I decided to blog about this because it’s not a popular move – but boy is it effective.
I stole this idea when I was doing some research and stumbled upon it through a strength coach for a Major League Baseball team.
First, allow me to give some background info. Mid back weakness is a common problem spot in both everyday clients and athletes. The product of such weakness is poor posture, a sunken ribcage and even forward head posture. Doing wall slides and foam roller work may be good to prepare the tissue to be more relaxed, and encourage tall spine positions, but the muscles that surround the spine aren’t really being trained (at least not with appreciable resistance) to deem this a singlehanded fix.
Moreover, many upper back exercises, when done improperly, can shift plenty of the working loads to the upper traps and upper arms. Ultimately, this can exacerbate the problem a lifter is trying to fix.
Here’s what we need to know about training the mid back:
- It usually doesn’t take too much weight to zero in on the fibers we want to hit.
- The lower traps need much more activation than the upper traps in most people. They’re harder to hit due to muscle imbalances, and also due to the fact that movement patterns like rows and pulldowns only partially attack these bad boys.
- Force angles are everything. In harmony with my point above, making sure we hit the mid back hard definitely means we have to align things with physics in order to make it a success.
With that said, up until this point I was a large advocate of the Trap 3 Raise exercise that I learned through Charles Poliquin seen here:
I still love this move.
We have to remember the direction in which the muscles in question contract. The lower trap fibers attach on the thoracic spine, and the fibers travel upwards in an angled direction towards the shoulder (the upper trap fibers travel in the opposite direction, but again, we’re not focused on those for now). Trap 3 raises are effective in that the levering of the arm follows the path of the lower trap fibers as you progress through the movement.
To kick things up a notch, I like the Kettlebell Angled Press. There’s a lot going on here that the typical unilateral trap-3 raise doesn’t attack. First of all, the movement still takes advantage of the proper force angle, but encourages an isometric contraction of the shoulder retractors and postural muscles, since the bell is being held in close (in other words, you’re not allowing gravity to pull the bell down towards the floor, for the duration of the entire set). In addition, the lever arm created by the arms sliding forwards and outwards creates plenty of work for the thoracic spine extensors, while making sure the deltoids are less involved (since there’s no “raise” component to the lift. In the trap 3 raise, I’ve found that missing the technique on a few reps can allow the shoulders to jump in and initiate the “lift” pattern. With the KB press, there’s less room for that, since the delts would only get involved closer to the end of each lift, and not throughout).
Third, the fact that a kettebell is being used rather than a standard dumbbell is a big deal. The weight distribution of the bell makes the weight feel that much more daunting at the top of the force curve. It’s a subtle change, but it makes a big difference. Think about holding 10 pounds out in front of you with a dumbbell, then holding that same 10 pound dumbbell on a string so it hangs to waist level, though your hands are still outstretched at the same level and place.
My favourite part about the KB angled press is the fact that it encourages a rigid trunk and spine. Because you’re carrying the bell in both hands, the torso isn’t allowed to “rest” on anything. That activates many more muscles to encourage good, even spine posture through the entire back. As you go through the movement, it’ll ask a lot more of you to maintain good form.
Check out the video below to see me putting it into action early last week, with a mere 20lb kettlebell.
As you can see, a mere 20lbs was giving me the gears post workout!
To sum up, here’s the step-by-step on how to do this:
- Hold a light kettlebell by the handle as wide as possible. Use a neutral grip (thumbs should be highest, so hold the sides of the handle).
- Keep the bell in close to the chest by drawing the shoulders back. Then, pivot forward to a 45 degree angle by hinging at the hip.
- Make sure your spine stays long and tall; you should look like you’re in the position to do bentover rows. Remember to look down at the floor also.
- Start with the bell under your chest, and “slide” the arms up at the same angle your body has created. No higher, and no lower. You’ll really have to fight against gravity!
- Don’t do the movement too quickly. It’s a very specific movement, and it takes concentration to get it right. Speed doesn’t benefit you in this particular case.
- Maintain your angles. It’s REALLY easy to begin “standing up” as the set progresses and you become fatigued. Remember to stay low, and you’ll keep the same torso position you started in.
Use this exercise as a posture enhancer, or burn out with it at the end of your back workout. Either way, your back will definitely reap the benefits of the kettlebell angled press like there’s no tomorrow! All of a sudden, we’ve found use for the dainty light kettlebells on the rack.