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It was back day. I had just chugged my favorite pre-workout beverage (a Grande Starbucks), which I used to wash down a couple of those ephedra "thermo" capsules. My heart was pounding, the adrenaline was flowing and I was ready to pump some HEAVY iron! I was pacing back and forth across the gym floor, psyching myself up for a big set of close grip lat pulldowns.
I took a few deep breaths and strapped into the bar. The pin was set at 250 lbs. - the full rack. With a mighty grunt, I pulled the bar down to my chest, leaning back slightly with just "a little" swinging and momentum. I repeated eleven more times and then released it, exhausted but exhilarated. Twelve reps with the whole stack! I was pretty happy with myself.
I started psyching up for my second set. This time I had the full stack plus a 25-lb. plate pinned on for a total of 275 lbs. I started the second set feeling even stronger; one rep, two reps, three reps... Then, even through the Metallica blasting into my headphones, I heard a voice from behind me say, "What the hell are you doing?" Trying to maintain my near-hypnotic state of concentration, I continued for the fourth rep, ignoring the blatant interruption. Then I heard the voice again: "Venuto, what the hell do you call that?"
That blew it - my focus was ruined. I stopped mid set after just four and a half reps. I turned around and saw that the offending intruder was Richie Smyth, my trainer. Defensively, I answered his question: "I'm going heavy today - I need more mass on my lats and you have to go heavy for that." Richie replied, "You know what I've been telling you for all these years; if you want a big back, it's not how much weight you lift; your form is more important than weight." I insisted that my form was good, but Richie just disapprovingly shook his head.
Deep down, I knew he was right. Usually when I work out on my own, I go a lot heavier than when I train with Richie. Even though I grow like a weed when he trains me, it just seems like the weights are too light. So when I train on my own ( when he's not looking) I sometimes slap on the plates for "ego food." This time, he caught me in the act.
Richie had a cancellation that day, so he kindly "volunteered" to take me through the rest of my back session. He then gave me a humbling dissertation on proper form. Basically, he taught me the exercise from scratch. First he dropped the weight down - a lot. "How much is that?" I asked, looking down towards the weight stack. "Don't worry about the weight," he scolded. I noticed that the pin was somewhere near the middle of the weight stack - I was feeling wimpier by the minute.
Richie continued with his instructional diatribe: "First of all, keep your body completely vertical. Don't lean back at all. Pull only with your lats. F-e-e-l the lats as you pull down. Hold it and squeeze. Now release slowly, fight the negative, let it back slowly, lean forward and stretch…now pause, hold the stretch, hold it, keep holding it. Ok, now pull, no momentum, don't lean, just pull with your lats. Pull straight down, squeeze, hold the squeeze, now slowly let it back, lean forward and stretch. Concentrate. Focus on the muscle not the weight."