Exercises You Should Be Doing: TRX Batwing

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A few months ago Dan John wrote a blog post (or maybe even an article) on his “batwing” principle, which is a subtle exercise tweak one can make to standard rowing variations that aids in “waking-up” the rhomboids and the upper back musculature as a whole.

It was a very simple idea – albeit brilliant, because I had never dawned on me before and it’s something that can easily be assimilated into most programs without much thought or coaching.

I mean, come on, it’s pretty self-explanatory!

After the fact my good buddy, Ben Bruno, went a head and shared with the world a few of his own variations that he implemented with his athletes. And, having been hit by the “Ah HA” fairy myself, I too came up with a cool variation: the Half Kneeling Cable Batwing/Pulldown.

It pretty much changed the world.  True story.

Anyways, fast forward to the other day when I received an email from a former distance coaching client of mine , Tom.

We still keep in touch every now and then, and in this particular case he shared a batwing variation that he felt would be a nice fit to the Exercises You Should Be Doing series.

TRX Batwing

NOTE: Before we begin, I recognize that people hate (HATE!) vertical videos.  In the ranking of things to hate, a list may look something like this:

1.  Hitler.
2. Justin Beiber’s general level of douchebaggery.
3.  Rocky V.
4.  Vertical videos
5. Cold sores.

In the grande scheme of things you can blame me, because even though Tom sent me the video as is, it’s my fault for forgetting to film one myself when I tried the exercise out at the facility the other day.

My bad.  But moving on…….

Who Did (We) Steal It From Him:  I stole it from Tom, who stole it from both Dan John and Joe DeFranco.

What Does It Do:  Lots and lots of stuff going on here.  Tom mentioned that Joe DeFranco discussed a variation where you hold yourself in the push-up position on the TRX (with the arm locked out), and you grab either a kettlebell or dumbbell and perform a standard row.  Perform “x” number of reps on one side, switch, and repeat on the other.

However, Tom really liked Dan John’s idea of “reawakening” the rhomboids and instead of performing standard reps up and down, you hold each rep for time.

I agree.  Most people have woefully weak posterior chains (this includes the upper back) and IMO there’s really no such thing as too much horizontal rowing.

Too much Santa, yes.  Too much horizontal rowing, no.

By that token, this variation provides an incredible anti-rotary component (and anti-extension), as well as rotator cuff activation (because you have to have a death grip on the TRX so that you don’t tip over), and of course, provides a light training effect for the upper back muscles.

You’re not going to be crushing any big weights or breaking any PRs with this exercise, but it’s a nice way to include some LIGHT horizontal pulling while simultaneously getting in some “core” work.

Key Coaching Cues:  The most obvious: don’t fall over…..;o)

The wider the stance, the more stable you’re going to be, so depending on your ability level you’re going to have to make a judgement call here. Er on the side of caution, though and start with a slightly wider than hip width stance. Adjust from there.

Also, try to squeeze your glutes as if you’re trying to crack a walnut.  The entire backside should be in a relative straight line, so if you’re hiking your hips up in the air, squeeze those bad boys!

Along the same lines, your lower back shouldn’t be dipping.

As I alluded to above, you have two options here:

1.  You can perform “x” number of repetitions per side (8-12) using a kettlebell or dumbbell.  I’m indifferent either way.

OR (my preference)

2.  Hold each “rep” for an allotted time frame.  I think a great starting point would be 5x5s holds PER ARM.

Focus on pulling the elbow towards the hip (but don’t go past the hip! You want to try to avoid too much glenohumeral extension), and pausing in the top position for  FIVE SECOND count.  Perform five reps per side.

Feel that? Yeah, those are your rhomboids working.

Try it out today, and let me know what you think.


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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

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