exercise at the end of 2 to 3 training sessions per week.

Step 5

If all else has failed (which it almost certainly won't), then you can add an additional training session to your training week during which you focus on the lagging muscle group.

Build your leg flexors by training with the front foot elevated

Achieve better results in Romanian deadlifts and good mornings by elevating the front part of your foot with the help of weight plates

By Christian Thibaudeau


Romanian deadlifts and good mornings are often referred to as the best exercises for the hamstrings. The problem with this, however, is that they also heavily involve the lower back and this muscle group tends to do most of the work for most exercisers. This is especially true if the leg flexors are lagging behind in their development. Your body will always shift the tension to the strongest muscles involved in an exercise.

The trick with the weight plates

If you want to maximize the involvement of your hamstrings in good mornings and Romanian deadlifts, you can use the following trick, which is based on a simple biomechanical principle: the muscle that is stretched the most is the muscle that is recruited the most.

With this information in mind, a very simple way to achieve more growth in the leg flexor area is to raise the front of the foot by one to three centimetres during these exercises.

To do this, simply place the front third of your feet on a small weight plate or other elevation. This puts your leg flexors in a more extended position and increases their recruitment. You also move the shear point to the back of your feet, which increases the recruitment of the posterior muscle chain.

Notes on performing the exercise

You may notice that your range of motion decreases compared to regular Good Mornings and regular Romanian deadlifts. This is perfectly fine. Ultimately, you want to achieve maximum tension in your hamstrings and the actual range of motion is less important than achieving this tension.

If you want to maximize the recruitment of your hamstrings, don't focus on going as far down as possible. Instead, focus on pushing your hips as far back as possible while feeling maximum tension in your hamstrings. Use the lower back primarily as a stabilizer and not as the primary muscle for the actual movement. Concentrate on letting your hamstrings do the work.

Lift your elbows at the end of a curl movement

To build bigger biceps you need to train all three functions of the muscle. This is the forgotten function

By Christian Thibaudeau


For a long time, I used a shortened range of motion for curls. I believed that it was important to keep the biceps under constant tension, so I avoided going all the way up during the movement. Then Paul Carter convinced me to try performing the last part of the curl movement: the shoulder flexion. When the arm is fully tensed, you finish the movement by rotating the shoulders upwards, which moves the elbow upwards.

Good curl form with raising the elbow

The biceps have three main functions: the flexion of the upper arm (the curl movement) the outward rotation of the forearm (which is the reason I prefer a straight bar) and a shoulder flexion (an upward rotation of the shoulder that raises the arm). Therefore, it makes sense to finish a curl movement with a shoulder flexion.

But in the past, I always felt like I would lose the contraction if I did this. Why? Because I moved the shoulders up during the shoulder flexion and the trapezius came into play. However, the shoulders should be rotated upwards and not lifted. Therefore, you need to work extra hard to keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down. Don't let the trapezius come into play.

If you don't feel a stronger biceps contraction, then you are doing something wrong and need to learn how to perform the exercise correctly.

Skip the useless sets and train smarter

Is half of your training session worthless? This tip will show you how to recognize the useless part of your workout and put together a better training plan for muscle gains.

By Christian Thibaudeau


I often see people doing chest workouts like this:

  • 3 sets of bench press
  • 3 sets of dumbbell bench presses
  • 3 sets of bench presses on the Multipress
  • 3 sets of bench presses on a machine

The problem? These exercises are all more or less identical. You are training the same muscle group in all exercises using the same angle and the same movement pattern. Your training is redundant.

But not only that - in 6 out of 12 of your sets you are using inferior exercises. These 6 sets are what I call "garbage sets". You would be much better off choosing exercises that train different angles or ranges of motion instead of using redundant exercises. Here's a better plan that avoids this common mistake.

