The Thoracic Extension Element
Back training isn't as simple as choosing one vertical and one horizontal pulling exercise. The back has many functions. Most people neglect thoracic extension, which is responsible for spinal health and developing thicker mid/upper traps.
Most thoracic extension exercises are mobility exercises, like cat-cows or foam roller extensions. Those are cute, but you'll need to load up this pattern for serious gains at some point.
Here's what a more advanced lifter can do:
- Start with your spine in a neutral position at the bottom.
- Pull yourself up explosively without swinging.
- Arch your back and keep contracting until your chest is at bar level.
- Bonus points if you can get your nipples to the bar.
Doing pull-ups like this adds range of motion. This should be standard. You're short-changing your upper back when you leave those last inches untrained. It also gives you an objective benchmark: when you can no longer get this high, you've hit failure.
Furthermore, don't think "chin above bar." That's a lame cue that causes cheating with leg drive and reaching with your chin. Think chest-to-bar and elbows-to-hips. This is the optimal path.
If you can't even do one rep like this, you've been doing partial pull-ups your whole life. Instead, use the assisted pull-up machine to nail down this pattern. There's no shame.