In the last issue I talked to you about the Push movement pattern. I hope that you were able to add some of the described exercises to your current workout program. The last of the primary human movements that I will write about is the Pull. This article will look at the upper torso muscles that are known as the antagonist group to those I wrote about last week. An antagonist muscle is one that opposes the action being performed by another muscle, aka the agonist muscle. A simple example would be between the upper arm muscles of the triceps and the biceps. I explained in the last article that when you straighten out your arm, you are contracting your triceps muscle. As the triceps (the agonist) contracts to extend your arm, the biceps (the antagonist) relaxes so the arm can be straightened. So, let’s take a look at the pull movement pattern in your daily activities of life and in exercise movements.
The pull movement is the opposite of the push and is defined as using force to move or draw an object toward oneself or the source of the force. We pull all kinds of things around every day. We pull our pants up over our legs and backside and we pull little children around in a wagon. If you do not have electric start outdoor toys you have to pull the cord to start your lawnmower or maybe that snow blower soon. No snow blower, pick last week’s article back up and get your push ready for that shovel.
The primary upper layers of muscles for pulling that I will talk to for this article are the back (Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) and Trapezius (Traps)), the shoulder (Posterior /Rear Deltoid) and the biceps (Biceps Brachii). Just like the muscles of the push, these guys all work in concert to perform the primary movement pattern of pulling. Let’s take a look at strength training exercises for each.
With most general fitness exercisers, the back unfortunately does not get the same attention as the chest. This goes back to the statement that I made in the last article about the mirror muscles and out of sight, out of mind. The muscles that tend to get the most attention in training are the ones that are seen in the mirror. As with the chest, you should train your back using different angles for your pulls. The primary pulling directions are vertical and horizontal. Below is a picture of a Wide Grip Lat pulldown, a vertical pull. This movement is like doing a pull-up, but instead of pulling your chin up to a bar, you are pulling a bar down past your chin. Your target spot for the bottom of this movement is the top of your sternum.
As you can see, you sit nice and tall in this movement and go through a full range of motion. You pull the bar down to the top of the sternum and, under control, return for a full stretch at the top before repeating. The primary muscles in this movement are your Latissimus Dorsi (Lats). These are the broadest muscles of the back that cover an area from the thoracic (middle) spine and wrap up your side and under the arm to the humerus on both sides of your body.
With all pulling movements for the large muscle group of the back, there will be assistance from the smaller groups like the rear delts and the biceps. The following pictures show you a rowing exercise using a TRX strap and then a bicep curl using an EZ Curl Bar attached to a cable machine.
The TRX Row movement is a great movement as you are working with your own body weight. You can adjust the difficulty, the amount of load, you are pulling by adjusting the angle of your body. The steeper the angle, the harder the exercise. This movement hits the muscles of the upper back to include the lats, traps and rear delts. The biceps, forearms and your grip strength all get taxed in this movement as well. A side note on this movement is that your core gets in the game as you maintain a perfect plank throughout the exercise.
The posterior delt is the rear head of the deltoid, which has three heads. It works with the shoulder joint and is the key muscle in shoulder horizontal abduction. The rear delt provides the Lats with shoulder extension assistance. When isolating the rear delt in training, remember to use light weight as it is a small muscle when all alone. In the TRX row above, a higher elbow and hand position while rowing will work the rear delt more. Using handled tubing and performing a straight arm sweep across the front of your body is one way to isolate the rear delt.
To isolate biceps muscles, the EZ Curl Bar exercise is just one of many I like to use. The biceps brachii is a two headed muscle on the front upper half of your arm. The two are the long head and the short head. They run between the joints of the shoulder and the elbow and help in controlling the motion of both of these joints. As I mentioned earlier, they are going to get plenty of work when performing pulling movements. If you want to isolate them in a workout, then perform a curling movement as pictured above with the elbow locked into position. Just like triceps isolation movement, when I say elbow locked into position, I mean that it is not moving, but only serving as a hinge for the movement. If your elbow starts tracking (moving forward and back), then your shoulders will come into play and the biceps are not isolated.
These are only three samples of exercises to program into your upper body pull day workout routine. There are additional exercises that you should look to incorporate. To get more information on putting a plan together and to learn the proper execution of weight training exercises, you should seek out the guidance of a Certified Fitness Professional. The investment you make in putting together a safe and effective workout routine will benefit your fitness journey immensely. I wish you great health and fitness.