Blowing up your back is rewarding if you want a balanced, strong upper body, but it can get old, since there are only so many row variations you can try before you get so bored you turn around to focus on your front.
Make things a bit more interesting by challenging the whole muscle group with this super tough finisher from Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. The half-iso straight arm kneeling pulldown uses smart positioning and a pliable tool, a resistance band, to max out your movement efficiency.
“This is one of my favorite finishing moves on a back day, and it’s going to hit all the parts of your back that you may forget, and really activate your rhomboids and shoulder musculature,” says Samuel. “You may find yourself underestimating this exercise because ‘resistance band.’ Don’t do that.”
According to Samuel, that resistance band is actually the key to unlocking the back gains. “A standard cable machine will let you press down and get the force angle that comes from the direction of the band, but because of the resistance band, we also get to face horizontal force,” he says. “Essentially you get the benefits of a band pull-apart and a straight-arm pulldown occurring at once: Your rhomboids and lower traps have to fire to squeeze and depress your shoulder blades tight, and your lats and much of your rotator cuff musculature has to activate as you’re pulling that band down.”
Just make sure you have a sturdy, elevated structure like a squat rack to serve as an anchor. If you need a reliable set of resistance bands to take on the finisher, check out these options from WODFitters.
- Get into tall kneeling position under the anchored resistance band, squeezing your glutes and core.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades to pull the band down and apart with both hands so it’s stretched across your waist.
- Raise one arm up diagonally toward your head, keeping the other tensed and the band in position. Squeeze your back to pull down and away to return to the starting position. Repeat for a second rep.
- Repeat the movement with the other arm for two reps.
Your back isn’t the only muscle group getting attention here. Your abs are also putting in the work. “It’s a full back contraction that gets even nastier (and more core-intensive) because of the half-iso component: You pull down to activate all that muscle, and then you squeeze and hold hard to maintain that iso as you do reps on the other side,” says Samuel. “You’ll need to maintain control on these reps too, the banded resistance will tug your arm up very swiftly if you don’t.”
Take on the half-iso straight arm kneeling pulldown with 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps on each side.
By Brett Williams And Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.