Pulling movements are probably the most neglected movement patterns in the body. While doing pulling movements can help you keep a strong back and good posture, we generally don’t access this movement pattern that much in our day to day lives. Pulling movements will generally develop the lats, rhomboids, and biceps.
Generally, pulls are performed in the horizontal plane of motion (rows) or vertical plane of motion (pull downs and pull ups.) And anywhere in between those ranges of motion. In general I will usually focus on developing skills like rows, pull downs, and chin ups with most of my clients using any of the following variations to start off with. There are certainly many options are there for people to use, but these are the ones that I find work very well for most people.
The Seated Cable Row
The seated cable row is a great variation because it allows novice trainees to stay still and isolate the primary muscles being used to perform the pull. By taking the seated position, it makes the learning curve of the movement significantly easier.
To set up for the seated cable row, sit on the bench and place the feet on the panels in front of you with a slight bend in the knees. Grab onto the handle and sit up straight, without too much lean backwards you can either opt to keep the ribs down or to slightly extend the upper to get more engagement out of the lats. Start the movement with a pull by squeezing your shoulder blades together and allowing the arms to follow through. Once the shoulder blades have stopped moving, the pull is done, slowly release the cable back to the starting position. Repeat for as a many reps as necessary. I usually program the seated cable row for anywhere from 8-12 reps and find that is best used in a general preparation training or for hypertrophy (muscle gain) work.
The Lat Pull Down
Similar, to the seated cable row, I like this exercise because it is also seated and makes it easier for new trainees to learn. With that being said, this movement would generally be progressed into something like a chin up or a pull up down the line when a trainee becomes more advanced in their skills.
To perform the lat pull down, set up on the machine by placing your hands symmetrically on the handle wider than shoulder width, then sit down on the seat and make sure that your legs are secured in place with the brace. With your arms outstretched, initiate the pull by pulling your shoulders blades down and back while keeping the chest up, from here drive the elbows down to the ribs and imagine you are trying to close your armpits. The handle should be close to your collarbones at the bottom of the pull, from this position perform a slow release back to the starting position. Use the lat pull down as a tool for hypertrophy and for patterning a smooth overhead pull as a progressing for chin ups and pull ups. I would generally program these in a rep range of 8 to 12 repetitions for 3-4 sets depending on my clients goals and needs.
The Dumbbell Row
The dumbbell row is a great progression to move forward from the seated row. By partial support the body on the bench you are creating a stable base while still allow the core and spinal erectors to work against gravity to support and stabilize the trunk while working the lats.
To set up for the exercise, plant your knee on a flat bench, bring your other leg out from the bench while keeping the hips square. From here hinge the hips back and keep a flat or slightly upward arch in your back. Have your wrist planted under your shoulder on the bench, and grab the dumbbell with your free hand. From here, pull the dumbbell back and up towards your hip in a bit of “J” like movement. The start of the pull should begin directly underneath your shoulder and it should finish near your hip. Repeat. The dumbbell row is best performed for 8-12 reps, but it can be used outside of these rep ranges successfully too.
The Dual Pulley Pull Down
The dual cable or dual pulley pull down is great accessory movement to develop the muscles of the back. Especially if you want to create balance between both sides of the body in terms of strength, function, and muscularity. By isolating each side with its own cable you give each side equal opportunity to generate the same amount of force during the movement.
To set up, you need a dual pully cable system (bands can work too) set to the same weight on each cable. You’ll need to grab onto the handles and assume a kneeling position between both of the cables. From here, with the arms overhead, you want drive the elbows down towards your rib cage while keeping the chest big and open (no hunching forward.) Release the handles slowly back to the starting position. You can contract the glutes to stabilize the hips and trunk.
I would opt to program any exercises like this for 10-15 repetions. You can of course, work outside of these rep ranges, but this is not an exercise to go super heavy on with low reps.
The Pull Up
The pull up or chin up is honestly the king of all back exercises. Nothing feels as good as being able to lift and control your whole body. There are many ways to progress to being able to do a full chin up, which includes use additional assistance (manual, band, etc.), performing eccentric only (negative) repetitions, or position specific isometric holds.
To perform the pull up, you want to set up with a grip that is at least slightly wider than shoulder width. You can use a variety of grip positions (supinated, neutral, or pronated.) Start the movement at the bottom position with the arms overhead. From here, you want to pull yourself as far up as you can while preventing the shoulders from rounding forward. Lower down back to the bottom position in a controlled manner.
You now have a plethora of strength exercises to develop your posterior chain strength. All of these exercises can and will help you to get stronger, develop more muscle, and correct your posture. If you need more help and assistance, please reach out via e-mail to get in touch regarding personal training or online coaching.