The Pulley Pulley Row exercise is undoubtedly one of the most famous in the bodybuilding scene of yesterday and today, a real milestone for back training. Although it is an apparently simple exercise, some pitfalls are often covered by a basic execution that is not very convincing.
Let’s see in detail how to build a scientific execution, with awareness of the muscles involved and resolving the main issues that it affects in the gym.
What Is The Low Pulley?
The pulley can be classified as a pulling exercise on the horizontal plane and in its classic close grip execution, it provides complete adduction of the scapula and a pure extension of the humerus along a pure sagittal plane.
With a range of motion halved by an elongation incomplete with the shoulder starting from approximately 90 ° of flexion to a complete shortening with the elbows pushing far behind the trunk.
Given the maximum shortening to which the adductors of the shoulder blades are brought during a movement up to the shoulder extension stroke, the sensation of muscular work is perceived very much at the level of the so-called “center back” which is why it is often classified as an exercise for the “Thickness”. Despite this, it is still an excellent exercise for the grand dorsal.
How Is The Low Pulley Performed?
The correct execution of the pulley machine foresees a sitting start but with the legs forward, the feet resting on the supports, and the trunk perpendicular to the ground.
The general advice, for the vast majority of subjects in the fitness field, is to keep the lordosis in a neutral position during exercise, avoiding tilting the trunk forward as was often taught in the past.
This guarantees good vertebral stability and the concomitant co-contraction of fundamental muscles such as transverse abdomen and multifidus, often weak muscles in sedentary patients and in those suffering from recurrent back pain.
We also remember that keeping the lumbar lordosis in slight extension, the great dorsal will reach its maximum shortening at the end of the concentric (the great dorsal is also an extensor of the spine as well as a shoulder extensor).
If you opt for execution in de-lordosis, this prevents the great dorsal from reaching the maximum shortening and the muscle will end the execution in incomplete shortening by slightly varying the proposed stimulus – however, this execution variant is not recommended in sedentary subjects and with a medical history of back pain.
If you are in the presence of people with retracted hamstring muscles, problems may arise in the initial positioning of the pulley at the low cable: with flexed hips and fully extended knees, excellent mobility of these muscles is needed to prevent retroversion of the pelvis and the inversion of physiological lordosis.
In case of retraction, it is, therefore, advisable to flex the knees more and to do it at sufficient degrees to allow the pelvis to be antivertere and to preserve lordosis during exercise (lumbar in neutral position).
Once positioned correctly, start with your arms still fully extended and push your elbows back bringing the triangle around the belly and emphasizing the adduction of the shoulder blades.
It is essential in this sense that the input of the movement arises at the level of the elbows, which will be engaged in pushing back to involve the extensors of the humerus as much as possible and as little as possible the elbow flexors and forearm muscles – for this reason, an incomplete low pulley handle on the support is also recommended.
As for the scapular movement, you can opt for two different variants:
- Keep the shoulder blades fixed in adduction, with an isometric contraction of the adductors of the shoulder blades;
- “Unlock” the shoulder blades and complete the isotonic contraction with the same muscles.
For an objective greater emphasis on contraction, the second variant is better, remaining aware that in order to be well performed, without losing physiological lordosis, it requires an excellent awareness of body movements (greater supervision for novice subjects).
Correct Breathing In The Low Pulley
During the execution of the pulley, correct breathing involves inhaling during the eccentric or lengthening phase and exhaling during the concentric or muscle shortening phase.
Muscles Involved In The Low Pulley
By virtue of the biomechanics of the exercise, the muscles most stimulated are:
- the adductors of the shoulder blades (rhomboids and middle trapezius),
- the great ridge,
- the great teres (extensors of the humerus).
Common Mistakes In Low Pulley Execution
Although didactically it is an exercise within the reach of the vast majority of people, it is common to witness various errors during its development:
- Having excessive compensation during the exercise
In some cases, you can observe movements of the spine in excessive flexion during the stretch phase and excessive extension during the pulling phase. This modus operandi will bring nothing but dispersive work on a muscular level, creating more fatigue than necessary and exponentially increasing the risk of injury.
- Having a correct scapular trim at the start, with excessively elevated shoulder blades
This attitude leads the shoulders to take on more joint stress than they should and also to change the selective muscle activation.
Either start and keep the shoulder blades fixed in adduction with an isometric contraction of the adductors of the shoulder blades, or start with the shoulder blades in abduction but not in elevation.
- Initial input comes from the wrists and not the elbows
Focus on your elbows before and during the pull phase, thinking about pushing them back and keeping them low. A correct pulling movement favors more the activation of the extensor muscles of the humerus, first of all, the great dorsal.
- Too hasty execution of the exercise
It leads to insufficient time under the tension of the affected muscles. It is important to perform a pulling phase of at least 2-3 ” and an elongation phase of the same duration, do not be hasty and choose a resistance that allows you to maintain a time under such tension, working on average in a range of repetitions. between 8 and 12.
How Many Reps And Sets To Do?
Pulley is certainly an exercise that lends itself well to work with a medium-high rep range, the so-called “hypertrophic range” on 8-15 repetitions. Once you have refined your technique and execution, you will soon realize that once you have reached a certain load, the room for progress will not be so large.
It is therefore advisable to work rather on increasing the total number of repetitions with the same load within the training series or insert some techniques such as “rest pauses” or “stripping” to grind more volume.
It is an exercise that certainly creates less systemic stress than other horizontal pull exercises such as the barbell row and the t-bar, so even reaching failure often (or even exceeding it) will not disturb the nervous system so significantly. central and resilience.
