Pulling Exercises for Greater Strength
Pulling Exercises for Greater Strength
Incorporate often-neglected “back-side” exercises into your strength training to gain muscle and increase your strength.
I can't straighten my fingers as my hands are stuck in an “iron claw” pose; a half opened fist if you will. My forearms are throbbing. My biceps have an unbelievable "pump". I’m bleeding from a scratch above my left eye. My lats feel like I just finished 6 sets of weighted pull-ups. Was I in a New York City bar with my Sox hat on? No, I just finished a 90 minute grappling session and I’m completely spent.
One reason is, being a relative novice to MMA, I tend to “muscle” many of the movements as opposed to using correct technique and body positioning. But regardless of whether you’re a beginning grappler or a black belt, secretary or garbage man, the importance of pulling & grip strength can't be emphasized enough. In fact, every client I train performs pulling exercises more frequently than they push. I know this may shock the bench press fanatics, but pulling movements are in fact the foundation of every workout program I create.
Which ones are best? Well, while my list could run for pages, these are four of my favorite pulling exercises.
1. The Pull-up
If I could only pick one upper body pulling exercise, the pull-up would win easily. They’re great for grip strength, developing stronger forearms, biceps, shoulders, lats, traps, rhomboids, pecs, and even abs (yes, abs). Pulling your body to the bar really forces you to engage the majority of muscles in your upper body, making it a compound movement that really delivers. The variation in the accompanying video shows you a way to incorporate the lower body as well, but regardless of whether you do the “add-on”, just please step away from the lat pulldown machine and start getting after some pull-ups if you want to get bigger and stronger.
2. Unilateral Rows
I typically group my upper body pulling movements into two categories; vertical and horizontal. While pull-ups may be my favorite pulling exercise, I actually use more horizontal pulling movements in my workouts and programs because:
- They’re less intimidating for some clients (pull-ups can be quite daunting to a new client)
- They’re easier to teach
- They’re excellent movements for improving posture
The ‘Rope Pull’ in the video is a staple pulling exercise for my MMA athletes. I definitely like to challenge the “everyday population” with a variety of rope pulls too, but these are no joke. Make sure you keep an upright posture with your upper body and pull evenly with each arm throughout the exercise.
3. Bilateral Row
As stated, the more rowing you can incorporate into your routine, the stronger and more injury free you’ll be. Bilateral Rows requires a great deal of muscular strength and endurance in your arms and back so if you want a movement that will burn you out, look no further than this. Admittedly, the exercise included in the video is geared a bit more towards MMA athletes, due to the nature of their sport. Many times during a fight, they’ll find themselves in a long clinch, or situation where they need to hold on to their opponent for an extended period of time. Either way, this is how to be properly prepared.
4. Deadlifts & Cleans
Deadlift variations and cleans are two of my favorite ways to work the entire backside of the body. Not only great for explosive hip extension and developing overall power, these glute-focused movements are also functionally excellent for the “everyday population” who's simply looking to gain muscle. While you may not “clean” your bag of groceries into the rack position, this movement teaches you to engage the proper muscles and lift items in a healthy manner. I also love these movements for combat athletes because strong, powerful glutes help in many situations during a fight. Check the video out for a cameo of one of my favorite tools: the sandbag.
If you’re a busy executive who sits, travels, and drives a lot, then it’s critical to strengthen your backside. Posterior chain exercises, like those above, will help combat the unhealthy posture your lifestyle requires for 8+ hours a day. If you’re an MMA athlete and we can strengthen your backside, the benefits are then fourfold:
- You’re less likely to get injured
- You’ll be able to pull your arm back quicker after throwing a punch
- You’ll be able to hold and control your opponent more effectively
- You’re more likely to have your arm raised in victory after a tournament or match
However you slice it, start incorporating pulling exercises into your weekly workout routine to ensure you’re maintaining balance, while maximizing your overall strength.
To maximize your gains with these exercises 1R would recommend the following supplements:
- BSN Amino X - This preworkout supplement will increase muscle endurance and protein synthesis, while giving you with the needed push to take your workouts, and results, to the next level
- Cytosport Creatine - By increasing your body's ATP production creatine will help you become more explosive, more powerful, and more athletic when taken before or after lifts
- Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
About the Author
Doug Balzarini is the founder of DB Strength, a company that provides personal training, sports performance coaching, nutritional services, and fitness/wellness education. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for the Alliance MMA Fight Team in San Diego, CA. Previously, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises. A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management for Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego, he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, and obtained multiple certifications/trainings including the NSCA - CSCS certification, ACE - Personal Trainer certification, MMA - Conditioning Coach certification, and TRX Instructor Training. He has appeared in dozens of fitness videos, written numerous fitness-related articles, has competed in multiple grappling tournaments, and produced his own 2-DVD set titled, “Strength & Conditioning for the Combat Athlete”. Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the ‘Continuing Education Coordinator’ where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers. For more information please visit www.DBstrength.com.
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