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Poor posterior limiting gains

Have you ever wondered what might be stopping your progress in the gym? Many ‘would be herculean adonises’ pound the weights room day in and day out, looking for the ever-elusive perfect physique often fall far short of their ideal shape. The images we are plagued with of guys with roman chest plate shaped pecs and perfectly sculpted abdominal muscles always seem such a pipe dream. So, what is it that’s stopping you from making the gains you really want?

For many newbie lifters, you are attracted to the more glamorous muscle groups to train in the early days and the less flashy muscle groups are neglected. No one ever comes up to you and tells you that you have a great set of hamstrings and lower trap development. the problem comes in after the initial gains cease. No matter how hard you train, your pecs and arms won’t get any bigger. In many cases the solution is merely a matter of balance.

Muscles can only pull, i.e. they can only shorten, they cannot lengthen voluntarily. A muscle has an action on a bone and often crosses over a joint. This allows it to move the bone to create a flexion or extension style movement. In order for that bone to move in the opposite direction it must have an opposite muscle to pull it back. These are called antagonist pairs and can be demonstrated by the biceps brachii and triceps in the upper arm. Biceps flex the arm and triceps extend the arm at the elbow joint. Simple.

Now consider that every joint has an equal and opposite muscle either side of the joint to create movement forwards and backwards. Both muscles need to be in harmony with each other or the joint gets effected. Let’s look at the pecs for example. They cross the shoulder joint and one of the movements they create is a horizontal adduction movement, in that they pull the upper arm inwards towards the trunk. The opposing muscles that create a horizontal abduction are the trapezius, rhomboid, infraspinatus, teres minor and posterior deltoid. If these posterior muscles are neglected and left under trained, they lack the size and stability to keep balance with the new larger pectoralis muscles. This has an effect that causes the shoulder joint to rotate forward. This shortens the distance between the insertion and origin of your pec which prevents it from stretching sufficiently to create effective contractions and trauma. without this, your pec will not grow as you simply cannot train it properly.

There are more knock on effects too. Chances are your front delts and pec minor will take over in your press movements and get injured easily, and on top of that, you’re likely to suffer from neck and upper back pain due to the fact your posterior muscles are constantly trying to pull your back straight, but can’t, as they are now long and weak. This is a common example of one poorly trained joint. There are many more examples such as; glutes and hip flexors, biceps and triceps, hamstrings and quads, calves and shins, wrist flexors and extensors, you name it, the likelihood is that there is an issue that needs attention.

This problem can be dealt with by training opposing muscle movements regularly, and, training both with the same volume and intensity i.e. you don’t favour one and leave the other to an afterthought. If you do 10 sets on chest movements make sure you do 10 sets on upper back. You could even consider an antagonistic pairs training session. Below is an example of how you could structure your training to make sure all muscle groups are being hit evenly which will keep the gains coming instead of stagnating. Some great exercises for improving your posterior muscles are; Dead lift, Romanian deadlift, pull ups, prone rear delt, low row, glute hip raise, back squats, dumbbell row, rack pulls, and hyperextension. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few tried and tested movements that will get you on the right track.

Session 1 : Chest, upper back and rear delts

Session 2 : Quads, hamstrings, and glutes

Session 3 : Biceps, triceps, front/middle delts and lats

Session 4 : Calves, abs, lower back

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