The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This is part two of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym.  This series will go as follows

Part one- Squats

Part two – Pulls

Part three – Pushes

Part four – Hinge

Part five – Carries

Part six – Groundwork


When we were little babies, we’d pull ourselves up on a stable object to a standing position to walk while using the object for support. Did anybody teach us that? No, because this movement is already hotwired into our brains.

Pulling something towards us is a natural movement that is often neglected in the gym because most people are working on their mirror muscles.  Hello, chest and triceps.



However, working on the muscles of your back will improve your posture, give you strong, stable and mobile shoulders and works the biceps, the most flexed and overworked muscle of all time.

The pulling variations in this article are broken up into vertical and horizontal movements and these are listed from easy to more difficult. Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next exercise.


1. Standing cable row


This is a staple in my clients’ programs, no matter how advanced they are. Working unilaterally while standing will train your core and strength imbalances between sides. Remember to keep your chest puffed out and to keep your shoulders away from your ear while pulling the weight towards you.

2. Dumbbell single arm row


This variation is a little harder because this tests your grip strength. If you’ve never done it before, keep the weight on the light side and do 3 sets of 15 reps.

3. Dumbbell three-point row


 You go from hand and knee support to one hand, making this a trickier exercise. This demands more from your entire core, so please start on the lighter side. Start will 3 sets of 15 and when you get a little more confident, go heavier and do sets of 8-12 reps.

4. Inverted row/TRX row

Inverted row


TRX row


These are similar exercises with a few crucial differences. The inverted row allows for an overhand (palms down) or an underhand  (palms up) grip while TRX row allows for a neutral grip (palms facing each other). If you have elbow issues, go with the TRX row.

The TRX is a form of suspension training, so your core strength and balance come into play more. Both can be made easier by moving your feet further away from the anchor point (TRX) or placing the bar higher on the squat rack/smith machine.

To make each exercise more difficult, do the opposite.


Before proceeding with the vertical pulling exercises, make sure you’re able to get your hands overhead without any compensations from your lower back or ribcage by doing the test below.

Shoulder mobility test


If contact is lost between your hand and back on either side or either hand cannot touch the floor behind you, you have limited shoulder mobility.

If this is the case, stick with the horizontal pulling exercises and work on you shoulder mobility with the exercise below.


1. Seated Lat pulldown


With your feet on the floor and your knees secure, this makes it one of the easier vertical pulling variations. However, easy doesn’t mean it’s simple. Make sure you let your back muscles do the work and avoid swaying back and forth to lift the weight.

If you’re new to the movement, go light and work with a weight that you can do for 3 sets of 15-20 reps. When you feel more confident, go heavier and do 3 sets of 8- 12 reps.

2. Half kneeling Lat pulldown


This is a great variation if you lack hip mobility because this exercise gives your hip flexors an active stretch. With only two points on the ground, this exercise trains your core and balance also. Work with a resistance that allows you to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps on each side.

hip flexors
Hip flexors

3. Tall kneeling Lat pulldown


This variation prepares you for the granddaddy of all vertical pulls, the chin up (which will not be covered in the post because of its complexity) because it mimics the core strength needed to perform it. You’ll realize this when you perform it.

The tall kneeling position will also work on actively stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the glutes, making this a big bang for your buck exercise.   Do this for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

4. Tall kneeling single arm Lat pulldown


Doing this exercise unilaterally will provide more core engagement and strengthen imbalances between your left and right sides. And as a bonus, you’ll be the coolest person in the gym. Do this for 3 sets of 8-12 reps on both sides.

Wrapping up

Working on the non-mirror muscles is probably the most important thing you will do in the gym. Not only will I have your back, you’ll have your own back.




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