Day 1: Back and deadlift

  • Exercise 1: A variation of the deadlift
  • Exercise 2: A variation of the horizontal row
  • Exercise 3: A variation of the vertical row
  • Exercise 4: A variation of the shoulder blade lift (shoulder lift, high pull)

Day 2: Chest and shoulders

  • Exercise 1: A variation of the flat bench press
  • Exercise 2: A variation of the incline bench press
  • Exercise 3: A variation of the overhead press
  • Exercise 4: A variation of the side lift/front lift

Day 3: No training

Day 4: Biceps and triceps

  • Exercise 1.1: A variation of a curl exercise with a neutral grip (hammer curls)
  • Exercise 1.2: A variation of the close grip press
  • Exercise 2.1: A variation of curls with an underhand grip
  • Exercise 2.2: A variation of the tricep press with free weights
  • Exercise 3.1: A variation of curls with overhand grip
  • Exercise 3.2: A variation of the cable tricep press

Day 5: Legs

  • Exercise 1: A squat variation
  • Exercise 2: A variation of a one-legged leg exercise
  • Exercise 3: A variation of hip extension (Romanian deadlift, good mornings, etc.)
  • Exercise 4.1: A variation of the leg extension
  • Exercise 4.2: A variation of leg curls
  • Exercise 5 (optional): A calf exercise

Day 6: Chest and back

  • Exercise 1.1: A variation of the chest press (flat bench, incline bench or reverse incline bench)
  • Exercise 1.2: A variation of the horizontal row (cable pull)
  • Exercise 2.1: A variation of flying movements with dumbbells
  • Exercise 2.2: An exercise for the rear shoulder muscles (bent-over lateral raises, reverse butterflies, etc.)
  • Exercise 3.1: An isolation exercise for the chest muscles on the cable pulley or on a machine
  • Exercise 3.2: A variation of the shoulder blade lift

Day 7: Training-free

If your goal is to become more muscular and look better, then the above program will work great if you make the right exercise choices and train hard.

Use a "thumbless" grip on the bench press

This type of grip can eliminate shoulder and tricep pain during heavy bench presses. And yes. This grip is safe if you're not an idiot.

By Christian Thibaudeau


Use a thumbless grip (the thumb is next to the fingers instead of hugging the bar) when bench pressing to eliminate shoulder and tricep pain. This grip allows you to place the bar slightly lower in your hand - slightly more directly over the forearm bones - and rotate the elbows more easily.

The use of a "false" or thumbless grip is controversial. Many exercisers are afraid of dropping the barbell, which can have a very negative effect on the integrity of the skeletal structure. Others argue that because you can't grip the bar hard, you will only perform sub-optimally as you can't benefit from the radiation effect (a hard contraction of one muscle leads to a better contraction of the surrounding muscles).

However, through experimentation I have found that the thumbless grip has many advantages, including less strain on the shoulders. I noticed years ago that bench pressing with a thick bar was less stressful on my shoulders. Why? Because the thick bar forced me to use a thumbless grip.

With a regular grip, your hands turn in slightly, which automatically forces you into a position of internal shoulder rotation. This means that the "natural" path of the movement when lowering the bar includes a flare of the elbows. This puts stress on the shoulder joints and when you try to pull the elbows towards the body, you generate a lot of leverage in the elbow joint area. So you're either increasing the load on the shoulder or the elbows, both of which are bad.

By using a thumbless grip, you can easily maintain a more neutral position, which reduces the load on the shoulders without increasing the leverage on the elbows - ultimately resulting in less stressful bench presses.

Try to get used to a thumbless grip if you are prone to shoulder or elbow problems. Start fairly light for 2 to 3 workouts to get used to this grip and give your body 3 weeks to see how it responds.

But you will all die!

As for safety, I would like to mention that I have been using this technique for years in several workouts a week and have quite small hands. I use this grip on thick bars (5 centimeters in diameter), very thick bars (7.5 centimeters in diameter) and regular bars and have never been in a situation where I would have been in danger of losing control of the bar. The same applies to all my clients and athletes.

I'm not saying it can't happen, but honestly anyone who isn't a complete motor idiot can use this grip safely. A potential accident would likely happen due to poor form that comes from using weights that shouldn't have been used in the first place.


By Christian Thibaudeau

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