If you’ve missed any of the previous installments in our Strength Training Staples series, you can find their links below:
Today, we’ll be covering upper pull movements, which target the back of the body. We’ll discuss four exercises: two row variations and two pull-up variations.
As I noted above, upper pull movements focus primarily on strengthening the posterior (back) of your body. We might spend more time focused on the front of our upper body if our aesthetic preferences dominate our routine. However, we need these upper pull movements to provide balance to our push movements, both from a strength and postural standpoint. Plus, these exercises have a very important role to play when you’re starting a lawnmower or hanging from the side of a building.
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Are you one of the 70% of full time workers who spend their workday sitting? Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that some workers spend up to 90% of their day sitting. If you fall into this category, sitting necessarily creates postural changes to your upper body. Mostly, your core weakens and your shoulder blades elevate and round forward as your traps and pec muscles shorten, leaving you hunched over. More severe cases can lead to Upper Crossed Syndrome, a severe tightening of these muscles that produces dysfunction in your cervical vertebrae and really nasty headaches. If you get to this point, your next stop is often physical therapy. Now, just imagine how overtraining your chest with a high volume of bench press (which doesn’t promote scapular mobility) might exacerbate the issue. Breaking up your day by moving away from your desk and incorporating exercises that open up the chest and shoulders is a great way to offset your desk posture.
No. The idea here isn’t to scrap your upper push movements, but simply make sure you’re including some pull movements as well. While there’s no shortage up upper pull options, our programs are easier to execute if we keep it simple. Let’s focus on four options that provide a great training stimulus and are easy to execute in any gym:
1. Pull-ups – I’ve heard it said that pull-ups are to the upper body what squats are to the lower body in terms of bang-for-the-buck. They are! Pull-ups allow you to strengthen your lats, lower traps and multiple shoulder muscles. If you want to give your arms a little more attention, use an underhand grip and perform chin-ups. You can’t go wrong, regardless of the variation you choose. If you’re struggling to hit your reps, you can always perform deceleration pull-ups or band assisted pull-ups and build toward full pull-ups.
2. Horizontal Pull-up (aka Body Row) – I love this exercise because we get some of the benefits of the pull-up, but the change in body angle places more emphasis on the rhomboids and rear deltoids. Not only is this great for our posture, but it’s another great bodyweight option if traditional pull-ups are a challenge.
3. Dumbbell Split Stance Row* – Another great exercise for training retraction of the shoulder blade. The offset nature of this variation also allows you to sneak in some core strength and stabilization work as well. Might as well attack two desk-related problems with one exercise!
4. Standing Cable Row* – I like to mix in different planes of motion with my clients and the cable tower allows us to do so with the row. As an added bonus, people with shoulder issues are usually able to reap the benefits of a row without feeling distress.
*Coaching Note: The goal with a row is to pinch your shoulder blades together. Be sure to keep your elbow a little bit away from your body, and only pull to the depth of your rib cage. If your elbow is too tight (as in it glides against your torso) or you pull too far, the exercise becomes more of bicep exercise and we’ve defeated the purpose.
That desk posture isn’t going to fix itself! Therefore, upper pull movements should be included in your weekly program. At Vitalifit, we create challenging full-body workouts by using these and many other strength training movements. Whether you’re a novice who’s just learning to strength train or a more seasoned lifter who’s in search of new challenge, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.