Building a balanced program is half the battle when it comes to developing strength training routines. Creating balance within the routine will only help your client’s performance and keep them healthy over the long haul. In our programs, we really emphasize the posterior chain. In other words, we really want to develop the backside. Each program we write has balance; however, we usually add additional back exercises to each phase.
Since our programs have more pulling exercises, we need to create variety as well. There isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to pulling exercises, so breaking the pulling down into two categories really helps. Determining if the pull is a horizontal pull or a vertical pull basically creates these two categories. We already did a piece on the horizontal pull, so if you missed that one, check it out here.
We’re going to be breaking down the vertical pull in this article. Just like the rest of the series, we’ll be breaking down the common faults, giving a few corrective strategies to help improve those faults, and showing a solid progression of exercises that will challenge the vertical pull. Take your time. Be patient and conscious of your body and how you’re moving. This is one of the more challenging movements for most people; so don’t skip it. Check yourself for these common faults:
Bad: Forward head posture
1. Sitting is not allowed! – We shouldn’t be going to the gym to take a seat. For most of us, we do a good amount of sitting already. We don’t need to train at the gym in a seat. We should really be working on improving our core function and posture while at the gym. Lat pulldown and other traditional exercises you do at the gym aren’t necessarily bad. Actually, they’re great if you make one modification. The next time you’re at the gym and doing some back work, instead of taking a seat…try to do the same exercise from a tall kneeling or half kneeling position. Doing the same exercise from a kneeling position will help make this exercise more functional and improve a heck of a lot more than just your back. Kneeling exercises are a great way to challenge your core, improve your posture, and get you training off your butt. Give it a shot.
Half Kneel Tall Kneel
2. Putting Stress on the Front Shoulder Capsule –Notice the picture below and look at the position of the shoulder. Notice how the humerus, the big upper arm bone, is pretty much jamming into the front shoulder capsule. If you’re pulling properly, the shoulders should glide back as the shoulder blades retract and pull together. Pulling properly will keep the shoulders healthy and put little to no stress on the joint capsule itself. Don’t jam up your joint capsules while training. This is a great way to sustain an injury and keep you away from training. Check out the position of the two pictures below and notice how one side looks jammed up and the other side looks more natural. Strive to get the shoulders into proper position while training. If you can’t, ensure you drop down to a less challenging version until you can control the shoulders and keep your joint capsules happy.
Good anterior glide Bad anterior glide
3. Rib Flare – If you’ve ever trained with us before, we can almost guarantee that you’ve heard us yelling, “ribs down.” This is one of the most popular coaching cues we use around the gym. During pull-downs, pull-ups, or any other exercise for that matter, you should be conscious of your posture in relations to your rib cage, low back, and pelvis. If the pelvis tilts forward and creates an arch in the low back, your core will shut down and lose its ability to perform the way it should. This results in decreased performance, plateaus, and possible injuries. Watch your posture and keep those ribs down!
4. Stopping short – I see this fault more than any other fault probably. If you’re training at our gym, you’re probably not stopping short; however, if you’re not, I would almost guarantee you are. Completing the range of motion is extremely important in the vertical pulling exercises. It’s so important; I commonly refer to chin-ups as chest-ups. I don’t want to only see the chin go above the bar. I want to see you drive your sternum deep into the bar and really engage the lower traps in the process. The lats do a good portion of the pulling through most of the movement, but the low trap is what finishes it off. I’ve seen a lot of strong individuals be able to do 10-20 chin-ups, but then fail at attempting to do even one chest-up. Check out the picture below to see what I’m talking about. Next time, think about driving your sternum into the bar while doing your pull-ups or pull-downs and I’m sure you’ll notice an increased challenge immediately.
Vertical pulling isn’t for everyone right off the bat. If you struggle to get your arms over your head without having to compensate by arching your low back, vertical pulling will probably just cause more harm than good. If you’re uncomfortable training with your arms overhead, that’s all right. Simply refer back to the horizontal pulling article and replace a vertical pull with another horizontal pull.
These are a few of our favorite exercises that help increase the mobility through the shoulders and upper back. If you’re experiencing any of the above faults, try these exercises out and see if they help correct the problem.
Vertical Pulling Progressions
As I stated earlier, vertical pulling is one of the harder movement patterns we train in the gym on a regular basis. Many people take time to develop strength and stability in this pattern. Take your time going through these progressions and don’t rush it. Own each movement before moving on to the next. This progression will get complicated very quickly, so proceed with caution 🙂
Give these a shot and let us know what you thought about them in the comments!