Pulling is one of the most widely used concepts in training. There are two types of pulls: horizontal and vertical. Aside from the more obvious examples of lifting overhead and picking items off the ground, we also need pulling in our lives to maintain correct posture while walking and sitting. Needless to say, it's important!
The first type we will cover is horizontal pulling. Horizontal pulling is moving a load and pulling it in towards your torso, such as a row. This type of movement is extremely important because we are in this seated positions all day long, which inhibits the muscles from working on the back side of the body. Being in this positions for extended periods of time can cause poor posture, weak core, or even a lot of aggravating aches and pains that come from these imbalances. When horizontal pulling is added into the program, we tend to see improved shoulder blade positioning and function, better posture, and overall core stability.
Here at THP, we program horizontal pulling in various different positions starting from the ground and working our way up. This is to keep the movement functional. From the ground position, we might include a supine cable row, then advance to the next position in a suspended quadruped position with a TRX row before the transitional pattern in a ½ kneeling cable row, to then finally work up to standing with a bent over dumbbell row. For a real challenge beyond the standing position, athlete could lock in their hip stability with a single-arm single-leg cable row. Each of these exercise examples has a specific purpose for an athlete's movement while falling within the realm of horizontal pulling.
Despite a person or athlete's training age, they might have compensations that occur in their movements. One that we see a lot with rowing is that athletes will get “necky” or “trappy.” This happens when the trapezius takes over and the shoulder raises up into the ear. We combat this by cueing the athlete to think about putting their shoulder into their pocket driving that elbow low and back towards their hips. Another compensation we see is when the athlete rows and they lose a neutral spine. As a result, they arch their spine. We cue them to stack knee to hip, hip to shoulder, and pull the ribs down. The last one we see is when the athlete gets too “handsy” and cranks their wrist towards their midline. One cue to solve this is to have the athlete focus on driving the elbow instead of the hand.
Shifting focus now to vertical pulling. Vertical pulling is any exercise where the athlete is starting in an overhead position and pulling a load down towards the body, such as a lat pulldown or a pull-up. In today’s world, most people sit at a desk, hunched over, looking at a screen. As a result, we see these people getting what we call “trappy,” or when the person’s shoulders are elevated up by their ear. It makes it extremely difficult to get into an overhead position or even turn their neck from a mobility standpoint. By adding vertical pulling into a member’s program, we can improve their shoulder blade mobility and functioning by allowing them to position the joint down and back. Improving the position will allow the traps to relax and the lats to activate properly.
Just like the horizontal pull, we implement the vertical pull in a wide variety of ways, starting from the ground and working a member up to standing. An example of a stack of exercises to demonstrate this progression might go like this: the first movement is going to be from the ground with the supine cable pullover, with the next position being the quadruped cable row, then advancing to the transitional pattern with the ½ kneeling lat pulldown, and ending with the pull-up. The pull-up is a great depiction of how all the previous movements compound together, as the member is forced to keep the core tight to prevent overarching their back and maintain tension all in the lats.
Similar to horizontal pulling, the athlete may have compensations when doing vertical pulling movements. Again,, we tend to see clients getting "trappy" even when they are pulling overhead. The way we cue that is to drive their shoulder down towards their hip. Another compensation we see is someone arching their chest up towards the pull or arching their lower back. A couple cues to correct this is to tuck the hips under, pull the ribs down, and maintain that core position throughout the whole movement. The final compensation we may see is someone getting too handsy with the movement. They tend to crank their wrist and pull their hand in towards their midline. This means they’re initiating the movement from their hand instead of the elbow. To solve this, cue them to drive from the elbow and to think of the hand as more of a hook rather than gripping the handle so hard.
There you have it – the importance of pulling and examples of both vertical and horizontal pulling exercises, and common compensations to combat. To recap, pulling is a key part to any program. It helps the client maintain good posture and a strong core while avoiding aches, pains, or even injuries. The last thing anyone wants is to get hurt or have pain, so let's learn how to pull!