At least in the gym, men like to push while women like to pull. You’ll find men doing bench presses while women are doing lat pulldowns. Either because men are so focused on how they look upfront and women are so worried about “overdeveloping” the chest muscles for esthetic purposes, but this thinking often results in an unbalanced training pattern that sooner or later will not just affect how you look, but also your health.
When working the muscles is important to see them as two sides of a coin so when you flex your biceps, you need to do something for your triceps as well. This will guarantee that the muscles and the joints get the same stress so they can balance their strength workload and their recovery time.
“This push-pull arrangement ensures that the same muscles will not be used in two exercises in succession, thus reducing fatigue in the involved muscles,” says Thomas R. Baechele, Roger W. Earle and Dan Wathen in the book Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.
Balancing out the push-pull muscles pattern is so important that have been suggested as a screening mechanism to test movement competence of athletes before starting a strength training program. “Upper body push and pull movements may provide insight into movement strategies that are inefficient and contribute to injury,” explains the authors of the article “Screening the upper-body push and pull patterns using body weight exercises” published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
Change planes in your training
Training your musculature effectively requires a little bit more than a balance push-pull muscle load. When you lift up a package, do a bicep curls or serve a ball, the body moves in different planes. So when working out, the exercise routine ideally should include moves in all three different planes: sagittal (divides the body in left and right), transverse (divides the body in two parts: upper and lower) and frontal (divides the body in anterior and posterior).
That being said, men may not just overload their exercise routines with press moves such as the chest press but also overemphasize one movement plane. For the authors, many exercises are done to load the push pattern in the sagittal plane because of the belief of increasing shoulder injuries. However, evidence shows that shoulder injuries are more related to faulty mechanisms than a particular exercise.
The message here is that to throw in a push-pull exercise routine in your weekly workout schedule. This will assure that all your muscles get the proper training and rest. As per the movement planes and how to combine the push-pulls exercises, here you have a workout that covers all, including tackling the muscles in all movement planes. And if you wonder, what should I do for the lower body? It’s harder to isolate push and pull patterns for the lower body. However, if you do a squat followed by a leg curl, you’ve done a push and pull combination.
- Perform one exercise after another for each pair of moves before moving to the next one.
- Do 2-3 sets for each push-pull pair of exercises.
- If you do 2 sets, perform 8-10 reps one week and 12-15 reps the following week.
- If you do 3 sets, perform one set for 8-10 reps, second set for 12-15 reps and third set for 10 reps.
- Change to a pull-push routine the following week to keep the balance. This means that the following week you should start with the second exercise that you’ll see in each pair of moves.
Note: Exercises can be done in a pulley machine or using the tubing.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.