Just The Tip: #2

Welcome to episode number two of Just The Tip – the hottest tips fresh out of the training oven. Today was the first upper body day of the week and as always, there were things worthy of sharing. Tomorrow is a rest day, so we’ll pick things up again on Thursday. Happy Tuesday!

It’s my birthday today, but at forty-nine it’s pretty much just another day! Still, I am grateful to be healthy and privileged to be able to workout, and my mission to be in the best shape of my life for my fiftieth continues unabated.

I’ve got another three things for you this morning:

  • Banded face-pulls forever
  • Don’t over-indulge
  • Standing DB biceps curl form check

Banded face-pulls forever

The face-pull is a staple in bodybuilding programs, and although there are many variations on the form, they all target the muscles of the upper back and help offset the overload of pressing that is rife across gyms. They are also incredibly good for overall shoulder health and work the muscles of the rotator cuff in addition to the delts and traps.

Most coaches program the movement on the cable station with the rope attachment. And in that set-up, some will advocate an overhand grip on the rope, while others prefer a thumbs-up grip. Again, both work, and these minor details can matter, but the key is finding a movement that works well for you. One where you feel the muscles of the upper back working.

Personally, I like to do banded face-pulls.

Assuming you are working the movement properly, starting the pull with a full retraction of the scapular down and back (think “into your back pockets”), the part I love about the banded face-pull is the resistance afforded to the separation of the hands.

So not only are we pulling the band back with our traps and rear delts, the force needed to separate our hands accentuates the load on the working muscles. This video gets pretty close, although I pull the band to my nose or forehead, and really work on the widening the hands to load-up that additional vector of resistance.

Three or four sets of 8-15 reps gets pretty challenging and is a great way to start your upper body workouts.

Give it a try, you won’t regret it!

Don’t overindulge

For a change, we’re not talking food here!

One of the more common pitfalls I see with people’s workouts is overindulging when a movement feels good.

You know how it is. Some days there’s just more in the tank. You feel strong, the movement feels “easy”. Time to crush it, right? Go ALL IN?

In short, probably not.

Of course the context matters greatly, but in general you want to extend your window of progress for as long as you can. And eating all your progress in this one session can leave you under-recovered for some other part of your workout, or even this same session next time around.

I have found that when I’m not greedy with my workouts, my runs of progression last longer and reach further than when I hog down all that progress in early sessions. We all plateau at some point in our workouts, but it’s a pisser when that’s week three – just because we were greedy for progress!

Take your time. Enjoy enough progress to keep things moving forward, but learn to delay your gratification.

Standing DB biceps curl form check

As with most exercises, there’s no one-way to perform the dumbbell biceps curl. There are a gazillion variations on this staple movement, and some craziness that no one should have to see. You looked, didn’t you. Sigh.

So look, I am not here to teach you how to pick a DB out of the rack and curl it. You already know how to do that.

You also know that this is a biceps movement, the two headed muscle that runs along the front-side of your upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow. Therefore, the goal of any biceps exercise is to feel that specific muscle working.

But here’s the thing, all the little details matter with these movements.

  • The hand placement on the dumbbell
  • Rotating (supinating) or not rotating during the movement
  • Rep tempo
  • Range of motion

It all matters.

For me, I am currently working the standing, alternating DB curl, supinating the hand during the movement (i.e. palms facing your sides at the bottom, rotating to palms-up at the top of the movement).

But to get a little more out of the movement and keep my weights low, I like to leverage body position to maximize tension on the muscle throughout the full range of motion.

Here’s what that looks like.

  • At the bottom (start) of the movement, lean back about 5-10º from vertical. This increases the ROM on the movement enough to maintain tension on the biceps in a position that would otherwise be a dead-hang.
  • As I curl the weight-up, I slowly lean-forward by 10-15º. This stops me from being able to get the forearm and dumbbell vertical (where all tension is lost) and maintain constant tension on the biceps throughout.
  • As I return the weight to the starting position, I gradually lean-back to maintain that tension before starting the movement on the other arm from our fully extended position.
  • Rinse and repeat.

Using this technique, I can make 20lbs feel like 35lbs and get a HUGE pump in my biceps.

Let me know your favorite DB curl variation and how you’ve adapted it to make it your own.

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