If you’ve ever pushed a weighted sled at the gym, you probably felt a lot like the Greek god Sisyphus–you know, the guy eternally pushing a boulder uphill. Humans are especially good at pushing–we’ve been shoving everything from stuck wagons to stalled cars for thousands of years. Despite our propensity for pushing, it may come as a surprise that our muscles are only capable of pulling–making us great at a pull day workout.
Spending time at the bench and on your triceps will help you get pushing power like Sisyphus. But there is still a specific group of muscles dedicated to human’s second favorite activity: pulling. That’s the basis of the pull day workout.
Read on for a complete guide on the pull day workout.
What Is a Pull Day Workout?
Pushing typically relies on muscles you might work at the bench, such as the pectorals and triceps. But those dedicated to pulling occupy most of the muscles in the upper arms and back. Pulling muscles are the following:
- Rear deltoids
- Lower back
- Forearms (your grip strength)
Pull exercises are typically those with the heaviest weight and the fewest reps. Think of deadlifts, rows, pull-ups and chin ups, and so on. Most of the exercises you will be doing on pull day will be compound exercises with more complex movements–requiring perfect form.
This may involve a few leg workouts, but only in combination with pull-oriented exercises. As an example, a clean engages your quads before you throw–with a pull motion–the bar up over your head.
Nutrition for a Pull Day Workout
Before we get into the workouts themselves, let’s talk fuel.
A pull day has a lot more focus on strength-oriented exercises with minimal reps. You are going for your maximum here in many cases.
Make sure you are getting a proper protein intake before, during, and after pool day. These large muscles will need more time for recovery. However you choose to handle your nutrition, we recommend meat-heavy diets or those with lots of legumes and protein-rich vegetables.
The emphasis is on slow fuel. You want to avoid the carbs that might make you super-charged for cardio and other high repetition exercises. Burst energy is good here, but usually only to get your reps started.
Workouts for a Pull Day
So now that you’ve got your nutrient intake covered, let’s discuss exercises. It’s up to you how you choose to structure your day. However, here are the exercises we recommend.
The deadlift is one of few full-body exercises. It activates your posterior chain, which includes muscle groups from your hamstrings to your grip. It’s deceptively difficult if you haven’t done it before, and requires perfect form–so get a partner or film yourself doing this one.
Here’s how you do a deadlift:
- Get a barbell or deadlift bar–and start small with the weights
- Step in so that your feet are beneath the bar, shoulder length apart
- Lower down and grip the bar with a straight back–hands should be outside your shins
- Lift straight up–keep that back straight–until you reach full standing extension
- Lower it back down exactly as you lifted it
Inhale before lifting and exhale on your way up. Consider using a belt to keep your back straight and avoid unwanted strains.
Rows work great with either it at the deadlift bar or barbells. The process is the same for both:
- Position yourself the same as with deadlifts
- Lean forward so that the dumbells or bar hang straight from your arms
- Pull the bar up as high as possible–ideally to mid chest or your abs–then release back down
- Flex your shoulder blades at the end of the motion to milk the most from the exercise
Dumbbell rows work to replace or supplement barbell rows. They’re an excellent way to focus on one side of your body. They’re also a great exercise if you are at home and only have barbells and a bench at your disposal.
- Kneel with one knee on the bench, lean forward, and support yourself with your hand from the same side
- Bend your standing leg slightly, but keep your back parallel to the ground and flat
- Pull the dumbbell until your elbow is above your lower back–as far as you can reasonably lift it
- Make sure to switch from side to side between each set
Find a good straight or angled pulldown bar for this one. Start with a doable weight and work your way up. This exercise works best with higher repetitions.
- Secure your thighs to avoid the weight pulling you from the seat
- Use an overhand grip and pull down until the bar reaches below your chin–preferrably to your upper chest
- Make sure to squeeze together your shoulder blades once you hit the end of the motion
Keep a wide angle grip on this one. An angled bar will help to keep a firm grip and may be a bit easier.
We recommend both a standing and sitting variation of the barbell curl. Standing curls work on your stabilizing muscles, while preacher curls are a great way to isolate the biceps. It’s a good idea to choose one for one week, then switch to another for the next.
For standing curls:
- Make sure your elbows are facing backwards and remain parallel to your sides
- Hold the bar underhand, and lift without letting your elbows drift back
- Lift all the way above your chest then slowly let it back down
For preacher curls:
- Make sure your upper arms lie flat against the cushion, with your chest tucked against the backend of the cushion
- Keep your arms straight, avoiding any inward or outward angle
- Pull the bar straight up so it nearly touches your nose, then let it back down
If you don’t have an inclined seat for the preacher curls, you can sit on the bench and use your leg instead.
Transform Yourself With Z-Physique
The pull day workout gives some love to those large muscle groups spanning from upper arms to lower back. These are high weight, low repetition exercises with a focus on gaining muscle. You will get the best results with some barbells and dumbbells for these exercises, although there are bodyweight alternatives.
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