Next up on our journey to know, and therefore loves our bodies, is the horizontal pull muscles. The first post was all about pushing things away from the body. What about pulling things in? Whether you're pulling a door closed or pulling someone in for a hug, this group of muscles is huge and when well trained can keep your posture perfect. The other benefit of training such large muscles is that when you work these muscles hard, they will continue to burn calories for you hours after the workout is completed.
Developing strong horizontal pull muscles helps us to correct the rounded-shoulders posture that I mentioned in the previous blog post. The muscles we are training in horizontal pull are those that achieve horizontal extension, which takes the arms from across the body to straight out to the side of the body.
There are quotation marks around joint because the scapulothoracic (scapulo for scapula, and thoracic for rib cage) "joint" actually doesn't meet any of the joint classification criteria, except for the fact that the scapula bone glides across the bones of the rib cage. Due to it's involvement with the glenohumeral, or shoulder, joint, the scapula is able to move across the rib cage in a couple of different ways. I will talk a little bit more about what the different joint actions are that the scapula can perform in the vertical pull blog post that will be coming your way in a few days. For now I want to show you what horizontal pull looks like with respect to your scapula.
So when you are at the gym and you are working on your seated rows, think about trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades when you pull the weight back.
One more thing to note before I get into the exercises - keep the shoulders down.
Remember those fickle desk jobs that have put us into the rounded-shoulders posture? Well that plus the stress of our jobs has over-developed our upper traps. When we are stressed, our body naturally tries to put us in a more protective position. The shoulders come up to protect our necks, and the body rounds forward to protect our vital organs. So what I have seen in many of my clients when they try the seated row is that they 1. don't know how to engage their mid back and 2. when I give them the cue to pinch the pencil between their shoulder blades, they bring the shoulders up, instead of maintaining relaxed shoulders and engaging the mid-back musculature. So if you are going to try the following exercises, try it with a friend who can watch you and make sure you keep your upper-traps out of the exercise, and that you are really engaging the mid back.
The seated wide row is a great way to develop your horizontal pull muscles. Get yourself seated in an upright position in-front of the cable machine. With your feet comfortably placed on the platforms, grab the handle with palms facing the floor (you may need to change the attachment on the machine to do this). Slightly lean the torso backwards, make your chest proud, brace the core, and pull the handle to the the area between the belly button and the bottom of the breast bone (the bone that connects the two sides of your rib cage). When you pull, make sure you are making the mind-to-muscle connection to feel the back of your shoulder muscles work, and pinch that pencil between your shoulder blades!
This exercise is one of my favourites and a staple in my posture-correcting programs. A standing cable face pull really hones in on the horizontal pull muscles. Using the rope attachment for the cable machine, grab either side of the rope putting thumbs under the rope and fingers over the rope. Take a few steps away from the machine so that you can extend your arms straight out in front of you without the carabiniere touching the pulley system.
Depending on the weight you are using, you may need to lean your body backwards slightly to pull the rope towards you. Once in place, pull the the rope towards you by bringing your elbows high and wide, and the rope to about nose or eye level (see image).
Again, really focus on squeezing the muscles between the shoulder blades and keeping the shoulder down. Stay consistent with this exercise and you will begin to see and feel massive improvements in your posture.
Last on the list is the dumbbell reverse fly. For those of you who do not have access to a cable machine, this is an easy one to do. You don't even need a bench! Just a few dumbbells and some way to get yourself bent over in such a way that when you lift the dumbbells, your muscles are moving the dumbbells against gravity's downward pull.
In the beginning, I actually get my clients to do this without any weight at all. Set yourself up on the bench (or bent over at the hips) so that you have a nice strong torso. No rounded back, weak core, or lazy glutes. Fire them all up prior to doing this exercise. With your hands together below you, open the arms up wide to the side. There should be 90 degrees of space between the sides of your torso and your arms, and 180 degrees from hand to hand. When you open up your arms, really focus on squeezing the mid back. Having someone put their fingers on your spine between your shoulder blades is a great way to ensure you are really making the connection to where you should be squeezing. As you become more proficient contracting these muscles, add weights into your hands and start to build a beautiful back and perfect posture!
Along with the exercises I mentioned above, here are a few other exercise suggestions to work your horizontal pull muscles. Also, I realize this post is a bit longer than usual but I am super passionate about posture correction. Whenever I see people wandering around hunched over I want to show them these exercises and get them walking tall and proud again.
Here are a few other exercises you can do during your horizontal pull day using (hopefully) their common names so that you can look them up online.
Basically just a bunch of variations on the rows! So play around with the cable machines, dumbbells, bands, bars - whatever you would like and let me know how your horizontal pull workout goes!
"Do something good for your body today"
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.