“No, Rick, you have to get your fingers and your palms all the way over the bar, or you’ll work your biceps more than you work your back. Look at the way the scapula abducts when the palms are rotated high over the bar. There, see that? See how the scapula flips out?”
The scene I’m describing took place during our recent hands-on workshop at the Doubletree Hotel in Salt Lake City. We were concentrating on proper scapula rotation while doing pullups to really hit the back. Rick Bulbuk from Glendale, California, was acting as guinea pig for the demonstration while I explained the movement to the other workshop attendees.
“All right, now that you have your hands in place, Rick, let your body hang down completely. Don’t start to raise your body yet. I want you first to adduct the scapulae.”
That’s when I turned to the audience for a moment. ‘Rick is a practicing chiropractor, so he is familiar with the difference between adduction and abduction,’ I explained. ‘But for those of you, like me, who have a hard time with the terms, just remember that abduct means to take away.
“So abduction means to move the scapula away from the trunk. Conversely, adduction means to bring the scapula in close to the body. All right, Rick, adduct your scapulae. That’s right, bring them in as close to the body as you can.”
“You mean like this?” he asked, as he partially rotated his scapulae into position.
“Almost, Rick. Here, let me get hold of you while you try it again. All right, pull in your scapulae,” I said as I grabbed hold of his scapulae and actually twisted them into their proper rotation pattern. “That’s it; make yourself as narrow as possible before you even start lifting your body up to the bar. Now, with your elbows held all the way back, arch your upper body and slowly lift yourself up to the bar. Try to touch your chest to the bar if you can. If you can’t touch the bar, don’t worry about it, just keep your body in an arched position with your scapulae held in as tight as possible’and keep your elbows back. Now, right at the top, throw your scapulae and your elbows forward.”
“Well you kind of got it,” I said encouragingly after his next try, “but if you don’t keep your elbows back, you won’t be able to throw them forward at the top. That is the crucial stage of this exercise. Throwing your elbows forward and the subsequent abduction of the scapulae puts your back through its entire range of motion, which in turn causes the lower lats to develop so well.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by throwing the lats forward,” Rick said.
“Here, let me show you again.” I got in position on the bar and did a few reps, showing again the complete isolation of the back.
“Okay, I think I got it. Let me try again,” Rick said.
“Larry, I think he’s leaning too far back at the top of the movement,’ said Dave Dondero, a longtime friend and Bio-Phase client. ‘That’s why he’s not able to fully throw his scapulae forward.”
“He is? I didn’t notice. Rick, Let’s see you do it again, and let me watch more carefully.”
Once again Rick wrapped his chinning straps around the bar, placed his palms and thumbs over the bar and proceeded to attempt the proper form. The beginning was good, and both of his scapulae were rotated all the way in. He slowly pulled himself to the top, but he wasn’t able to throw his lats forward in the way I wanted.
“Rick, maybe this will help: Forget all about the scapulae. Just think in terms of your lats. Right at the top of the movement, spread your lats as wide as possible. Then, while holding your lats out wide, slowly lower yourself down into the starting position.”
“‘Oh, I see,” he said. “Let me try it.”
We all watched him go through the exercise again. This time he got it.
When you told me I had to spread my lats as wide as possible right at the top of the exercise,’ Rick said, ‘that did it. It made the exercise easier to perform.’
If you learn to rotate your scapulae through their entire movement, it will more than triple your results from pullups. The weight of your body is holding them in a neutral position. Most of the time when we do pullups, we’re working biceps, with some incidental lat work. When we concentrate all our energy on the scapulae while doing pullups, we force the lats to do most of the work,’ I explained.
“If that’s true, why do you even bend your arms,” asked another trainee. “Couldn’t we accomplish the same thing just by hanging and rotating the scapulae, without bending our arms at all?”
Actually, that’s true, but we’re so accustomed to bending our arms while rotating the scapulae that it takes a lot of practice to get the entire movement without bending them. If you can get the correct movement while doing pullups, you can progress to hanging scapula rotations, which is one of the best exercises I know for building lower lats.’
I urge you to practice this rotating scapula movement in your training. You will feel the difference right away. It’s terrific. IM
Editor’s note: To learn more of Scott’s unique techniques and become Larry Scott certified, call 1-800-225-9752 or visit www.larryscott.com.