Stop Pressing So Damn Much: Pulling Program for Improved Posture

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Fight Your Zoom Posture With Better Programming

It’s happened.

Aside from a well-done steak, it’s a trainer’s worst nightmare: Clients are now spending more time in front of their laptops and less time moving than ever before.

Over the four years, there’s been an insane spike in the number of people who work exclusively from home. Unfortunately, this also means an insane spike in shitty postures – especially during that 3-hour Zoom meeting that could have been an email.

You know exactly what I’m talking about:

It’s the Zoom Posture.

That position you unconsciously sink into after hours of video calls, emails, and spreadsheets. It leaves you with a rounded upper back, elevated and internally rotated shoulders, and an inside look at your coworkers’ terrible taste in décor.

Aside from the obvious – being more aware of your posture during the day and consistently correcting it – there’s another valuable tool to help combat the Zoom Posture: your training.

More specifically, the balance of upper body pushing and pulling in your training program.

Now more than ever you need to be constantly auditing your programming to make sure it doesn’t feed into nagging pain, ticking time bomb shoulders, and a posture that resembles a Neanderthal hunched over an open flame.

When I work with clients, they sometimes supplement their sessions with work in the gym or at home.

I had a particularly zealous and motivated client run me through his at-home upper body workouts, and this was what he was doing:

Day 1:

A1 – Incline DB Press 3 x 10

B1 – Flat DB Chest Fly 3 x 10

C1 – DB Military Press 3 x 10

D1 – DB Chest Supported Row 3 x 10

E1 – DB Hammer Curls 3 x 15

E2 – Banded Triceps Pressdown 3 x 15

Day 2:

A1 – Flat DB Press 3 x 10

B1 – High Incline DB Squeeze Press 3 x 10

C1 – DB Front Raises 3 x 15

D1 – DB Single Arm Row 3 x 10/side

E1 – EZ-Bar French Press 3 x 15

E2 – EZ-Bar Bicep Curl 3 x 15

Are you seeing what I’m seeing here?

That’s a shitload of pressing; especially considering there’s not a lot of rowing to balance it out.

In addition, this doesn’t take into account all of the pushups he probably did throughout the week.

Now, to be fair, this client was willing to adjust his program to incorporate more pulling movements – sometimes, clients don’t know what they don’t know.

This is also an extreme case. Well, at least I hope it is.

The point is, it’s common to want to focus only on the things we see in the mirror. Chest, arms, abs, and shoulders are typically the fan-favorite while rowing and upper back/postural work tend to play the role of ugly stepchild.

Be better than that.

When auditing a program, I look for a series of key elements:

1. At Least Two Pulling Movements For Every Pressing Movement

Doubling (at minimum) the number of horizontal pulling exercises to all pressing exercises increases the exposure of the underutilized muscle groups, and does so through an intentionally unbalanced volume load.

In other words, if you place more of an emphasis on pulling than pushing, you’re going to get a disproportionate return – which is what we want in this case for your captivating Zoom hump.

Relax, you can still bench, but settle in and prepare to get really comfortable with pulling things.

2. Higher Volume For Rowing Exercises

Programming more sets and/or reps for all pulling exercises – much like the previous guideline – emphasizes the dose-response relationship between volume and strength/hypertrophy (1,2).

What this means: Now that you’ve increased the number of pulling exercises appropriately, adjust the number of sets, reps (or both) up slightly.

One big key here: Emphasizing volume and frequency to improve the hypertrophic response of pulling musculature is not the same as striving to achieve a certain push:pull strength ratio. Expecting to pull double a given weight for the same number of reps is both unrealistic and logically unreasonable due to the biomechanical differences between pushing and pulling (3,4).

3. Each Work Starts With a Row Variation

It’s a common practice to train muscle groups that need improvement first (5). Since you’re fresh at the start of your workouts, target your weakness then. This is also the case in specialization programs.

The only caveat here – If the client is an athlete who needs to improve their performance on a specific lift (i.e. bench press, overhead press) then that lift should be performed first. But the previous rules still apply.

4. Add Targeted Upper Back/Retraction Movements

Peppering high rep sets of band pullaparts, rear delt flys, and similar exercises into the workouts and warm-ups is another way to take advantage of both the dose-response relationship and periodization principles (2,5).

Taking any opportunity to get some bonus direct work in for the scapular retractors is also another step towards looking less like Quasimodo.

Quasimodo posture

In his defense, he was born with hunchback posture

All that said, after retooling my client’s at-home upper body workouts using the above guidelines, here was the result:

Day 1:


Banded Over and Back x 10


Band Pullapart x 15-20


A1 – Dumbbell Chest Supported Row 4 x 8-12

A2 – Plank Variation 4 x 30-60s

B1 – Flat Dumbbell Press 3 x 8-12

B2 – Banded Facepull 3 x 15-20


C1 – Dumbbell Spider Curls 3 x 12-15


C2 – Banded Triceps Pressdown 3 x 12-15

Day 2:


Back to Wall Slides x 10


Banded No Money x 10


A1 – Dumbbell 3-Point Row 4 x 8-12/side

(This is a normal dumbbell row but with both feet on the ground and one hand on the bench while the other arm rows.)

A2 – Deadbug 4 x 3-6/side

B1 – Dumbbell Incline Press 3 x 8-12

B2 – Chest Supported Rear Delt Fly 3 x 12-15

C1 – EZ-Bar French Press 3 x 12-15


C2 – Incline Dumbbell Curl 3 x 12-15

Both of these days take a purposely unbalanced approach, emphasize pulling first, and – best of all – still feature several of his favorite exercises.

Who the hell am I to deprive him of his skin-splitting direct arm work?

The Takeaway:

Take a hard look at your training program, run it through the above filter, and be willing to compromise by parting with some of your pressing movements.

Let’s all fight Zoom Posture, one row at a time.


1.Schoenfeld BJ,Ogborn D,Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697.

2. Schoenfeld BJ,Ogborn D,Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2016 Jul 19:1-10.

3. NegreteRJ, HanneyWJ, PabianP, KolberMJ. Upper Body Push And Pull Strength Ratio In Recreationally Active Adults. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2013;8(2):138-144.

4. Pearson, Simon & Cronin, John & Hume, Patria & Slyfield, David. (2009). Kinematics and kinetics of the bench-press and bench-pull exercises in a strength-trained sporting population. Sports biomechanics / International Society of Biomechanics in Sports. 8. 245-54. 10.1080/14763140903229484.

5. Simão R, de Salles BF, Figueiredo T, Dias I, Willardson JM. Exercise order in resistance training. Sports Med. 2012 Mar 1;42(3):251-65. doi: 10.2165/11597240-000000000-00000. PMID: 22292516.

About the Author

Dave Vargo, CSCS, is a Baltimore-based trainer who likes bacon, medium-rare steaks, and the craft of a well-made Old Fashioned. He is the founder of Iron Phoenix Performance, where he specializes in helping high achievers lose fat, build muscle, and develop the superhuman levels of confidence they need to dominate life. Dave is the author of 4 Simple Ways to Lose More Fat in the Next 4 Weeks Than You Ever Thought Possible. Download The Fat Loss Cheat Sheet For Free Here.

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