The Pull:Push Ratio is WRONG | Jamie Smith

A fundamental principle of most strength and conditioning programs is the “pull to push ratio”. This principle dictates that you must balance out your pressing volumes with pulling volumes as to not create muscular imbalances within the body.

In theory, this understanding makes sense. If all you do is bench, dumbbell press and half range push ups with no direct rowing or pulling you are on the fast track to shoulder pain and injury. However, when you break down the osteokinematics, how the bones are moving in relation to each other in regards to global movements of flexion/extension, internal/ external rotation and abduction/adduction, you begin to see a major flaw in this ratio.

What movements are occurring at the scapulae?

For a majority of gym goers ‘pushing’ volume is heavily influenced by the big, compound, pressing movements, bench press and the multitude of its variations, dumbbell press variations and machine press variations. When executing these movements, it is important to keep the scapulae retracted and depressed, or ‘back and down’. This allows the scapulae to be stable and offers a strong foundation for the pressing muscles to produce force.

 Upper Back/ Scapulae position throughout the bench press, dumbbell press and their variations

Upper Back/ Scapulae position throughout the bench press, dumbbell press and their variations

This ‘back and down’ position is also heavily executed in a majority of pulling movements. All row variations, regardless of the implement used and the dominant plane of motion in which they are executed, promote the scapulae to be retracted, depressed and posteriorly tilted (back and down). This is the exact same position that is required for the stable pressing position needed for safe execution of the major press variations as spoken previously.

 Upper Back/ Scapulae position throughout all bilateral rowing variations

Upper Back/ Scapulae position throughout all bilateral rowing variations

It is for this reason that the pull to push ratio misses the mark almost completely. When both pushing and pulling exercises are executed correctly they place the scapulae in the exact same position and train the exact same muscles groups, the rhomboids, lats, middle and in some cases the lower traps.

When too much emphasis is placed on retraction, depression and posterior tilt of the scapulae the thoracic spine is driven towards extension, you reduce the ability to rotate the thorax, greatly hinder the articulation of the scapulae on the rib cage, reduce upward rotation capacity and serratus anterior activation is limited (one of the most prominent scapulothoracic stabilisers). All of these issues can be greatly improved by balancing out the 'back and down' position with movement variability.

So how do you balance out this ‘back and down’ position? REACH!

'Reaching' is protraction and upward rotation of the scapulae. Reaching promotes thoracic flexion and almost complete shoulder flexion ranges depending on the exercise selected. Reaching movements directly oppose the scapulae positions that are promoted heavily in both pushing and pulling movements, 'back and down'. These reaching patterns provide the movement variability that the body desires to stay pain free and healthy and is the variability that would have been intended when the principle of the ‘pull:push’ ratio was created.

 Landmine Press allows full protraction and upward rotation of the scapula

Landmine Press allows full protraction and upward rotation of the scapula

Our go to REACHING movements are:

-       Push Up variations

 Yoga Push Up, Push Up w/ Full Reach and Feet Elevated Push Up all promote protraction and upward rotation of the scapulae

Yoga Push Up, Push Up w/ Full Reach and Feet Elevated Push Up all promote protraction and upward rotation of the scapulae

-       Landmine Press Variations

 

-       Overhead Press Variations 

 Half Kneeling Bottoms Up KB Overhead Press, great exercise for shoulder stability and serratus anterior activation

Half Kneeling Bottoms Up KB Overhead Press, great exercise for shoulder stability and serratus anterior activation

We recommend doing 1 Reaching movement on all pressing days using a variety of exercises and loading strategies. 3-4 Sets of 6-12 reps depending on the exercise selected.
 

Here is a short video discussing this same understanding.

About the author

Jamie Smith, Owner and Head Coach of Melbourne Strength Culture
IG: @j.smith.culture
Available for online coaching - CLICK HERE