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Starting Strength in the Real World

“Push/Pull” Workouts: Seriously??

by Mark Rippetoe | February 19, 2019

presses and chins

Muscles contract. They generate force by getting shorter while anchored at each end to two bones separated by a joint, this creating leveraged movement of the skeleton. Large combinations of these leverage units coordinate to producing force against the physical elements of the environment, thus facilitating human movement.

All over the internet are references to “push/pull” workouts, that organize muscle groups into “pushing” and “pulling” functions. So what exactly is “pulling,” and what is “pushing”? The consensus seems to be that pulling involves causing the object in question to come towards the actor, while pushing involves moving the object away from the actor. Therefore, a bench press is a push and a deadlift is a pull.

Apparently, the “pushing” muscles are the tris, pecs, front delts, and quads. The pulling muscles are the hammies, the lats, and the glutes (using these terms to make people comfortable).

Aside from the fact that the most useful exercises in the gym are based on normal human movement patterns and not their constituent muscle groups, pushing and pulling are 1.) entirely arbitrary distinctions, given the fact that all muscles function by creating tension against levers, 2.) not particularly useful distinctions, given the fact that a deadlift, for example, is pushed away from the floor and a barbell row massacres your triceps, and 3.) are completely irrelevant to programming for strength training.

The best way to get strong is to load normal human movements progressively and incrementally, using a full range of motion with increasingly heavy weight, so that the most muscle mass can be used and therefore strengthened with each exercise. It takes about 4 different exercises to accomplish this – the squat, press, deadlift, and bench press – along with a couple of assistance exercises and maybe some cleans. And it doesn't make any difference at all whether we are pushing or pulling while we are doing them. No difference. At all.

I have to stop now, because I am becoming dumber as I write about this. We may as well be discussing the problem of becoming “muscle bound,” or how lifting weights slows you down, or how all the muscle turns to fat if you quit lifting weights, or how if you get strong without losing the fat first you put a layer of muscle over the fat and it will never come off, or how you gotta look up to go up, or how sit-ups shred your abz, or how chicks dig abz, or how Bruce Lee could almost hit you in the chest and you would die 3 days later, etc. Sorry.

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