I am a 30 years old Software Engineer and for 10 years I've been suffering from muscle contractures on my right and left trapezius:

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I've started doing the 7 minute HIT training, cycling and swimming since one month ago and I decided to buy a chin up bar to gain strenght in my back. But I don't want to get contractured again because of a bad training.

Can you please tell me what is a good plan for carefully training this area and the whole back?


2 Answers 2


Build up to full pullups with a slow progression, allowing not only the muscles but the supporting tissues to grow together. That probably means you don't start with full pullups right off the bat.

Here is one sample progression from Convict Conditioning, along with standards for progressing to the next level. The specific exercise are described in the book, but are also very easy to find on Youtube. Even if you feel you can start at a more advanced level, it's probably better to start at level 1, and work your way up using perfect form and a slow cadence (2 seconds up, 1 second pause, 2 seconds down). This will be a very short workout, a warmup set or two, and then your 2-3 work sets, 2-3 times per week.

  1. Vertical Pulls (progress when you can do 3 sets of 40)
  2. Horizontal Pulls (3 sets of 30)
  3. Jackknife Pulls (3/30)
  4. Half Pullups (2/15)
  5. Full Pullups (2/10)
  6. Close Pullups (2/10)
  7. Uneven Pullups (2/9)
  8. 1/2 One-Arm Pullups (2/8)
  9. Assisted One-Arm Pullups (2/7)
  10. One-Arm Pullups

As an aside, you are probably best off strengthening the whole body and not focusing on a specific area; the body likes to work as a complete system. I'd suggest a complete calisthenics or weightlifting routine (i.e. not just back/pullups).

  • Thanks @Greg! As I already mentioned, I am doing cycling and swimming, should I update my question with the plan? Sep 16, 2013 at 19:34
  • It's up to you how you want to frame your question, but I don't consider cycling or swimming to be directly related to strength. I understand that you may be in a "rehab" situation, but generally those are more pertinent to muscular endurance than to strength per se.
    – G__
    Sep 16, 2013 at 21:45

When "software engineer" and "upper trapecius contractures" are written side to side, they powerfully ring a bell.

This is quite common. Many hours seated, hunched, with no attention to your body because your mind is debugging subroutines... Cycling won't probably help (your legs may be moving, but you are seated and hunched over the bicycle...) but swimming should.

One important point is that, no matter what sport you do or what muscles you strengthen, you will still have problems if you don't pay attention to what is causing the problem, the rest of the day, when you are out of the gym/swimming pool/whatever.

This is one of the points mentioned in this fantastic series of three or four posts you should read: "Deconstructing Computer Guy" in T-Nation, I think they will give you a better understanding of what is happening and what may be a better approach. I quote a paragraph. After mentioning some sporting activities (spinning among them) and showing a picture of some guys riding stationary exercise bicycles in a gym, the text reads:

The vast majority of those exercises promote a forward flexed position or compressive/shear force on the spine [Read: not good]. By repeating the same posture in the gym that he was in from 9-5, computer guy WILL produce improper motor patterns that just cause or reinforce all of his problems in the first place!

Also, if you use linux, there is a wonderful little free program called Workrave that will remind you every X minutes (by default I think it is around 5 min) to make a micro-pause and correct your posture, and once every hour it will remind you to walk away from the computer, do some light stretches and rest a few minutes. I t will periodically remind you to do some randomly choosen light exercises (like some arm circles, fixing your sight in the distance and so on).

I know this is not the direct answer you ask for (merely how to strengthen your back with a pullup bar) but reading your question, I think that the solution to your upper back contractures requires an richer approach than the strength exercises alone. Dynamic stretches are a very important part of whatever you do with this kind of situation, and specially correcting your posture and habits during the whole day, not only at the gym.

  • Thanks @Mephisto, thats an awesome answer. I think is still related to my question, thus I am aware I really need to change something else besides a good training :) Sep 17, 2013 at 6:08
  • I would mark @Greg's answer as the accepted one because is the one that fits better to my question. But I will start by reading all the information I am finding in your answer before starting training :) Sep 17, 2013 at 8:40
  • 1
    It's OK, it usually happens, that the not-so-direct answers have interesting information as well. Nevertheless, the direct answer to your main question Greg's one. Specially the Inverted Rows (step 2) which more directly target the rear deltoid and help in correcting hunchback posture than the full pullups. Although you progress to full pullups, I think you should always throw together a set of Inverted Rows in your workout. You can insert intermediate steps between step 1 and 2 with different inclinations.
    – Mephisto
    Sep 17, 2013 at 8:50

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