In the world of strength training, you often hear people talk about muscle balance. A 2010 study published by the "Strength and Conditioning Journal" stated that upper body muscular balance is a key factor in avoiding injuries of the upper extremities. One of the best ways to balance your training is with an even number of horizontal and vertical push-and-pull exercises. Incorporating all of these exercises into your workout will strengthen your upper body muscles and protect your joints from injury.
Horizontal push exercises are any exercises that involve pushing a weight away from your body. During horizontal push exercises, your arms will be perpendicular to your torso. To execute a pushup, place your hands just outside of your shoulders, looking down at the floor. Rise up onto your toes, with your body in straight alignment from your head to your feet. In a controlled manner, bend your elbows lower yourself toward the floor until your elbows at least 90 degrees. Press up until your elbows are fully extended. If you have difficulty performing pushups, try modified pushups. Set yourself up as described, but place your knees on the floor instead of your feet.
During a horizontal pull movement, your arms will be in the same position, but the force is reversed. While executing horizontal pull exercises, you pull a weight toward your body. Michael Boyle, a former NHL strength coach, recommends inverted rows as his horizontal pull exercise of choice. To complete an inverted row, position a bar in a Smith rack, or secured in a squat rack, a few feet off the ground. Lie on the floor, face up, and grab the bar. With your body in a straight line, keep your elbows ata 45-degree angle from your sides and pull your body up toward the bar. Touch your chest to the bar to ensure full range of motion, then slowly return to the floor.
Vertical push exercises involve pressing a weight overhead. They should be executed with extreme caution because you are holding a weight over your head in the end position. To execute a military press, standing in a safety rack, position a barbell at chest height. Grab the bar slightly outside your shoulders and stand with your leg muscles tightened for a strong base. Press the bar toward the ceiling until your arms are fully extended. Lower the bar in a controlled manner; to ensure a proper press, the bar should be very close to your nose on the way up and the way down.
During the vertical pull your arms will be traveling straight up and down, as with the military press, but the force is reversed. World-renowned strength coach and trainer of Olympic medalists, Charles Poliquin, considers pullups -- a vertical pull exercise -- to be the "king of upper body exercises." To perform, start by hanging from a pullup bar with your arms fully extended. Drop your shoulders down and back, and begin to bend your elbows. Pull your body up until your chin has completely passed the bar. Return to the starting position in a controlled manner. If pullups are too difficult for you, have a friend hold your feet and help you up; control the lowering position completely by yourself.
Balancing your push-and-pull exercises is an important part of your workout. It can be easy to decide on doing two horizontal push-and-pull and two vertical push-and-pull exercises to achieve balance, but you might miss the mark. Chris Ritter, a strength and conditioning coach for U.S. Masters Swimming, points out that if you have an existing muscle imbalance, you need to balance your exercises differently. Ritter designs workout programs that emphasize pulling because swimming neglects pulling muscles. Try balancing your workout with the same amount of push-and-pull exercises, but if you experience any pain or discomfort, find a qualified trainer who can screen you for muscle imbalances.
- Strength and Conditioning Journal: Screening the Upper-Body Push and Pull Patterns Using Body Weight Exercises
- ExRx.net: Push-Up
- Functional Training for Sports; Michael Boyle
- T-Nation: Man Up and Military Press
- The Poliquin Principles; Charles Poliquin
- U.S. Masters Swimming: Strength Training: A Balanced Approach
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