Pull-ups are just as important for your upper body as push-ups! Unfortunately, most women can’t do pull-ups and most men who have added a few extra pounds over the years can’t do but a few pull-ups. If you fall in that group, you need to look at incorporating “modified” pull-ups into your routine, otherwise you could be creating muscle imbalance, which is a contributing cause of upper back and neck pain.
If you’re neglecting that pulling motion from your workout, you are overlooking half your upper body. When you start pulling your body up off the ground, from either a standing or modified position, you recruit your back, biceps and forearm muscles. These are muscles that don’t get used when doing a push-up or any type of pushing motion.
Pull-ups and push-ups target every major muscle group of your upper body. These two exercises or movements target different groups of muscles. One set of muscles is for pulling things towards your body. A completely different set of muscles is used to push things away from your body.
Push-ups or any type of pushing motion (bench press) activates your chest, shoulders and tricep muscles.
Pull-ups or any type of pulling motion (rowing, bent-over rows) recruits your back, biceps and forearm muscles.
If you are one of the millions of people who workout at home or in a gym and do push-ups but tend to overlook pull-ups because you can’t do them, then modified pull-ups are perfect for you. You’re actually neglecting half your upper body and really need to start incorporating these modified style pull-ups to keep muscle balance and target the other half of your upper body. Both men and women are equally guilty of concentrating more on their chest than their back muscles.
The continued contraction and shortening of a muscle without the equal amount of contraction from its opposing muscles creates muscle imbalance. Every muscle has an opposing muscle. Your bicep and triceps are opposing muscles, as are your hamstrings and quadriceps (thigh muscles), and of course your chest and back muscles. Overtrain one of those muscles and you set yourself up for aches and pains along with possible injury. As a sports physician, I have seen this all too often.
Most people have tight chest muscles due to the fact that many people will sit at a desk or in front of a computer with their shoulders pulled forward all day. They’ll spend hours behind the wheel of a car with their shoulders pulled forward or sleep in the fetal position, which also shortens your chest muscles.
You then take that person and only do push-ups or concentrate more on your chest, while neglecting pull-ups, which results in a perfect storm waiting to happen. Your upper back muscles can’t counter-balance all the contraction and tightening going on in your chest, therefore aches and pains begin in your upper back and neck. It’s not because you carry all your stress in your upper back and shoulders that they always feel tight. It’s more to the fact that one set of muscles is being over-utilized and shortened in comparison to its opposing muscles. This is again why modified pull-ups are a must for anyone who only does push-ups and neglects pull-ups.
What’s a Modified Pull-Up?
Modified push-ups and pull-ups are basically simple ways of “off-loading” some of your own body weight so you can perform the exercise. Modified push-ups are the politically correct way of saying “girl” push-ups, which is what I always heard growing up. Pretty much everyone can do a push-up or some type of “modified” push-up, where you do them on your knees as opposed to on your feet.
A “modified” pull-up is no different. You are “off-loading” a percentage of your body weight so you can perform the exercise. Modified pull-ups are simply done with your feet still touching the ground and the bar only a few feet off the ground as opposed to being two feet over your head.
Keeping your feet on the ground “off-loads” about a third of your body weight. Instead of a 150 pound person trying to completely pull themselves off the ground for 6-10 reps, the modified pull-up makes it where you only have to pull up about 100 pounds. You’ve simply off-loaded some of your body weight as you do when performing push-ups from your knees. The modified pull-up makes it possible for both men and women to reap the benefits of those pulling motions so you can finally train your back, biceps and forearms.
Modified Pull-Ups From Home
Often times you will see both men and women performing modified pull-ups on a squat rack or Smith machine at the gym. Unfortunately, most people don’t have a squat rack or Smith machine at home, which means you may have to improvise to do modified pull-ups.
You can take a pull-up bar and extend it over two sturdy objects, such as two well anchored and sturdy chairs. If you have a pull-up bar, you can securely bolt it about two-and-a-half feet off the ground to do modified pull-ups. There are also several products on the market that allows you to do so type of modified pull-ups. I’m partial to the new “modified” pull-up bar (see my profile page for details), because it allows you to get a full range of motion when you extend your arms, as well as allowing for a wide grip. Best of all you don’t have to bolt anything to your door.
Exercise bands are also beneficial to counter-balance your chest muscles and work your back and biceps. However, you won’t get the same amount of resistance or intensity as you would from a bodyweight exercise.
There are no excuses anymore for you not to do pull-ups. If you’ve been neglecting them, then start doing modified pull-ups. Just like the push-up, these two movements are compound movements and allow you to work several different muscles groups in a short amount of time. You don’t want to continue only working half your upper body and wondering why you seem to have this nagging pain in your upper back and shoulders. Start doing modified pull-ups and quickly see how great of a workout you get for your biceps and forearms. You’ll be surprised!