27 March 2011

Push Pull Training Pricniples

In life there is a theory, what goes up must come down. An expression, what goes around, comes around. A quote, where there is a will, there is a way....

Well your new training guide is simple, for every PUSH there is a PULL. Simple enough? It is very simple, so simple in fact that many people take this for granted....

How many times have you seen the huge guys at the gym all hunched over looking more like gorillas rather than actual men? This kind of posture is becoming more and more common, especially amongst young amateur lifters and fitness people.  Why do people so often end up in this 'kyphotic' position? What causes it? How can it be prevented? Are there any steps to take to help rehabilitate such a state of gorilla-ness????

Read on...

In my experience, the 'show off muscles' i.e the chest, biceps and abs are the main cause of this problem. People tend to drastically overtrain them, coupled with poor form these two factors give the body little choice but to adapt to this exaggerated posture!

 One thing people tend to overlook is that the body is the ULTIMATE LEARNING MACHINE! There is a proven philosophy called GAS (general adaptation syndrome) which details that when the human body is continually exposed to an environment or stress, weather it is a good or bad environment or stress, it will adapt to the new stimulus in order to be more efficient at coping with it.

 Lets put it another way. If you were to lie on the sofa for 3 weeks straight, all day every day, watch television, eat junk food and generally be lazy, you would become 'the best in the world' at doing exactly that!! Any active person knows, when you lie down in a distorted position for an extended period of time, it becomes uncomfortable, in the same way when you learn new exercises or even take a new route on the bus or train to work, it is quite uncomfortable, as the mind and body are not used to it yet. This rule will apply to everything you do in life, but should not be looked at as a negative, rather as a 'mini challenge' to be embraced and conquered! 

Let me set you a small challenge to prove this theory further. The next time you sit down on the sofa to watch the t.v, use the remote control with your weaker hand and see how much more challenging it becomes to switch over to the X-FACTOR!!! I guarantee if you continue to use your 'weaker hand' for the entire series, you will be able to use both hands with the same functionality! 

Most people who lift weights or do resistance training probably consider themselves 'experts' in the bench press, bicep curls, abs crunches and maybe even the lat pull down machine! Lets look at a list of exercises that compliment each other perfectly and I will explain how you can benefit from them. Bear in mind, the body only has 3 types of movement it is capable of, the push, the pull and the rotation. If you are to achieve optimal strength and balance in your physique and nervous system, you will need to use a range of all 3 regularly. 

Squat = push
Deadlift = pull

Bench press =push
Bent over row = pull

Shoulder press = push
Lat dorsi pull down = pull

Tricep press = push
Bicep curl = pull

Dips = push
Pull ups = pull

Leg extensions = push
Leg curls = pull

Abs crunches = push
Hyperextensions = pull

Rotational exercises are a combination of all of these movements and I will discuss them in another article, for now lets stick to the push pull principle.

Firstly, breathing can help to make exercises easier to understand and perform. Visualise for a moment that you are doing a bench press. To make this exercise smoother, breathe in as you bring the bar down to your chest, and breathe out as you push the bar up. It makes sense that the bar is coming away from your body, imagine that the strength of your breath is actually blowing the bar up as you push with your chest and triceps muscles.

The opposite exercise on our scale was the bent over row. In contrast, as you lower the bar towards the floor it is getting further away from your body so you should breathe out, as you pull the bar closer breathe in deeply, again imagine your breathing in is actually sucking the bar towards your chest! These kind of visualisation techniques and practices can make a challenging exercise just a little easier and allow you to grind out a couple more hard reps than usual!

This breathing pattern I would recommend to use for all pushing and pulling movements and can provide valuable concentration when training at high intensity. It is tricky to master at first, but after a few sessions of conscious practise, I am confident your body will adjust and you will no longer need to actively think about the breathing, as the GAS (general adaptation syndrome) will have done its job, and the breathing pattern will become second nature...

Lets look at the body as a whole. It is divided in to 2 parts, front (anterior) and back (posterior), we will discuss medial and lateral rotation in another article. The muscles that are required to push or press, (breathing out) are most commonly located on the front of the body, chest, shoulders, abdominals, quadriceps etc, and the pulling muscles (breathing in) located on the back, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, trapezius (traps), rear delts, gluteus maximus, hamstrings etc..

