In a resistance training routine, it’s important to balance pushing and pulling exercises. Whether a plan works your entire body or focuses on specific body parts, incorporating push and pull exercises is crucial to overall strength, muscular development, and muscular balance.
What Are Pushing and Pulling Exercises?
A push exercise is performed when the muscle pushes weight away from the body during the concentric phase of the movement and then lengthens in the eccentric phase when the weight is moved back toward the body. Pushing exercises include push-ups, bench presses, back squats, and forward lunges. These exercises use prime movers such as the glutes, quadriceps, calves, pectorals, deltoids, and triceps.
A pull exercise, on the other hand, is performed when the muscle pulls weight toward the body during the concentric portion of the movement and then lengthens as the weight moves away from the body during the eccentric portion of the exercise. Pulling exercises use prime movers such as the hamstrings, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, biceps, forearms, obliques, and abdominals.1
A Little Pulling Goes a Long Way
The majority of the muscles used for pulling exercises make up what is known as the posterior chain. The posterior chain is a group of muscles predominantly comprised of tendons and ligaments along the back or posterior of the body, including the neck, back, hips, and legs.2
Modern humans spend a lot of time seated during the day, which inhibits the use of the posterior chain muscles. The posterior chain is the primary mover for forward propulsion, including movements such as jumping, pushing, pulling, running, hopping, twisting, walking, squatting, bending, and even simply getting in and out of a chair. Neglecting your posterior chain can negatively affect your posture, mobility, strength, and flexibility.3
When this happens, your primary movers take a back seat while your stabilizing muscles do the big jobs. This means your support system does all the heavy-duty work, which can lead to daily aches and pains in your back and neck. The best way to avoid this poor movement pattern is to add pulling exercises to your weekly workout routine.
Upper-body pull exercises are divided into two categories: horizontal pull and vertical pull. Horizontal pull exercises include any exercise that moves the weight toward your body horizontally, such as bent-over rows. Vertical pull exercises include any exercise that moves the weight down vertically in relation to the torso, such as pull-ups and lat pulldowns. Elbow flexion exercises, such as bicep curls, fall into the upper-body pull category.
The Push–Pull Balance
A good exercise routine incorporates the entire body and includes pushing and pulling exercises as well as core and accessory movements. A good way to create this balance is to include opposing movements in your routine. If you do an upper-body pull exercise, include an upper-body push exercise. An even better way to create a well-rounded workout routine is to incorporate the seven fundamental movement patterns into your weekly workout program.
Pulling exercises are vital, but it’s also important to include upper- and lower-body pushing, rotational, anti-extension, and anti-rotation exercises. There are many ways to design workout plans that include all these movement patterns, including body-part splits, push/pull, upper/lower splits, and full body.4
Regardless of your training template, include at least one of each movement pattern in your weekly routine. The more you train, the more exercises you will include each week. Full-body training is the most well-rounded type of training because you cover all the bases in each workout.
Lifestyle factors can limit your posterior chain muscles, thus inhibiting proper function. A lack of posterior strength can lead to slouching, aches, pains, and reduced mobility. Adding the pulling exercises mentioned above to your weekly exercise routine will help you not only balance your workouts but also build up the strongest, most powerful muscles in your body.