USED IN: Hypertrophy II and III

SETUP: Find a station for parallel-bar dips. (It's often part of another apparatus. At my gym, for example, the handles are part of the captain's chair, an ab-training device.) Grab the bars overhand, meaning your knuckles are facing out. You want to start with your body elevated and your arms straight. If the apparatus doesn't have a step that makes it easier to get into this position, you may have to jump from the floor to get your arms straight. You want your torso leaning forward slightly. Bend your knees and cross your feet behind you.

LOWERING: How far you lower yourself depends on your level of experience, strength, and shoulder-joint integrity. Some guys can go all the way down until biceps meet forearms. Others can barely bend their elbows 90 degrees. We don't recommend going lower than the point at which your upper arms are parallel to the floor.

LIFTING: Push back up to the starting position.


When I was growing up, about a million years ago, we would describe certain guys as having "forearms like a milkman." It was not only a compliment (believe me, I can think of a few ways to spin that phrase the other direction) toward men with large, muscular arms, it was a description of a way of life that, like the profession of delivering bottles of milk to people's homes, has mostly disappeared.

People used to do some amount of physical work to earn their paychecks. You could see it in their appearances. Yes, there were fat men back then (my father was among the fattest), but there weren't many with what we now describe as a "schlumpy" posture: shoulders rounded forward, bellies pushed out.

In fact, if you saw a guy with a protruding belly, chances are he pulled his shoulders back to compensate. Nowadays, a guy with schlumpy shoulders will do the opposite: He'll roll the top of his pelvis backward, and the bottom of his pelvis forward, which flattens his lower back and makes it easier to sit for extended amounts of time with those shoulders hunched forward.

And sitting, of course, is the modern condition. We sit to drive, to peck on our computers, to eat. Hell, go into any gym, and count how many people sit throughout their entire workouts. They start on a recumbent bike, and then "do the machines" (in flagrant violation of New Rule #7), virtually all of which require sitting (seated lat pulldown, seated horizontal chest press, seated machine crunch, seated row.. . ). Among the few exercises that allow standing is the cable triceps extension. And even that has evolved in the past decade or so from an exercise in which you generally stand facing the weight stack to one in which you rest your back against a pad, facing out away from the weight stack. That's about as close to sitting as you can get without actually sitting.

If you had to pick one of the six basic movements as more crucial than the others in fighting the continued disintegration of adult posture, you'd be wise to choose the pull. Driving and typing involve a forward reach—sort of a permanently enabled pushing motion—but modern life has no corresponding movements to compensate.

Generations ago, physical labor involved pulling. There were the milkmen, of course, but also the pre-automation factory workers and farmers. Many jobs—perhaps most—required that someone be able to grab a box or barrel or stack of something, pull it closer to his torso, and then transport it somewhere else. If the object was on the floor, the worker had to perform a movement very much like the bent-over row we do in gyms today. (Followed, of course, by a deadlift-type movement to stand upright.)

Then there were the jobs that involved climbing up ladders, using a combination of pulling and lunging movements. Today, aside from some construction positions, few of us have to climb ladders.

Now, the last thing I'd ever do is claim that the exercises in this section will fix postural problems created by eight or ten or twelve hours a day of sitting. They won't. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2001 threw cold water all over the idea that targeted exercises can reverse bad posture. If you're sitting for ten hours a day and doing posture-perfecting exercises for ten minutes, of course your body is going to respond to the former more than the latter. What they can do is give you awareness of the way the muscles in your upper back are supposed to feel when they're pulling your shoulders back. From there, it's up to you to remind yourself to square your shoulders.

But at least the exercises are a start.


The most important pulling muscles act on three joints:

• Your latissimus dorsi ("lats") and rear deltoids act on your shoulder joints, pulling your arms back and/or down when they're extended overhead or in front of you.

• Your trapezius has three distinct functions, all of which involve moving your shoulder blades. Your upper trapezius moves them up (as in a shrug), your middle traps move them closer together (as in a row), and your lower traps pull them down (which happens in a pull-up or lat pulldown).

Your biceps and other assorted muscles in your upper and lower arms bend your elbows.

Of all these, the contraction of your middle traps—called "scapular retraction"— has the most effect on your posture. A model I worked with at Men's Health offered the best description of it I've ever come across: He said guys should walk like they're Superman, with their capes flowing behind them. To do that, you not only have to pull your shoulders together in back, you have to pull them down, too; Superman would never walk around with hunched shoulders. The Superman strut instantly makes you feel taller, stronger, and more in control of your environment.