One exception being the muscles of the arms, biceps are a pulling muscle, triceps a pushing muscle.

When looking to achieve balance in the body for athletics, sports, bodybuilding, posture correction and stability as well as general health, it is important to train both pulling and pushing muscles equally to avoid unwanted side effects of stronger or 'dominant' muscle groups. This is where push pull training becomes so vital to human functionality.

 It does not make any sense to do 5 sets of heavy bench presses with maximum weight, say 6 reps, and then  2 or 3 sets of lat pull downs for 12-15 reps. This is uneven training. The effects of having unbalanced muscles on the posture are very visible but the psychological damage is just as bad. Let me explain. People in general stick to what they are good at. If you are strong in your bench press but not so good at your counter active pulling exercises, it is likely you will stick to pushing movements and become stronger and stronger, while neglecting your opposite (antagonistic) pulling muscles. This drives the body further and further down the scale of imbalance, until one regular day at the gym turns bad, when you are attempting your normal bench press weight, and the supporting muscles around you decide they can no longer deal with the imbalance, and injure. 

I know the general guide for bodybuilding will have individuals doing bodypart split routines, but unless balance is a main consideration of your training programme, the likelihood of injury is dramatically increased. 

Full body workouts are an effective way of preventing and correcting muscle imbalances and create a greater neuromuscular understanding between the different muscles of the body. Another great way to target and prevent the onset of general adaptation syndrome is to continually challenge the muscles in different ways. For example if this week you trained your chest muscles with dumbells and barbells, your next workout you could use cable machines and bodyweight exercises for similar movements i.e presses and flys. The following chest workout you could go back to dumbells and barbells, or perhaps mix and match, one day barbells and bodyweight, next day dumbells and cables and so on. This tircks the body and does not allow it to become too familiar with a certain exercise, and in turn gives you better muscle stimulation. 

Another sure fire way to keep the body guessing is to alternate working out muscles on different days. I know guys and girls who go to the gym 4 times a week and train the same routine for years with little or no progress. Their programmes may look something like this.

Monday - Chest
Tuesday - Back
Wednesday - Rest
Thursday - Shoulders
Friday - Arms
Sat - Rest
Sunday - Rest

Note I did not include leg training, as many people still do not train their legs, or if they do, never to the same standard as other muscles. The reason being leg training is the hardest of all training and the average person simply can not be bothered! 

If you were to repeat this routine for too long, the body would be accustomed to the workout days and therefore some level of general adaptation would take place. Switching chest to mid week training and hitting legs on a monday would send the body in to shock and demand for new muscle and strength gains!

Even throwing in a full body workout instead of training arms could work a treat, obviously if you were to train the whole body in one workout the resistance would have to be a lot lower, I would recommend 15 reps of each exercise, more for the core exercises on such workout days. 

Try to be constantly adapting to you bodies progressions and always remember that bodybuilding and fitness training is all about you as an individual. There is no point trying to follow somebody else in their workouts as their requirements are sure to be different form your own unique strengths and weaknesses. 

I am sure push pull training and its concepts will serve you well as they have done me, and remember...

Victory is an Option.

Dominique :)


  1. Great Article.

    the rotation is a very important combination to the push pull training. Once you can push and pull in a certain weight of excersizes take a step back before deciding to stack up to the next weight level and do the same excersize in a rotary fashion, splitting each of your sets into clockwise and anticlockwise reps.

    It may take a while to get used to but as Dom states in the article, after a while your body will adapt and you will develop a greater sense of control over the muscle, leading to increased strength and even definition.

    As the famous Mr Miyagi once said. Wax on.... Wax off!

  2. I agree, circuit workouts are the best to maintain a balanced muscle tone all throughout your body. Also, try to reduce the recovery time of your muscles for best results. This is a very useful post, thanks!

  3. Very informative....
    Read a few articles of yours including the eating and drinking to a better body, both were quite inspiring. The push and pull though on the other hand, was an eye opener.

    In addition, the way you write and break it down to the reader is awesome. You actually get their attention, especially the way you described the breathing techniques.

    I am looking forward to your article regarding rotational exercises.

  4. Thank you guys for your comments! I am really glad people are finding the information useful and easy to understand! I will keep on posting! :)