Strength training is all the rage these days, and for good reason: In addition to making your functional movements like carrying grocery bags or going up and down stairs easier to do, it has multiple health benefits, like stronger bones, better mobility, a healthier heart, and more.
But people aren’t just doing bicep curls and weighted squats then calling it a day. Data from Google indicates that gym-goers might be taking a greater interest in crafting their workouts strategically to make sure they’re optimized to hit different muscle groups—and zeroing in on functional fitness. The evidence? Google says “pull workouts” and “push day workouts” were both top trending searches this year.
What is a push vs. pull exercise?
Orienting a workout around push vs. pull movements means you’re trying to ensure you strength train equal and opposite muscle groups.
“Push/pull is simply one of many strategies for organizing a workout to target all major muscle groups and allow for an appropriate amount of rest between training days for the same muscle groups,” says Chris Gagliardi, an ACE certified personal trainer. “Upper body pushing exercises target the chest, shoulders, and triceps while upper body pull exercises target the lats, back, posterior shoulder, and biceps muscles.”
How to know which exercises target which muscle group? Gagliardi says pushing usually involves “chest and shoulder pressing movements (anything with ‘press’ or ‘extension’ in the name)” while pulling exercises are typically “rows, and pull-ups (anything with ‘row,’ ‘curl,’ or ‘pull’ in the name).”
What are the benefits of push and pull exercises?
Making a workout well-balanced is one of the main benefits of thinking about your strength training through this paradigm. But it also helps you train for functional strength since it mimics the motions we need in our everyday lives.
“Examples of everyday pushing movements include pushing your torso to get out of bed, pushing a shopping cart, and pushing a suitcase into overhead storage on a plane, while pulling movements include pulling open a door, starting a gas-powered lawn mower, and pulling the leash of an excited dog on a walk,” says Gagliardi. So if you’re having trouble keeping Fido under control, you might want to consider adding some rows to your workout routine!
How to start doing push and pull workouts
Gagliardi says the first thing you need to do is determine realistically how many days per week you want to devote to strength training. Then, consider how you can fit in all the major muscle groups into that routine. If you’ve got multiple strength training days on the calendar, you could split up your push and pull days. But if you’re strength training just once or twice a week, you want to make sure you’re incorporating both forms of movement into a day’s routine. One way to go is through supersets, in which you do two opposing movements, one right after the other. For example, you could do a set of chest presses (push) followed by pull-ups (you guessed it: pull).
In short, push vs. pull training is all about building balanced strength. That’s something we can all take from 2022 into the new year and beyond.
Want to start pushing and pulling with ease? Try this 10-minute upper body workout using dumbbells.