Lots of people can muscle their way through weighted pull-ups that are only technically half-decent. They might be able to pull 500 pounds off the ground and they can row heavy weights attached to a cable for lots of reps. That's all great for cosmetic mass and skill-specific strength.
But there's a reason why those same strong people tweak their necks when they look over their shoulder or throw out their backs when they're tying their shoe – it's very easy to become artificially strong, and it may even allow you to escape injury for a long time.
But the truth is, big heavy lifts like squats and deadlifts – as important as they are – require a foundation. And if all the little things aren't doing their part to contribute to a compound movement, it'll catch up to you in the form of chronic pain or acute injury.
The Back Plank
In the case of the upper back and neck, attacking the deep neck flexors and extensors and actually zeroing in on the rhomboids, rear delts, mid traps, and teres minor is the way to really see change in your upper back and neck health, along with your posture.
You may think you've got a strong neck and good postural muscle strength, but the back plank will make you realize in a hot second just how incredibly weak these groups are relative to other synergist muscles involved in your pull patterns.
Sets of 15-second holds are more than enough to start noticing technical failure, especially if you carry a lot of size. Some coaching points:
- Keep the chest, chin, and fists as high towards the ceiling as possible. Protrude the neck to make the flexors work hard. Drive your elbows into the benches to raise the ribcage.
- Keep the hips up high. Don't let them fall or else the rear deltoids won't get hit as hard.
- To progress, move the benches a couple of inches farther apart to create a larger lever arm before adding any external loading. Even a small change in bench width will make a world of difference in the difficulty level of the move.