If you have a pull to match every push in your workout program, congratulations—you’re already doing more than most people.
But don’t get too excited. Many strength and conditioning experts now believe a workout program should include two pulls for every push. That ratio seems to be the winning formula to prevent asymmetries, build better posture and unlock elite athletic performance.
How many of you have a program that includes two pulls for every push? We’re guessing a small percentage. Here’s why you need to make the two-to-one pull-push ratio a major priority in your training.
Why We Develop Anterior Dominance
Before we dive into this topic, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what “pulling” and “pressing” exercises are. Pulling exercises are those in which the “top” of the movement has you pulling a load toward your body. Any variation of Pull-Ups, Rows, Reverse Flys, Pull-Throughs, Physioball Leg Curls, Deadlifts—those are all “pulling” exercises. Pressing exercises refer to those in which the “top” of the movement has you pressing a load away from your body. So variations of Bench Presses, Shoulder Presses, Push-Ups, Flys, Bicep Curls, Leg Presses—those are all “pushing” exercises.
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So why should you pull twice as often as you push inside the weight room? The simple answer is that the overwhelming majority of Americans are anterior dominant—meaning they use the muscles on the front of their body (e.g., the quads and pecs) more frequently than the ones on the back (e.g., the hamstrings and trapezius). Anterior dominance has become the norm in our society due to a couple of factors.
For starters, think about the position your body is in during most of your daily routine. Whether you’re driving your car, working on a computer, sitting at a desk or staring down at your smartphone, your body is forced into a similar position. Your neck is likely craned in front of your chest, your shoulders are likely rolled forward and up toward your head, your hands are out in front of you, and you’re probably bent forward at the pelvis with a rounded back. Over time, this hunched position tightens the muscles on the front of your body (e.g., the hip flexors and chest) and lengthens the muscles on the back of your body (e.g., the upper back). This stressful position has become a dominant part of daily life as people spend increasing amounts of time on their laptops, iPads, smartphones and other devices.
There’s also the simple-yet-significant factor that the muscles you most easily see in a mirror are on the front of your body. Unless you have eyes in the back of your head, you see your anterior muscles a lot more frequently than your posterior muscles. This leads people (men especially) to prioritize targeting their “mirror muscles” in their training, which is done almost exclusively via pushing exercises.
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Third, most people simply prefer pushing to pulling.
What’s the most popular bodyweight exercise in the world? The Push-Up. What’s the most popular barbell exercise in the world? The Bench Press. What machine always draws a crowd at your gym? The Leg Press. People naturally gravitate toward these exercises because they’re familiar and because they’re known to effectively target the mirror muscles. “A lot of athletes lack strength in their pulling muscles because they sit at a desk with their arms extended, they drive in a car with their hands in front of them, or they just flat out Bench Press too much,” says Aaron Bonaccorsy, a performance coach at STACK Velocity Sports.
Why Anterior Dominance is a Serious Problem
If you’re like most Americans, odds are you’re anterior dominant. But so what? Why is that a big deal?
Let’s start with the dreaded effects of poor posture. One of the most frequent postural issues among Americans is something known as anterior pelvic tilt. Due to muscle imbalances, the pelvis is slightly rotated forward. This is often a direct result of anterior dominance and a lifestyle that frequently forces people into a seated, hunched position.
A pelvis that’s slightly rotated forward might not sound like a big deal, but it sets off a chain reaction that wreaks havoc on the body. “When your pelvis is excessively anteriorly rotated, your rib cage has a tendency to be anteriorly flared and your back is hyperextended,” says Neil Rampe, a certified postural restorationist who works as a manual therapist for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “And that’s putting a ton of compressive force on your lower back and also having a detrimental effect on your ability to breathe properly.”
The postural issues that stem from anterior dominance (such as anterior pelvic tilt, rounded shoulders, etc.) mess up your movement patterns in a serious way, which is a big problem for athletes. Performing explosive movements like sprinting, jumping or pressing with poor posture places an incredible amount of harmful stress on the body, which makes injuries all but unavoidable. “John Doe just living life isn’t going to demand as much from his body as an athlete,” Rampe says. “Athletes are doing high-velocity, high-torque, high-strength and high-speed activities. So if your postural positioning as well as your stabilization strategy is poor, bad things will likely happen sooner and in a more significant way than they would for a non-athlete.”
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It doesn’t take an exercise physiologist to figure out that weak posterior muscles are a major drain on performance. The posterior chain plays a gigantic role in nearly every athletic movement, and increases in posterior chain strength and stability are a surefire way to improve performance. One reason good athletes are so good is because they have a strong, stable posterior chain filled with fast-twitch muscle fibers. “A stronger posterior chain equals a better athlete,” Bonaccorsy says.
Pull It To The Limit
Although pushing exercises certainly need to be a part of your workout plan, doing more pulling exercises will go a long way toward addressing anterior dominance. “Programming-wise, most athletes need to carry at least a 2-to-1 pull-to-push ratio,” says Kasey Esser, CSCS and owner of Essers of Los Angeles.
Achieving this ratio might seem difficult, but there is a massive arsenal of pulling exercises at your disposal. It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to focus on heavy pulls to get results—lightweight exercises like Band Pull-Aparts are also effective for addressing anterior dominance.
If you need suggestions for adding more pulling to your training, check out our list of 14 highly effective posterior chain exercises. They’ll provide a ton of bang for your buck and quickly get you on track to address your anterior dominance and become a healthier, more explosive athlete.
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