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Pushing vs pulling exercises

Senior Woman doing pushups in Fitness Class

Often times people with shoulder pain come to physical therapy go through their treatment feeling good and want to return to normal activity, such as returning to their normal gym routine. Some of those common exercises that relate to the shoulder are push ups, pull ups, rows, bench press and shoulder press.  What people don’t often think about is the ratio of pushing exercises to pulling exercises. When lifting weights and returning to gym activity people should pay attention to a few things that could contribute to a recurrence of their shoulder pain.

When returning to gym activity people enjoy exercises such as bench press, curls, shoulder press, dumbbell flys, and tricep push downs. However,  these exercises are all pushing exercises that causes forward rounding at the shoulders and increasing tension of the muscles on the front of the body which can pull on the bones that make up the shoulder, and decrease the space for the bones to move properly.

Complementing the exercises above with Rows, pull ups, reverse flys, pull downs, and rotator cuff activities (see rotator cuff post) can help improve the balance of the muscles on the front of the body and the muscle on the back of the body to improve the space for the bones of the shoulder to move more correctly.

Another contributing factor that can cause recurring shoulder pain is posture of working at a desk all day. People tend to sit with rounded shoulders and their head forward on their shoulders causing muscles to work over time in lengthened positions. Completing those pulling exercises can help strengthen those postural muscles to help decrease poor posture at work that could contribute to shoulder pain.

In summary people should be focusing on their ratio of pushing and pulling so that the number of repetitions completed for pushing exercises should be less by about 20-30 repetitions as compared to pulling exercises. This will help decrease chance of recurring shoulder pain.