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Top Chest & Back Exercises for Toning, Mobility, & Resilience

The concept of long muscle length training for hypertrophy (muscle growth), improved mobility/flexibility, and improved resiliency to injury has previously been discussed here. Training at long muscle lengths, and through a full range of motion is typically the best way to train outside of special circumstances. Here are some of my favorite options for the chest and back.



  • Pull-ups/Chin-ups: These bodyweight exercises are great for back development and allow for a full stretch at the bottom. Just make sure to fully let yourself hang at the bottom. You can modify them with different grips (wide, narrow, neutral, mixed) to bias different parts of the back, as well as using bands to help assist if you can't yet do a full pull up. (back movement)

  • Lat Pulldowns: Very similar movement and benefits to pull ups/chin ups. You can vary attachments and grip position to bias different areas of the back. The most important part is to get a full stretch at the top of the movement. (back movement)

  • Dumbbell Rows: These offer a wider range of motion than barbell rows because your arms can move more freely. Make sure to allow the arm to stretch as much as possible at the bottom of the movement, allowing the shoulder blade to protract forward. Focus on feeling the shoulder blade retract/squeeze toward your spine rather than focusing on the arm to get the most out of these. (back movement)

  • Cable Rows: Similar to DB rows, but the ability to be done seated, 1/2 Kneeling, or standing, as well as the ability to use a variety of different grip attachments. Again, make sure to allow the arm and shoulder blade to reach as far forward as possible. (back movement)

  • Dumbbell Pullovers: Focus on keeping the elbows fulling extended and allowing your arms to stretch as farm overhead as possible. These can be done with two separate dumbbells, or with a single dumbbell. (back and chest movement)

  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: Dumbbells allow for an increased range of motion, putting a larger stretch on the anterior delts and pecs. Try to allow the hands/dumbbells to sink below the shoulders (as close to the ground as possible). Pick an angle between 1-30 degrees for best results. (chest movement)

  • Dumbbell Fly: Keep your elbows as straight as possible. Allow your hands/dumbbells to drop straight out to your sides, trying to get them as close to the floor as possible. (Chest movement)

  • Dips: Dips place an emphasis on the lower chest (pec minor) the anterior deltoids, and the triceps. Again, focus on getting as deep as possible, with the shoulder joint getting below the elbow joint.


Tips:

  • Focus on form and control: Don't sacrifice form or range of motion just to increase weight. Work on maximizing range of motion and having perfect control for at least 6-10 reps before considering adding weight.

  • Full range of motion: Hold the stretched position for 1-3 seconds to really maximize the mobility and resiliency benefits of long muscle length training.

  • Progressive overload: Gradually increase the weight, reps, range of motion or sets over time to keep challenging your muscles.

  • Keep it pain free: Long muscle length training has the potential to irritate certain joints. Focus on maximizing range of motion, but it must be pain free. If you feel pain, decrease the load being used until the pain is gone. If the movement is painful even without weight, limit range of motion and consult a physical therapist.

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list. You can find variations of these exercises and explore other options. Consulting with a certified trainer can help you design a safe and effective back workout routine.

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