Hands up if you’ve nodded along while gym-goers talk about a push/pull split, but never quite understood what that meant. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a training plan which involves three sessions. A workout of upper-body push exercises, one of upper-body pull exercises and a final legs workout.
Push and pull exercises can also be combined in the same workout, often as a superset, to help build size and strength evenly across your upper body.
If your focus in the gym is the push-up, bench press and overhead press, then you you need to be careful not to neglect pulling movements that will target the back, biceps and forearms.
“Most pulling movements train the muscles that make up your posterior chain, which runs from your hamstrings up to the trapezius in your upper back,” explains Jordan Fernandez, a personal trainer at Trainer Academy. “This helps improve your overall posture by encouraging shoulder and thoracic spine mobility, counteracting a lot of the hunching that comes with sedentary jobs.”
Introducing more pulling exercises into your workouts will ease various aches and pains, as well as prevent injury. They also help develop core strength and stability, which in turn can remedy spinal issues and lower-back pain.
The functional benefits of pulling exercises are notable in and outside the gym, too. “Pulling exercises will enhance the strength of your grip, which will benefit all your other lifts and boost your grip strength for everyday activities like carrying your shopping,” says Fernandez.
Plus, if you play sports such as rowing, swimming, climbing or contact sports, pulling exercises are some of the most useful movements for improving the way you move.
Fernadez has listed eight of the best pulling exercises you should add to your regular upper-body workouts.
Eight Pull Exercises To Include In Your Routine
Grasp a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you. Retract your shoulder blades to engage your upper-back muscles, then pull your chest toward the bar until your chin clears it. Lower under control. This variation targets your middle and upper back muscles, while also strengthening your core muscles.
Grasp a pull-up bar with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart and palms facing toward you. Retract your shoulder blades to engage your upper-back muscles and tilt your chest toward the bar. Pull your chest toward the bar until your chin clears it, then lower under control. This variation shifts the focus to the biceps as well as the upper back muscles.
Hold a barbell with your palms facing you and a slight bend in your knees. Hinge forward from your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Pull the barbell toward your lower rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then lower under control.
With a dumbbell in one hand and the opposite knee and hand on a bench, pull the dumbbell toward your hip. Switch sides and repeat.
Using a rope attachment on a cable machine set at head height, pull the rope toward your face, then raise your hands until your forearms are vertical to target the smaller muscles in your upper back, while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Sit in a lat pull-down machine or at a cable machine with a wide bar attachment. Grasp the bar with hands wider than shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you, retract your shoulders, then pull the bar down to your upper chest. Control the ascent of the bar.
Set a bar at waist height using a Smith machine or a barbell in a squat rack. Lie with your chest underneath the bar and reach up to hold the bar. Keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest toward the bar, squeeze your upper back muscles, then lower under control.
Load one end of a barbell into a landmine attachment and the other into a close-grip handle. Straddle the bar, facing away from the landmine attachment. Pull the bar toward your chest, squeezing your back muscles, then lower under control.
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Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.