A common goal among many women new to resistance training is a bodyweight chin-up. This is a great goal to have, and I believe it is within reach for all women.
A chin-up falls within the category I call the upper body pull pattern. This pattern trains the muscles of the upper back, which can have a profound impact on posture and body image. In fact, I would place this as the second most important area for women (and men) to target if they are after a healthy and aesthetically pleasing body (and a chin-up).
Because we sit a lot, we develop slouched shoulders and a rounded upper back. This is not very attractive and can be counteracted by performing the upper body pull exercises listed below. Basically, these exercises help strengthen the muscles that pull your shoulders back and therefore, will give you a more upright posture.
In Part 1 of this series I introduced you to a bodyweight upper body pulling pattern where you stand tall and pull your should blades together. If you have not already, please check out that video and try performing the exercise. It is important for you to know what it feels like to squeeze your shoulder blades back.
The most common mistake with this movement is failing to squeeze the shoulder blade back and only moving the arm (see video below).
Now let’s take a look at some ways to add load to this movement.
I am going to provide four different categories of upper body pulling exercises based on if you are using one arm (unilateral) or two arms (bilateral) and if you are pulling the resistance vertically or horizontally. Therefore, the categories are: bilateral horizontal, bilateral vertical, unilateral horizontal, and unilateral vertical.
Bilateral Horizontal Upper Body Pulling Patterns:
Cable Row (overhand or underhand)
Chest Supported Row (overhand or underhand and can be performed using 2 DBs or a machine)
2 DB Bent Over Row (overhand, underhand, or palms facing inward)
Barbell Row (overhand or underhand)
Pendlay Row (overhand or underhand)
Unilateral Horizontal Upper Body Pulling Patterns:
DB Row (supported, 3 pt. stance, unsupported)
1 Arm Cable Rows (low position, chest height, top position – can be performed standing or kneeling)
Bilateral Vertical Upper Body Pulling Patterns:
Lat Pulldown (overhand or underhand)
Unilateral Vertical Upper Body Pulling Patterns:
Most common mistakes during upper body pulling exercises:
-Poor back position – If back is in a poor position, then the muscles around your shoulder blades will not function properly
-Failing to squeeze shoulder blades back
Lastly, you may be wondering which one(s) to choose? Well, I would say that you need to first focus on ones that give you the most stability while you are rowing (ie. chest supported row, DB row, and cable rows at chest height or from top position). These are the easiest to learn because you do not have to worry about balancing yourself while you are performing the movement.
I would also focus on horizontal pulling patterns before vertical pulling patterns.
I will also say that it is usually easier to learn rowing with both arms at the same time than it is to row with one arm. The reason for this is because you can feel your shoulder blades being squeezed together, which, as I have said many times, is very important.
So I cannot give you a definitive answer. Find what feels most natural and comfortable for you. My suggestion would be to start with the chest supported row (2 DBs) or a cable row, but if they do not feel as good as a supported DB Row then go with that.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask away.