Upper body pull

Balance between opposing movement patterns

For a balanced upper body, opposing movements and muscle groups must be trained equally. An overemphasis of upper body pressing strength leads to bad posture and injury-prone shoulders. The better approach is to equally emphasize opposing upper-body movement patterns. Make sure the training program contains the same number of sets for horizontal pulling (rowing) as for supine pressing or pushing. Balance the number of sets of overhead pressing and vertical pulling (pull-up). Do not overemphasize the 'mirror muscles', the pectorals, the anterior deltoids and the upper trapezius. This leads to a slouched posture, which incorrectly places the scapula (shoulder blade) up and forward. This unstable scapula position results in abnormal scapular kinematics and decreased upper limb power.

Pulling improves scapular stability

Through horizontal and vertical pulling the muscles that stabilise the scapula are strengthened. A stable scapulothoracic joint (joint between the scapula and the rib cage) plays an important role in shoulder stability and protecting the athlete from shoulder injuries. Research shows that the lower trapezius and middle trapezius play an important role in stabilising the scapula. Good technique in horizontal and vertical pulling is critical to ensure proper activation of the lower and middle trapezius and rhomboids. When performing a pull-up initiate the movement by pulling the shoulder blades down and back. Keep the shoulder blades in this position during the pull-up and lowering of the body. By stabilising the scapula the lower and middle trapezius and rhomboids are recruited optimally, which results in proper shoulder joint mechanics. The same principles apply for the row. Initiate the row by retracting the shoulder blades and keep them retracted throughout the movement.

  • Vertical pull

    Vertical pull exercises strengthen the upper back, the posterior shoulder region, the biceps and most of the forearm muscles (grip strength). The vertical pull is the opposing movement pattern of overhead pressing. For a balanced upper body, opposing muscle groups must be trained equally.

  • Horizontal pull

    Horizontal pull exercises are excellent to develop strength in the upper back, the posterior shoulder region and the arms. More advanced rowing exercises also strengthen the posterior core. The horizontal pull is the opposing movement pattern of the bench press, push-up and their variations.