Build A Better Back

Men's Health |

The test


Isometric what? Remember the phrase, because it just might be the best gauge of your weight-room ability. “I’d estimate that 80% of men can’t pass this test the first time they come to my gym,” says strength and conditioning specialist Joe Dowdell.
Dowdell uses the test to measure the strength endurance of the rhomboids and lower and middle trapezius; these back muscles pull your shoulder blades down and together. A failing grade means you probably lack sufficient scapular stability and may have poor posture. Both problems can cause weak performance in nearly every upper-body exercise, including the bench press and arm curl.

Start here

Secure a bar in a power rack about a metre above the floor and place a bench a few feet in front of the rack. Grab the bar using an overhand, shoulder-width grip and place your heels on the bench. Now hang so your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your head. Your head should be at the same height as the bench. (If it’s not, adjust the bar.) Brace your core as if you’re about to be punched in the gut and tighten your glutes.

Now test yourself

Without bending your arms, squeeze and tighten your shoulder blades. Hold them that way while continuing to keep your core and glutes tight. Start counting. This is your moment of truth.

You pass if . . .
You can maintain this exact position for 30 seconds. Think about pulling your shoulders away from your ears; hold it.

You fail if . . .
Your shoulder blades drift apart too soon. (If you can’t keep your body rigid at all – say, if your hips start to sag – your core is giving out too early. Move the bench inwards so it’s just above your knees, and try again.) If your grip is weak, use a pair of straps for the test, but then you should also work on your grip strength.

Fix the problem

Use the inverted row to improve your result. Set up as before, but this time
bend your elbows and pull your chest to the bar. Once your chest touches the bar, pause for 1 second. Then take 3 seconds to lower yourself back to a dead hang. Do 3 sets of 10 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets. Do this 3 times a week for 4 weeks, then test again.

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