You Can’t Just Balance Push & Pull (Part One)

We all know that too much of one something is bad for you, a point beautifully illustrated by the good old bench press. Most people now know that too much pressing is a sure fire way to mess up their shoulders but do they really know how to balance their upper body training?

Pushing and Pulling

Most people think of an exercise in terms of the global musculature that it emphasises. For example, the typical gum bunny will perform the bench press is for ‘chest’ and pulldowns for the ‘lats’. Balancing these types of exercise is a good idea for many reasons. Firstly, imbalances increase the risk of injury. Secondly, imbalances inhibit strength gains. If your pressing strength hasn’t gone up in a while then looking to improve your pulls would be a more than worthwhile investment.

Typical Recommendations

  • A pushing to pulling strength ratio of 1:1 for most athletes and the general population (various comparisons can be made but estimating 1RM bench and 1RM supinated chin-up is perhaps the easiest)
  • A training volume of between 1:2 and 1:3 in favour of pulling exercises

So, balance your pushes and pulls and everybody’s happy. After all, the opposite of a push is a pull, right? Well it is, but it’s not the whole story…

What Muscles Are You Training?

Let’s get back to the lats and chest, or pectorals if we’re getting technical. It’s natural to assume that they serve the opposing functions and in gross terms that’s a fair assessment. The pectoralis major produces shoulder flexion (‘front raise-type’ motion) and horizontal flexion/adduction (‘fly-type’ motion) whilst the latissimus dorsi produces shoulder extension (‘pullover-type’ motion) and horizontal extension/abduction (‘face pull-type’ motion). All good so far. The problem, however, is that they both internally rotate the shoulder. None of the big-name muscles act as external rotators so this facet is often overlooked.

Stuck in a Moment

As most popular pushing movements exert an internal rotation moment on the humerus, it may be expected that pulling movements create the opposite. Sadly not, most popular pulling motions also exert an internal rotation moment on the humerus. Here’s a list of popular exercises that all have something in common, see if you can work out what it is:

  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Push Up
  • Dip
  • Pull/Chin Up
  • Inverted Row
  • Pulldowns
  • Seated Row
  • Chest Supported Row

Give yourself a gold star if you said ‘an internal rotation moment’. Whilst you may be balancing your pushing and pulling exercises, chances are that you’re not balancing your internal and external rotation too.

Too Much Internal Rotation

Training follows the SAID principle – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. Training the muscles responsible for internal rotation and exercises that create an internal rotation moment means that the internal rotators get bigger and stronger. If you’re not training the external rotators to a similar extent then imbalances will occur and then be exacerbated, such an imbalance is very bad news for the shoulder. The internal and external rotators want to pull the shoulder in opposing directions. This isn’t really at problem when they’re both well matched, but when you’re pitting a Land Rover up against G-Wizz it’s only ending up one way. Why is this bad? Well, you’ll have to wait for the next part to find out!

Exercises, Performance, Prehab & Rehab , , , , , ,

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