When it comes to upper-body training, many people tend to gravitate towards push-type movements. However, to overlook pulling exercises would leave plenty of potential fro growth on the table. Proper pulling is not just about yanking something from one point to another; there are certain upper-body mechanics that need to be respected in order for training to be productive.
While the big pulling movements (pull/chin-ups, rows, pulldowns) typically utilise the lats as prime movers, the shoulders and the core play the important role of synergists. This means that while they may not be directly responsible for overcoming resistance, they do support the movement by ensuring joint and trunk stability. The purpose of the following drills is to train these areas first so that you build a strong foundation first before moving on to the bigger bang-for-buck exercises.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
1. Scapula pull-in
Floating shoulders are a big no-no in any training exercise; a poorly secured shoulder joint is prone to injury, even at light load. The common cue to address this is “shoulders in the back pocket” - this is meant to elicit a depression of the scapula which basically “locks down” the shoulder joint. Employing a resistance band secured from above allows you to build strength and familiarity in this area. Take a high enough grip so that the band has enough tension to pull your shoulders upwards when you adopt the kneeling position, but keep your elbows slightly unlocked. Keep your midsection braced as you pull and do not let your lumbar spine hyperextend.
2. Cable pullover
An often-witnessed mistake with pulling movements is an over-reliance on the muscles of the arms. This is largely due to an inability to activate the lats – a kind of back-muscle amnesia. The pullover isolates these exact muscles via shoulder extension while the use of a cable ensures consistent tension throughout the movement. Like the scapula pull-in, practice proper bracing, keep your lower back flat and maintain a slight bend in the elbows.
3. Unilateral dumbbell row
Dumbbell rowing is tricky in the sense whereby there are a lot of ways it can go wrong. Done correctly however, they're perhaps one of the most versatile exercises for training the lats unilaterally. Placing the foot that's on the same side you're rowing on in front helps makes this exercise even more effective by eliminating trunk rotation. As you pull back with the elbows, perform a hard squeeze of he back at the top of the movement before lowering under control.
4. Seated row
Once you've gotten a feel for unilateral rowing, you can start to apply what you've learnt to bilateral variations. The seated cable row is safe and simple (execution-wise) way to practice the techniques you've developed in the previous drills. As you row, imagine a gap existing between your scapula and your shoulder joint. Think about opening this gap as you lower the weight and closing it as you row. This will allow you to achieve a good stretch and a peak contraction with each repetition.
5. Bent-over row
Barbell rows are synonymous with big, strong backs. However, they are also one of the more complex pulling exercises to perform due to the placement of the load. The bent-over nature of the movement involves the lower back and the hamstrings to some degree, but starting from a dead-stop allows us to negate this to a certain extent. Nevertheless, posture and bracing is still important when it comes to barbell rowing. Before pulling, ensure that your weight is evenly distributed across your feet and that you maintain a neutral arch in your lower back. Take a deep breath, brace and push into the floor as you row the barbell upwards, driving the elbows back as you do so.
Upon progressing to the final drill (i.e. bent-over rows) it may be necessary for certain individuals to elevate the barbell in order for the movement to be performed correctly. This can be due to either mobility issues or disadvantageous limb lengths; doing so is fine and will not affect the effectiveness of the exercise as long as it's performed correctly. With rowing, it's more important that you “feel” the exercise, so work on forging that mind-muscle connection and milking it for all its worth!