Why a 2-to-1 'Push-to-Pull Ratio' May Actually Be Hurting Your Shoulders

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How many times have you heard "A 2:1 Pull:Push ratio is optimal for shoulder health!"

While this sounds good in theory, it's not exactly true if you're pulling in back extension, which is something you'll see more often than not at most gyms.

Pulling in back extension will destroy what's known as your zone of apposition by flattening out your thoracic spine.

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How many times have you heard "A 2:1 Pull:Push ratio is optimal for shoulder health!"

While this sounds good in theory, it's not exactly true if you're pulling in back extension, which is something you'll see more often than not at most gyms.

Pulling in back extension will destroy what's known as your zone of apposition by flattening out your thoracic spine.

The zone of apposition refers to a vertical area of the ribcage where the diaphragm sits. In an ideal human posture, the lower ribs stay mostly down and depressed during inhalation, which allows the diaphragm to do it's job of ascending and descending to bring air into your lungs.

The scapula is a concave (rounded) shape that needs to sit on a convex (a structure that pushes out) ribcage. If the ribs are flared up during pulling, as they are during over-extension, you are not promoting proper scapular mechanics and promoting faulty movement in your ribcage, scapula, and shoulders.

Therefore, I believe it makes sense to maintain a degree of thoracic (upper back) flexion during pulling exercises, as that is the position in which the scapula and ribcage work best together.

There are several other things you should consider before thinking about the right Pull: Push ratio for shoulder health.

Try to maintain a zone of apposition during your pulling exercises. Exhale, get the air out and ribs down, and feel your upper back slightly round. Then attempt to maintain that during the set. This will allow your abs to work instead of your low back, all while getting correct scapular mechanics on the ribs.

Many people would also benefit from more reaching in their training. Reaching will allow them to integrate their serratus anterior into the movement, which is a key muscle for shoulder health. It will also assist you in keeping your ribs down because the obliques (the muscles that pull the ribcage down) will be recruited.

Also, think about integrating more alternating movement during your pulls. This means reaching with one arm while the other arm pulls (think of what naturally occurs during gait/walking). This allows your ribcage to get naturally alternating movement so that it can be mobile and not stiffen up and be rigid. Bilateral arm work like the Barbell Bench Press is a classic example of an exercise that promotes a stiff ribcage. A non-mobile ribcage will skyrocket your risk for a shoulder injury.

Here is an example of an alternating movement that incorporates reaching. With each rep, I am actively reaching my arm towards the floor as far as possible without compromising the position of my trunk. This recruits my serratus anterior and obliques on the reaching-arm side:

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  • Reach your arms as far as possible each rep without further rounding or arching your back
  • Inhale through the nose and exhale all the air out through your mouth until you feel your abs after every rep -Think about pulling your elbows to the wall behind you instead of pulling the weight to you.
  • Reach your arms as far as possible each rep without further rounding or arching your back
  • Inhale through the nose and exhale all the air out through your mouth until you feel your abs after every rep -Think about pulling your elbows to the wall behind you instead of pulling the weight to you.

Photo Credit: PRITrainer.com,


Topics: ROWING | PUSH PULL