One of the most unbalanced areas of the body as it applies to muscle use and recruitment is when we engage in pressing and pulling movements.
Common pressing movement examples include bench pressing and pushup variations. Common pulling movement examples include chin ups, pull ups and rowing exercises. Pressing exercises will generally work your chest, shoulders and triceps muscles while pulling exercises will generally work your back and biceps muscles. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the pushing and pulling exercises that can be performed and all the subtle muscle groups they affect. I cite these examples as they are generally understood by the general public without getting technically verbose as my intent is to not turn this simple post into a Harvard anatomy lesson and over complicate concepts.
The muscles you incorporate when performing pressing exercises and pulling exercises are opposing muscle groups that need to be trained in a balanced manner for your body to perform and move optimally. Think of this in terms of a Yin and Yang relationship. Pressing is the Yin to pulling’s Yang. Train one while ignoring the other or neglecting both entirely will usually create some imbalance or issue your body will react to negatively and let you know loud and clear.
For example, a lot of people latch onto the media hyped concept that bench pressing is the ultimate fitness expression and poster child for building a great body and getting “in shape.” Unfortunately, what happens is that people will overdo this pressing exercise at the expense of training the opposing pulling exercises creating problematic muscle group imbalances. I know this all too well as I had a long term love affair with the bench press in my early training years and foolishly kicked pulling exercises to the curb for the most part. I suffered from all kinds of ailments due to this muscular imbalance including poor posture, severely hindered mobility, pain and discomfort and it seemed like I was constantly prone to some type of nagging injury that never went away.
While I was able to put up decent numbers on the bench press getting me nods of respect from all the juice giants and yucksters at the gym, my shoulders would be in such constant pain and stiffness that it hurt just to open a jar of pickles, reach up to the top kitchen shelf for a bowl or perform everyday tasks. So what was I really accomplishing since my simple daily activities were challenging and painful? I finally wised up, listened to knowledgeable coaches and balanced out my training and improved my quality of life. I now move with full ranges of motion, pain free and still maintain a respectable foundation of strength. We all make mistakes in our training, so please learn from mine and keep your training balanced by not ignoring any of your muscle groups at the expense of over training others.
That’s why the majority of the exercises I perform and advocate here at Seven Stars Fitness are true total body exercises whereby I try to simulate everyday powerful movements recruiting the most muscles which creates the most stimulus ultimately leading to the best fitness results.
OK, I blabbed enough about the importance of balance and how I fell into the trap of and suffered the consequences from training in an unbalanced way back before there were any internet geniuses to show me the light at the click of a mouse.
Here’s a balanced push and pull workout variation from my playbook I use often along with an editorial response to a post a lot of fitness phonies bitched to me about:
I enjoy the challenge of making use of Mother Nature’s terrain and structures to perform workouts such as the push and pull. Doing chin ups on a thick, rough and slightly bowed tree branch is way more challenging than a thin, smooth perfectly even bar. Even performing walkout pushups are more challenging on natural terrain as opposed to a smooth gym floor mat. I find that more muscles are recruited when I train outdoors and Mother Nature provides excellent exercise tools if you are willing to explore, respect and work with her!
The Push And Pull Workout
2 Chin ups (The Pull)
2 Walkout Push Ups (The Push)
A round is considered doing your chin ups immediately followed by the walkout pushups
Tips And Technique Guidelines
I like to keep my repetitions low, but do multiple rounds in order to manage fatigue and stay mentally psyched and engaged. You will be surprised at how these low, quality repetitions add up at the end of 10 minutes and give you a great workout. Experiment with the repetitions depending on your fitness level for your particular situation.
Make sure to get a proper warmup in before ramping up your activity
See how many quality rounds you can get in 10 minutes. As you get better, try working your way to 15 minutes.
Please refrain from flailing your body and legs in jerky, undulating movements like you have ants in your pants or simulating a seizure just to generate momentum to get your chin above the bar or tree branch. I realize that this is all the rage in some fitness circles just so people can rack up unearned, horribly performed repetitions to crow about. However, this is not a safe or sustainable way to do chin ups or pull ups as training with poor form such as this invites injury. Remember that “less is more” as it applies to performing quality repetitions which always leads to more productive fitness.
When you walk out to do your push ups, line your knuckles directly underneath your shoulders and not angled out in front of you for ideal technique and form which places less stress on the shoulder joints.
As you walk yourself up from the ground, make sure you finish the move with a tall posture before performing the next repetition.
Rest as much as you need between rounds, but make sure you challenge yourself and don’t dawdle or get distracted. Depending on how I feel, I may rest as little as 15 seconds between rounds at the beginning while fresh, yet end up resting 40 seconds toward the end of the session. Listen to your body to give you feedback on how long to rest. Some days you need more and some less. Don’t force your body into a rigid workout routine if it is not cooperating with you on some days which will happen. Err on the side of a little more rest as opposed to not being recovered sufficiently between rounds.
If fatigue starts to make your movement quality suffer, then take longer breaks between rounds to ensure sustainability and success – Do not compromise your form, know your limits and use common sense!
Regress A Little To Progress A lot
Please don’t get frustrated if you can’t do a full chin up or push up. By performing back-off exercises (regressive movements) you will still get a challenging workout while earning and practicing your way to building the necessary strength and technique whereby you will soon progress to performing full chin ups and push ups. Here are a few back-off movements to try in order to position you for success:
If you can’t do a legitimate, full range chin up, do a negative chin up which will still give you great stimulus while positioning you for success leading to your first unassisted chin up!
If you can’t do a push up, just do the walkout portion of the exercise which will help you toward advancing doing a full push up. Just walking your body down and out to the ground into a top position push up hold(plank) and getting back up again is a super exercise movement – so don’t despair if you can’t get that full push up in yet as you are still getting a solid, meaningful workout!
Benefits Of Training Opposing Muscle Groups
Not only does the body respond well when you train muscle groups in a balanced manner as evidenced by fantastic fitness results, it is very time efficient and will not waste your precious time.
Training your body in a balanced manner will go a long way in improving your mobility, avoid and even clean up nagging pains we have all accumulated to varying degrees, improve your posture, plug leaks in your overall strength and make you less prone to injury.
It’s never too late to train your body properly and see incredible improvement in your quality of life. I fell into the trap of training unproductively in my youth and my quality of life suffered since I neglected a balanced training methodology. My fitness and quality of life both physically and mentally skyrocketed once I started intelligently training my body in balance utilizing total body exercises recruiting as many muscle groups as possible each training session.
Your pal in fitness,
Mellow-Husky (mellow as in laid back and husky like the dog!)
I Eat T-Bone Steaks And Train With My Body Weight!
Seven Stars Fitness