I can’t open my fingers all the way so my hands are stuck in an “iron claw” type of position; a half opened fist if you will. My forearms are throbbing and my biceps have an unbelievable “pump”. I’m bleeding from a scratch above my left eye and my lats feel like I just finished 6 sets of weighted pull-ups. Was I in a New York City bar with my Sox hat on? No. I just finished a 90 minute grappling session and my body is spent. Being a relative novice to the sport of grappling, I tend to muscle many of the movements as opposed to using correct technique and body positioning.
Regardless of whether you are a beginning grappler or a black belt, a secretary or a garbage man, the importance of pulling & grip strength can’t be emphasized enough. In fact, I pull more than push with every client I train. Sure the variations and intensities will vary; however, pulling movements are part of the foundation of every exercise program I create.
The list could go on for pages with all the variations and various tools that one could use…I’m going to share four of my favorites.
1. The Pull-up
If I could only pick one upper body pulling exercise, the pull-up wins easily. Great for grip strength, and developing forearms, biceps, shoulders, lats, traps, rhomboids, abs (yes, abs), pecs, and more. Pulling your body to the bar really forces you to engage the majority of muscles in your upper body making it a compound movement that really delivers. This variation below shows you a way to incorporate the lower body as well. (Exercise in video below: Pull-up with Med Ball Squeeze)
2. Unilateral Row
I typically group my upper body pulling movements into two categories; vertical and horizontal. While pull-ups may be my favorite pulling exercise, I actually incorporate more horizontal pulling movements into workouts and programs. I tend to recommend these for a couple reasons; 1. They are less intimidating for some clients (pull-ups can be quite daunting to a new client), 2. They are easier to teach, and 3. They are excellent movements for improving posture.
While this particular move is a staple pulling exercise for my MMA athletes, I like to challenge the “everyday population” with a variety of rope pulls as well. Make sure you keep an upright posture with your upper body and try to pull evenly with each arm throughout the exercise. (Exercise in video below: Horizontal Rope Pulls)
3. Bilateral Row
See the ‘Unilateral Row’ explanation to see why horizontal pulls, or “rows”, make my list. I think the more rowing you can incorporate into your routine, the stronger and more injury-free you will be throughout your body. The exercise I included in the video is geared a bit more towards MMA athletes due to the nature of their sport. Many times during a fight, they will find themselves in a long clinch or situation where they need to hold on to their opponent for an extended period of time. This requires a great deal of muscular strength and endurance in your arms and back. Backward sled walks hit the mark. (Exercise in video below: Isometric Backward Sled Walks)
4. Deadlifts & Cleans
My room was always clean growing up because I love picking things up off the floor…but I digress. Deadlift variations and cleans are two of my favorite ways to work the entire backside of the body. These exercises are great for explosive hip extension, strengthening your grip, glutes, hamstrings, back; and for developing overall body power. These glute-focused movements are great for the “everyday population” from a functional standpoint. While you may not “clean” your bag of groceries up off the floor into the rack position; it will teach you to engage the proper muscles and lift items in a healthy manner. I love these movements for combat athletes because strong, powerful glutes will help them in many situations during a fight; more difficult to control on the mat if it goes to the ground and more explosive with your kicks and strikes if you are in a stand up battle. (Exercise in video below: Sandbag Cleans)
If you are a busy executive who sits a lot, travels a lot, drives a lot, then it is critical to strengthen your backside. Posterior chain exercises will help combat the unhealthy posture that your lifestyle has you in for 8+ hours a day.
If you are a MMA athlete and we can strengthen your backside, then you are less likely to get injured, you can pull your arm back quicker after throwing a punch, you can hold and control your opponent more effectively, and you are more likely to have your arm raised in victory after a tournament or match.
Make sure you incorporate pulling exercises into your weekly routine to ensure you are maintaining balance in your program.
Doug currently works at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE). He is also the strength coach for the Alliance Fight Team in Chula Vista, CA. A Massachusetts native, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State University. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, a Spinning certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, FMS training, and received his CPR/AED instructor status. He has also appeared in 8 fitness videos, written numerous fitness articles, completed a MMA Conditioning Coach certification program and has competed in multiple grappling tournaments.
Prior to working at Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers.
For more information please visit www.todddurkin.com, www.fq10.com, and www.dbstrength.
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