One problem I see in many exercise programs, for any sport, is that it is usually push-oriented with the upper body. There always seems to be more chest exercises than back exercises. This could be from the “bench press” mentality that is so popular, or it could be that you can push more weight than you can pull. Regardless, it is very important to include just as many, if not more, back and pulling exercises into your exercise program. It will help create balance and stability to the shoulder and shoulder girdle, helping to reduce the risk of injury. It also aids in developing proper posture; chest-heavy programs and a “desk” lifestyle can lead to slumped, forward shoulders that can lead to upper back and neck issues in the future. As always, check with your doctor and a qualified trainer how to integrate exercises into your training program before you do so.
Many people have problems doing pull-ups initially, including professional hockey players. If this is the case, I will start with a simpler exercise to work on proper posture and pulling motions, focusing on good technique and a slow, controlled movement. The bent-over dumbbell (DB) row is a great start. For this example, we’ll use a stability ball, but you can use a bench for balance if you have difficulty.
Keep a flat back posture by bending at the hips while bending the knees; avoiding rounding the back! Head and chest are solid, with your supporting arm on the ball and a DB in the opposing hand hanging free straight down at the floor. Keeping your torso stable, slowly pull the DB up to your lower chest/upper abdomen, pause for a second, then slowly lower it to the floor. The tempo is very important; often people will whip the DB back and forth, using momentum to create the movement rather than working the muscles through a full range of motion. At the top of the motion (when the DB is at the chest), you should be able to squeeze your shoulder blades together, utilizing even more of your upper back musculature.