Alwyn's New Rules workouts have plenty of exercises in which you'll be instructed to perform scapular retraction. But one exercise you won't see in his workouts is the one-arm dumbbell row. If you've spent any time at all around dumbbells—and I mean both kinds—you'll have seen this exercise performed countless times.

Typically, it looks like this: The exerciser rests his left knee and hand on a bench, and then rows a dumbbell with his right hand up to his right side. If it's an older woman doing the exercise, the dumbbell is usually the weight of a Kleenex box, but the woman still does the row slowly and deliberately, as if one false move with that paperweight will cause her entire skeleton to crumble. If it's a bodybuilder doing it, the dumbbell weighs more than Catholic guilt, and he's using almost every muscle in his body to move it six inches or so.

What neither type of lifter, or anyone in between, is likely to do is perform a scapular retraction. The old, frail woman has almost no tension on her muscles; the weight is so light that she can perform a facsimile of the exercise using nothing but her arm and rear-shoulder muscles. The bodybuilder is using middle- and lower-body muscles to generate momentum to get all that iron moving. That involves a torso twist, which prevents his trapezius from getting involved. His shoulder blades don't need to get any closer to each other, since he's using his core and gluteal muscles to rotate his shoulders upward.

Alwyn chose a cool variation on that exercise to get around the problem. In the two-point dumbbell row, you'll stand on both feet, bend over at the hips, hold a dumbbell with one hand, and keep the other arm behind your back. From that position, you have to focus on stabilizing your torso, instead of feeling free to twist it. You should feel it in all your back muscles, from top to bottom.

Get good at it—along with the other rowing variations Alwyn includes in the New Rules programs—and you won't have any trouble feeling the flow from Superman's cape.


As I said at the start of this chapter, part of the problem with modern life is that there's very little pulling involved, unless you do a lot of physical labor in your free time—construction, yard work, recreational steer-roping (relaxes me!).

In sports, climbing and rowing involve pulls, as does wrestling. Sailing involves all sorts of pulls; nautically minded friends assure me that, on the most windy days, sports like windsurfing challenge your back and arm muscles about as much as they can be challenged. Dragging a kayak or wind sail into shore is yet another pulling challenge.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of doing pulling exercises in the gym, aside from improved postural awareness, is that you teach your body how to do it without getting hurt. A study by Stuart McGill, **, showed that veteran firefighters were able to push and pull loads with hardly any stress on their lower backs.

The other group used in the study—college students with no particular experience or training in the movements tested—experienced all kinds of back strain. But the firemen knew how to use their entire bodies in movement sequences that kept their backs safe.

And that's exactly what Alwyn and I hope you get out of the exercises in this book, and especially those in this chapter.


Alwyn's workouts feature two types of pulling exercises (well, three, actually, but the high pull takes a bit of explanation; you'll find it with the combo-movement exercises in Chapter 14). For simplicity's sake, let's use Ian King's terminology and call them "vertical" and "horizontal" pulling.

Both types of pulls start with a scapular movement.

The key to the vertical pull—a category that includes lat pulldowns, chin-ups, and pull-ups—is an initial downward movement of your scapulae. In English, that means you start by pulling your shoulder blades down and together.

Then you engage your lats and rear deltoids, which pull your upper arms down and back slightly. Your biceps and forearm muscles kick in last, bending your elbows so you can get your chin over the bar, or the pulldown bar to your chest. You don't have to pay attention to the sequence, of course; it happens on its own.

A similar sequence occurs with the horizontal pulls, which include bent-over and seated rows. This time, the first movement is scapular retraction, your shoulder blades coming together in the middle of your back. (You can always tell when someone is nearing the end of a set of cable seated rows. His shoulders start to rise up, a sign that his middle traps are officially fried.) Then the lats and rear delts engage to pull your arms back, and then your arms kick in.

On both types of pulls, you want to keep your hips and lower back tight and engaged but not put them in motion. Thus, no leaning back on the lat pulldown or cable seated row.

A real danger with the seated rows comes when you allow your torso to lean forward and your lower back to slip out of its natural arch. You're begging for a spinal-disc injury when you do that.

Pull-up or Pulldown?

This rule is simple: If you can do pull-ups or chin-ups for the designated number of repetitions, choose them. If you can't (and few of us can, when the workout calls for more than ten reps), do a lat pulldown with a comparable grip—underhand for chin-ups, overhand for pullups, mixed-grip when that's called for. Chin-ups and pull-ups are total-body exercises, since you have to contract everything to keep your body balanced when you're hanging from the bar. Pulldowns work the upper body perfectly well but allow the lower body to take a break.


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