The Bomber, Pt. 3: Strength Workout for Back and Triceps

By James Parker

Welcome to the final installment of the full-body workout I’ve nicknamed the Bomber. In this installment: back and triceps. You can use this workout either as the third day of a three-day split with my chest/shoulders/biceps and legs/core workouts, or use it to replace your usual back/triceps routine in your regular lifting program.

For fighters, the back and triceps involve some of the body’s most important muscles. The triceps are the “punching” muscles that help propel your fists towards an opponent or target. The back is even more important. It actually gives your punches and kicks their power, as well as helping you hold an opponent against the cage or floor. Likewise, the back, just like the abs and core, is key to maintaining the postural chain—and thus to full-body strength.

Remember, you want to work the major muscle groups first then move to the smaller muscles. Don’t over-train the “little” guys—just make sure they get enough to grow on.

Back/Postural Chain Exercises
This is a major area of the body and should be treated as such. As important as the core and legs, and I would even say more important than the chest, the back and the postural chain supports the torso and can very well be the power source for incredible strikes. It also protects our spines. The spine isn’t just mid-back; it’s from the tail bone to the base of the skull. Our necks are our spine, so a strong back isn’t just lumbar support, but strong lats and strong traps. The exercises you choose to do should be compound (at least as the main component), meaning that they should hit as many of the various muscles in the back as possible in one go. Save the machines as a finisher for after the compound work, just to make sure the job is complete.

Exercise How to Sets and Repetitions Notes
Pull-ups The pull up is my absolute favorite back exercise. This isn’t a chin-up, folks. I mean pull up, all the way to your sternum. In effect this is basically an inverted row, where instead of pulling weight to your ribs, you pull your ribs to the bar. An acceptable variation is to rack a Smith machine bar about two feet from the floor, lie face-up under it, leave your heels on the floor and pull your sternum to the bar from arms extended position. But once you can do 12 reps there, you must attempt the genuine pull-up first thing on the next day of back. Do at least 2 - 3 sets of as many reps as you can per exercise (ie: 6 - 8 reps of pull-ups, superset with 3 - 6 reps of the inverted; or, 3 - 6 reps of pull-ups, superset with 8 - 10 reps of the Smith machine version). If you have mastered the standard pull-up, a nastier variation is an inversion. Start the pull movement like a standard pull-up, but about a quarter of the way in, bring your knees up, and as you continue pulling, bring your feet all the way up to point at the ceiling. You end up upside down at the end of the movement. You then just lower yourself the same way in reverse. Try these as a finisher after you complete at least 6 reps of the pull-up.
Dumbbell Rows I like this one heavy and in a position that simulates a knee-on-belly position in grappling. Take a decline bench and reverse your position on it. Post your standing leg out at a 45-degree angle from the body, with your other leg knee bent and shin across the bench. Use the arm on the same side as the standing leg for balance, either palm flat on the bench or like I do, with your forearm on the bench and the hand gripping the edge of the bench. Take a dumbbell in your opposite hand and perform a dumbbell row. You can superset this with a machine close-grip seated row, but again, keep the posture strict. Do 2 - 3 sets of 6 - 8 reps of the dumbbell rows, and 6 - 8 reps of the seated machine rows if you add them. Go as heavy as you can with out pulling your shoulder blade past the ninety degree angle of your torso or letting the elbow rotate towards the middle of your back at the top position. Take no rest between the first side you do and the second, resting only once you’ve done both sides.
Kettlebell/Dumbbell Deadlift to Swing For this one I prefer a kettle bell but you can easily make do with any weight that you can grab and swing (I’ve used dumbbells, plates with grip holes in them, medicine balls, etc.). The idea is to at first, separate the two different but similar exercises, one after the other, until you get a feel for their movements, then you can put them more or less together. Start with the deadlift, bringing the weight off the floor to your hips/groin, then lower the weight to between your legs and explosively (using those hips, postural muscles, and core) swing the weight to about sternum level (although for some, just above belly button level is a mighty achievement, trust me). Let the weight swing back between the legs and then lower it to the ground. Remember that you can always separate the two exercises and just do a regular heavy deadlift with a lighter-weight kettlebell swing as a superset too. Do 3 sets of 10 - 15 reps of each exercise. You need to be careful about the weight on this exercise. The weight I would use on the rows wouldn’t even enter my mind for this exercise, even though I would usually use even heavier weight for the traditional deadlift. The swing makes this exercise a little too ballistic to use that weight in a way that I would consider safe. Not only that, but this is the exercise I do at the end of my back routine. My postural chain has already been hit by the other back exercises, so this direct work needs only be intense do to the movement. For active warriors a 35-pound kettlebell is sufficient, but I wouldn’t go over 50 pounds.

Again, don’t get crazy with all the exercises on this body part. Just do enough to smack it around a little, not kill it. If you feel the need to over-do it, then go do a heavy bag routine afterwards; that should be sufficient to do in any over-kill urges without getting you injured.

Exercise How to Sets and Repetitions Notes
Bench Dips Place your feet, heels down, on one bench and your palms on another one behind you. You will dip between the benches by bending and straightening the elbow—making sure your shoulders stay down (no shrugging). Do 2 sets of 8 - 10 reps. If you want more intensity, go slower, lowering yourself to the count of 6. You can place a cambered bar with weight on top of your legs or even stack plates there (I like the cambered bar better, as I can add more weight more comfortably for my lap).
Push-Pulls/Skull Crushers Lying on a decline bench, take a weighted cambered bar and start it with the arms straight and the weight pointed at the ceiling. Bring the weight to your chest like a close-grip bench press, but at the bottom, bring the weight in a short arc past your face to the top of the skull. Explosively bring it back in the same short arc and then press it from your sternum to the ceiling and repeat. The lowering portion can be done all slowly, with only the forward motion explosive, or you can explode just during the small arc from sternum to skull and back. When you can’t do any more of the push-pulls, bring the weight to the start position and carefully lower it towards your forehead or chin, to do as many skull crushers as you can. I say carefully as if the name didn’t give away the obvious danger. Do 2 sets of 6 - 8 reps of each. You can also use two different weights to do the two different exercises.

Like any great show, production, or even routine, you have to have an end. This day of the routine usually falls on a Friday for me. I don’t train during the weekend, preferring active rest such as swimming or running around with my family to doing more of what I’ve done all week long. Good nutrition is as much a part of this routine (or any routine really) as is rest and recovery, so don’t skimp on the protein and veggies. The more you train the more you need good fuel and good rest, so don’t be afraid to take the weekend off and eat that proverbial horse. Just try and save some for your loved ones, they get cranky when deprived.

Train hard, be safe, and have fun doing it.

About James Parker: James Parker is a certified personal trainer, mixed martial artist, mixed martial arts conditioning coach, and freelance writer in Los Angeles, California.