Standard Pulling and Pushing Assessment

Another great tool to use as a standalone assessment or in conjunction with other assessments are the Standard Pushing and Pulling assessments. By observing how we pull and push during standard exercises we can expose muscle imbalances and deficiencies in our upper extremities. Muscle imbalances can lead to pain and injury and by identifying these issues we can improve our quality of life and fitness results.

 What is a muscle imbalance?

When muscles surrounding a joint become altered in their optimal function we call this a muscle imbalance. An easy example is at the elbow. The biceps and triceps are the muscles surrounding the elbow. The biceps flex the elbow, the triceps extend the elbow. If we were to constantly use and train the biceps and neglect the triceps, a muscle imbalance will occur. The biceps will become overused, and the triceps will become weakened.

It is debated whether a muscle imbalance is a mechanical shortening or if it is neurological in nature, but the therapy is consistent.  You might notice in this example at the elbow an individual who stands with slightly bent arms. That could be the manifestation of this imbalance in a person’s static posture. These imbalances will also expose themselves in regular movements, exercises, day to day activities etc.

How does a muscle imbalance happen?

Our bodies adapt to stress and repetition. When we perform the same tasks or remain in similar positions for long periods of time, our bodies will reinforce these positions with muscle and body tissue. Let’s say you’re a carpenter, much of your time is spent holding tools in front of your body, hammering, screwing, adjusting. Constantly using these muscles will cause them to overdevelop leading to imbalances.

Students often suffer from posture imbalances due to constantly being hunched over a desk, or looking down at a cell phone, and carrying around heavy backpacks. Athletes tend to develop imbalances as their sport requires the use of specific muscles all the time. Tennis players develop tennis elbow, golfers develop golfers elbow etc.

Muscles surround your joint, forming something called a force couple. For optimal joint function, you want the muscles surrounding the joint to be balanced in strength so that they evenly support a movement.

In a muscle imbalance, an altered force couple relationship causes uneven joint mechanics and over time we might begin to compensate in our movements and increase this dysfunction. Many activities will reinforce a muscle imbalance by continually overworking certain muscles and neglecting others.

The overhead press

The overhead press is a simple movement that’s great at revealing sub-optimal movement patterns. Analyzing this simple exercise will help us identify muscle imbalances and dysfunctions of our upper body. Taking a look at the optimal way of performing an overhead press and taking a point of a few general guidelines, we can compare compensations and faults and then consult a solutions table.

Pushing compensations

A solid overhead press requires full and balanced shoulder-blade function and mid-upper back and neck function. The most common thing we see in an overhead press compensation is the lower back excessively arching to make up lack of shoulder mobility.

A good place to start in order to correct upper body muscle imbalances is the spine. Working on optimal thoracic extension (extension of the mid-upper back) will allow the shoulder-blades to glide over the rib-cage as intended. Often restrictions in shoulder movement come from a poor position relative to the ribcage.

As with the one arm row test, the solutions table will give us an idea of what muscles we should try and strengthen and which muscles are probably overworked.

Pushing solutions

The solutions table will show us which muscles we should directly strengthen, and which muscles we should try to avoid over-training. Make sure youre not including too many exercises in your programming that train the overactive muscles. Increase the volume of exercises for underactive muscles.

The standing one arm cable row

Rowing is another great exercise to assess movement problems and muscle imbalances. A good row elicits many muscles of the back and shoulder-blade and dysfunctions with the movement can compound and lead to impairing symptoms. Taking note of shoulder blade, head, and pelvic positions are all important kinetic checkpoints. We can compare our movement faults to a solutions table and identify strengths and weaknesses to improve upon.

Pulling compensations

The row is a great exercise to assess movement problems because it requires a strong posterior chain. Your posterior chain includes all the musculature on your backside, from head to toe. There are many pain-related symptoms associated with a weak posterior chain such as lower back pain, hip pain, sciatica, neck and shoulder discomfort.

Common compensations in the one arm row assessment include the lower back arching, shoulders elevating, and head moving forward. These faults in movement suggest certain muscles are overdeveloped while others are weakened.

Pulling solutions

The solutions table will show us which muscles we should directly strengthen, and which muscles we should try to avoid over-training. Once again, increase the volume of your exercises for the underactive muscles and reduce training of the overactive muscles.

Now what?

Many of the issues that might become apparent from these assessments can be addressed by performing corrective exercises for Forward Head Posture, and Upper Crossed Syndrome. The muscles involved are mostly identical.