Exercise 101 – Pulling Movements

How to Perform Pulling Exercises 

Pulling movement patterns are the cornerstone of any exercise programme to strengthen the upper body and build or maintain muscle mass in the back, shoulders and anterior arm muscles.

At its simplest level, pulling movements are multi-joint movements that involve simultaneous motion of the elbow, shoulder, and shoulder blades (scapula) whilst maintaining good posture.

For the proper motion of the scapula to occur, the thoracic spine needs to have the capacity to extend between 9-12 degrees (see the image below).

Spine Rom Angles

Suppose the capacity to extend the thoracic spine has been lost. In that case, it will compromise the motion of the scapulothoracic and shoulder joints and how the humerus is centred in the shoulder joint. It will also encourage you to overextend the lumbar spine in compensation if you perform overhead exercises.

If there is a loss or reduction in thoracic spine extension, the risk of shoulder-related injuries increases. To reduce this risk of being exacerbated by exercise, which is greatest when the arms are more overhead, only perform movements in front of you instead of overhead.

Test Yourself

If you want to evaluate your functional shoulder capacity, perform the ‘Wall Angel’ exercise below. If you can perform this movement comfortably, achieving the full range of motion pain-free, you can safely perform all pulling movements.

Motion of the Sacpula

Please view the image and watch the video below to observe the proper motion of the scapula.

Personal trainer Sacpula movements

Motion of the Shoulder

Please view the image and watch the video below to observe the proper motion of the shoulder.

motion of the shoulder

Proper Pulling Mechanics

Please watch the videos below to observe the proper motion of the scapula to the spine and humerus to the scapula during pulling movement.

To train your upper body safely and effectively, you must have a basic understanding of how the shoulder complex functions, as described above and shown in the videos below.

If you need help achieving the proper thoracic spine extension or scapula motion:

  • Perform foam rolling (SMR) and stretching exercises before working out
    • SMR Thoracic Spine
    • SMR & Stretch – pectoralis major/minor and latissimus dorsi muscles
  • Try to feel how your scapula are moving as you pull
  • Avoid using excessive weight, as this will increase the risk of poor movement quality
  • Perform slower tempo repetitions to reduce the risk of movement compensations

If you need additional support to implement the information on this webpage, I provide personal training and accountability coaching to help clients exercise correctly and achieve their health and fitness goals.