I recommend inserting 3-5 training series of low pulleys per week, progressing at first on the load, respecting the execution techniques, and then turning the attention to the volume. Here is a possible example of progression on the low pulley exercise:
- Week 1 → 3x 12-12-12
- Week 2 → 3x 10-10-10 (+ load – volume)
- Week 3 → 3x 8-8-8 (+ load – volume)
- Week 4 → 4x 8-8-8-8 (same load + volume)
- Week 5 → 4x 10-10-10-10 (- load, + volume)
- Week 6 → 4x 12-12-12-12 (- load + volume)
- Week 7 → 4x 12-12-12-12 with rest-pause (same load + volume)
- Week 8 (active unloading) → 2x 12-12 (same load – volume)
Low Pulley Handle And Grip
There are several variations of the classic low pulley with triangle analyzed so far.
Wide Prone Grip
Instead of the triangle, a straight or T bar is usually used for the lat machine. Also for this variant, the same principles described above are valid, the only difference is inherent to the work surface since by widening the grip we will pass from a shoulder extension on the sagittal plane to an abduction on the transverse plane.
There are no significant differences in terms of muscle activation, except that in this wide-grip variant, the posterior deltoid muscle will be more stimulated and the lower great dorsal bundles less.
Trazy Socket With The Trazy-Bar
It is a variant that involves the use of the trazy-bar and that pays particular attention to the scapular work and to the flexion and thoracic extension (not always so indicated under load).
We will not try to make the trazy-bar touch the trunk, this would imply a loss of work on the scapular muscles and on the great dorsal, the elbows will rise and consequently the line of traction, shifting the work more and more on the posterior deltoids and the trapezium.
Wide-Grip From Above
Another possible high grip involves changing the grip and widening the grip: the wider the grip, the more the muscular work will move mainly on the posterior deltoids, on the trapezius (upper and middle bundles), and on the rhomboids; the more it tightens, the more it will migrate from the posterior deltoids to the great dorsal.
It is a variant that, like the one with the triangle from above, forces the shoulder blades to work with isotonic contractions, in the abduction and subsequent adduction.
Executive Variants Of The Low Pulley
There are several variations of this exercise, in addition to some examples you can also find this in-depth article on an interesting variation of the pulley.
Pulley With Handles
With one handle, it provides one-sided work and avoids any type of contraction asymmetry. During the execution, there is a pronation-supination of the forearm, a movement that promotes joint health of the elbow.
This variant is the most suitable for those suffering from elbow pain or who have already had problems in the past, such as epitrocleitis.
From the point of view of muscle stimulation, all the considerations made for the classic version of the pulley are valid, adding that the variant with handle is a good exercise to recruit the core muscles, this due to the fact that we will have a moment of rotary gravity at the trunk, which is overcome through a contraction of the transverse and oblique muscles of the abdomen.
With The Triangle At The Top
In this variant, the triangle will be positioned at the top and not straight towards us. The top version places particular emphasis on elongation of the great back, and in the pulling phase, as for the classic version, it will be important to think about pulling from the elbows and not from the wrists.
From the point of view of muscle activation, there are no significant differences, in this variant the shoulder blades are more forced to abduct during the lengthening phase, with consequent adduction during the shortening phase, thus necessarily working with isotonic contractions.
With Resistance Bands
The last variant that we insert in this article is the one with a resistance band, very popular lately given the period.
The main flaw is dictated by the limit of the resistance band, which generates an absence of muscle tension in the stretch phase.
It will therefore be a version of the pulley with only the concentric phase, clearly inferior to the canonical one with the pulley from the point of view of muscle stimulation.
Low Pulley Or Rowing?
They are both two pulling exercises on the horizontal plane, the muscles involved are roughly the same, except for the fact that in the rowing machine, once the variant with the dumbbell or dumbbells resting on the bench is removed, the paravertebral and core muscles are more activated due to the request for higher stabilization.
The rower, compared to the pulley, lends itself better to ivories centered on mechanical tension, even if you punctually notice terrible executions due to the fact of wanting to load excessive resistances.
Many subjects experience better muscle feedback and a better mind-muscle connection with the pulley, especially when working with the right timing under tension.
In the absence of problems that prevent the performance of one of the two exercises, it may be suggested to insert both, ideally using the rowers for work with heavier loads, and the pulley for muscle exhaustion work with a more metabolic background.
Low Pulley And Postural Alterations
There are no absolute contraindications in carrying out the pulley in the presence of postural alterations of the rachis, however, it is advisable to analyze the individual case and possibly adjust the execution of the exercise, in compliance with the existing problems.
In the case of scoliosis, if it is not pathological scoliosis but rather a scoliotic attitude as in 99% of the time, the pulley can be performed without any contraindications, always making sure to respect the correct execution of the exercise described above and a correct dosage of workloads.
In the event of a strong hypnotization of the thoracic tract, the pulley could act as a preparatory exercise for restoring a correct scapular rhythm, primarily by strengthening the adductor muscles of the shoulder blades.
For lumbar hyperlordosis, a useful measure will be to force the pelvis into retroversion during the exercise, with the help of a slight contraction of the buttocks and core muscles; in this regard, the variant to the cable with the handle could be more suitable.
If the subject has a cervical alteration, it will be important to concentrate on keeping the latter neutral during each repetition of the various series performed.
It is worth including the pulley in your training routine, except for particular contraindications. It is an exercise that enjoys a good relationship in terms of stimulation and accumulated fatigue, as well as being motorically simple and within the reach of the vast majority of users who frequent the weight room.
Even in the field of bodybuilding, it has always been widely used, precisely because of the previously external considerations.