Fixing Your Push Pull Ratio

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Most guys I see in the gym love to push. Be it the bench press, variations of the DB press, pushups, squats, leg presses etc. The emphasis here is on developing the anterior muscles where most dominantly the pecs and less so the quads take center stage.

Muscles on the front side of the body are what many people consider most worthwhile training. Unfortunately, the quest for a bigger chest is mostly fuelled by an obtrusive ego which leads to an overemphasis of pushing movements. This leads to an imbalance of the push pull ratio. This usually produces the following phenomenon:


You don’t want to end up like that guy above. A showcase example of muscle imbalance between the pecs and the upper back muscles with beautifully rounded shoulders resembling the kyphosis of Quasimodo.


Integrating More Pulling Exercises

postures1Not a whole lot of attention is given to the ratio of pushing to pulling exercises. For a trainee, this ratio is probably roughly 1:1 or even as bad as 1: 0,5. To restore optimal posture many fitness experts advise using a 1:2 (push:pull) ratio. This means that you roughly perform double as many pulling exercises as pushing exercises. This is particularly important for keeping the shoulder girlde strong and pain-free.

If you take into consideration that most of our waking hours are spent sitting at a desk or on a couch adopting bad posture, then it becomes obvious why the „Quasimodo Effect“ is so prevalent. I have written about how you can Hack your working position to improve posture and become more productive as a result. Therefore, if you want to fix screwed posture you should probably focus even harder on pulling more to counterbalance your pushing.

The modern lifestyle leads to inherent muscle imbalances. Therefore, sticking with a 1:1 balance to restore an imbalance is completely illogical.


Which Pulling Exercises?

My first go-to exercise when I want to counteract some of the pushing I did is to perform „Face Pulls„. You set a pulley at roughly head height, attach a rope, and start pulling while the rope is spreading apart to both sides of the head.


Moving the weight stack slowly and keeping a 2-sec contraction at the end gets the traps and the rhomboids burning. You can vary the height of the pulley. I often like to set the pin at ground level and perform upright rows. Pumps traps and shoulders up like crazy.

If you want to incorporate face pulls during your workday and don’t have access to a pulley station, band pull aparts are a very practical alternative.



Inverted Rows

Another pulling exercise I really like is the „Inverted Row“ done on gymnastics rings. Using rings allows your wrists to naturally rotate. Again, the idea is to squeeze the back muscles as tight as possible right at the top and getting back to a full stretch slowly. If you don’t have access to rings, using the bar of a Smith Machine is useful too. You can start with the bar at low level, raising the bar as you fatigue to complete the movement.

One technique I like to implement often is to superset pushing exercises with pulling exercises. This may involve doing 2 sets of Face Pulls right after 1 set of an Incline Press. Not only does the pump in the upper back give me more stability on the bench, more importantly, it keeps the shoulders healthy.

Other exercises which address the deficiency of the posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, errector spinae, lower traps, lats,) include the Stiff-Legged Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Reverse Hyperextension and Hip Thrust.

Now, don’t be lazy and go fix yourself!

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  • Arthur

    All your routines have 2x pulling movements sets compared to pushing movements?

    E.g., you do 3 sets of bench press and 6 sets of Pendlay rows?

    I might throw some face pull sets, but I think going nuclear with the 2:1 ration miiight be overkill…

    • JohnA

      I wouldn’t do more sets, but instead do more pulling exercises. A method I’ve seen is having a 2 part Back day where you do a lot of row exercises and face pulls on one day (back thickness)and then do pull ups/chin ups and varied pull down exercises on the second day(back width).