A-List Exercises: Upper Body Pulling

Strength training is just like building a house. In that, you need a good foundation to build up from. That said, with the endless variety of exercises coming at us daily, it can be confusing for the personal trainer and fitness enthusiast to decide which strength exercises to use as the foundational (cornerstone) lifts for their training programs.

The purpose of this A-List Exercise series is to share with you the strength training exercises we place at the top of our priority list, regardless of the training goal, because we feel they offer the most bang for our strength training buck.

In other words, the exercises I’ll provided in each installment of this A-List Exercises series are our “go-to” moves for otherwise healthy clients (i.e. with no major medical limitations), which we apply for all training purposes from fat loss to sports performance to physique development.

Note: Although the exercises applications below are generally prescribed, we’ll manipulate the acute variable (sets, reps, rest, etc.) of these exercises to create the specific adaption we’re looking to create based on each individual’s goal (i.e. higher reps w/ lower loads for hypertrophy, lower reps w/ higher loads for strength, etc.).

Our A-List Vertical Pulling Exercises

Rope Climbing

We consider Rope Climbing w/o using your legs to be the king of all upper-body pulling exercises.

Pull Ups w/ Free Floating Handles

We’re certainly not opposed to using a straight bar to perform chin ups and pull ups. However, our A-list pull up option involves using free floating handles.

In the video below my good friend, former intern and up and coming super-star strength coach Dan Blewett explains why we favor using free floating handles for performing pull ups.

 If we don’t have access to free floating handles, we’ll perform chin-ups using the strategy provided in this video (below) to help each person find their optimal grip width.

Pull Downs w/ Neutral Grip Wide Handle

Another one of our “go-to” vertical pulling options is the lat pull down exercise using a neutral grip wide handle attachment (pictured below).


We’ve found this handle to 1) be the most shoulder friendly and 2) feel the most natural and comfortable for clients and athletes. Plus, this handle allows for a greater ROM than the close grip handle.

Note: This does NOT mean we don’t use other attachments like the lat bar. It’s just to say this particular handle is at the top of our (A-) list if we were to pick one attachment.

Our A-List Horizontal Pulling Exercises

 One Arm Dumbbell Free Standing Rows

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This rowing variation is at the top of our list because it combines a heavy element of core and lower-body integration to maintain a stable (and athletic) body position while you perform the pull.

One Arm Anti-Rotation Suspension Rows

Another single arm variation we use with almost everyone is the single arm anti rotation suspension row because…

1) It gives us great core activation (to resist the rotary force in order to maintain your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor) while we strengthen the back.

2) It’s super easy to teach and learn.

3) It’s easily adjustable for any fitness level. In that, the further you walk your feet toward the anchor point, the harder you make it. And, the further you walk your feet under the anchor point, the easier you make it.

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The video below demonstrates an advanced (and really cool) progression to the One Arm Anti-Rotation Suspension Row from my great friend and personal trainer extraordinaire Rob Simonelli.

 Wide grip Barbell Rows – Performance U style

Most folks could use some improved strength and muscular development in their mid-back muscles. That’s why Wide Grip Barbell Rows (done in the manner we display in the video below) is one of our go-to moves.

Put simply, its one of the best methods we’ve found for targeting the mid-back area while virtually eliminating cheating.

Coming soon…

Our A-list Upper body Pushing exercises.

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