The traditional seated cable "high" row, pulling a lat bar high to the chest, with the elbows raised out to almost shoulder height is a great movement to build the upper back. The rhomboids, mid/upper traps, and posterior delts all get hit. The high pull is a great functional movement as well as a good accessory lift to powerlifting, and for any sport where powerful pulling and upper back strength is critical. Bodybuilders have used it as a staple for decades. The PROBLEM comes with the shear forces placed on the lower spine with heavier loads. Without getting medical-journal-complex, the mechanics of the lift put a lot of pressure on the lower back, in form of shear. The vertebra above tries to slide forward off the top of the vertebra below... OUCH. For people with healthy lower backs, this can be controlled by using a lower weight and proper form, keeping the chest high and head still, not rocking/stretching forward or back, and tightening the core. Unfortunately, if your back is already damaged (like mine), you cannot load enough weight on the stack to force growth, without overloading the spine.
One solution is the dumbbell variant in the previous blog post below... and another, using a Smith Machine like I did today. Plenty of weight to grow with... ZERO low back strain/pain.
The BEST option is a flat bench, raised on two steps or boxes to a height great enough for a full range of motion of the row. But in a gym full of people, this is a decent alternative.
Unsupported... Too LIGHT for growth with a bad back.
Supported... HEAVY weight for growth.
One important element for growth in all muscle groups is to train/load the muscle in both shortened and lengthened ranges of motion. Most exercises simply train the "middle" range of motion, but don't overly load the ends of the range. The biceps muscle is critical to train both shortened, and lengthened, as the origin of the biceps is up in the shoulder joint (crossing two joints), not on the upper arm. When the shoulder is extended (to the rear), the biceps is stretched to its longest position. When the shoulder is flexed (forward), the biceps is shortened. In my last blog post below, I showed cable curls from a lengthened (pre-stretched position) doing the "drag curl" from behind, shoulder extended to the rear. In the "vanity curl" with the elbows raised, and forward, the biceps are shortened.
With dumbbells, the same effect can be achieved with a seated incline bench curl (lengthened), and a prone dumbbell "spider curl", with the shoulder hanging forward (shortened). Videos of these two...
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