You must use an underhand grip with movement at the elbow to choose a good pulling movement. Many instead focus on:
- Dead-lifts (mixed grip, no movement)
- Rows (overhand or neutral grip, movement)
- Pull-Up (overhand or neutral grip, movement)
- Curls (underhand grip, movement, but poor for other reasons)
Only a row addresses all the pulling muscles thoroughly and safely. If you choose a combination of the above exercises to hit everything instead, you risk harming your joints and achieving less tension toward building size and strength.
A good pull addresses the…
- upper back.
- back half of the shoulder.
- front of the arms.
- forearms and hands.
- core (especially the front and sides).
- smaller muscles (neck, deep shoulder, etc.)
Many focus on the big three (bench press, squat, and dead-lift) to hit most of the major muscle groups. They fail to hit everything but with a simple replacement you could correct this. Remove the dead-lift and add a row.
Many consider the dead-lift as both a squat and pull. The dead-lift relies on the entire back. The dead-lift fails to move the elbow though. Tension does not require movement, so at first this may not seem like a disadvantage. Anyone that has done a plank for the core knows that a lack of movement does not prevent quality work.
Unfortunately, the muscles that flex the elbow stretch too much during a dead-lift. This occurs since your elbows are close to full extension and the shoulder is mostly extended as well. This causes the contraction sites within the biceps and other elbow flexors to spread too far apart. This prevents them from generating much tension and thus growing bigger and stronger.
Many pull with an overhand grip. This is a huge mistake if you want to hit as much muscle as possible safely. An overhand grip forces the biceps to tuck underneath the radius, a bone in the forearm, which prevents a full contraction. This forces the biceps to work in a weak and awkward position. It also prevents the long head of the triceps from activating.
Performing an overhand grip exercise for your back and then curling to compensate is a mistake as well.
- place shearing forces on the elbow, which harms the joint.
- generate less tension, since the muscle either stretches or shortens too much over the range of motion.
- directs force into your elbow or pulls it apart.
Avoid all isolation exercises.
Focus instead on only an underhand row with a dumbbell. Too much supination can twist the wrist too much though. A pull-up unfortunately can harm the shoulders. The vertical movement reduces the tension possible by shortening the biceps. A straight bar for pull-ups can also irritate the wrist of some trainees. A dumbbell allows you to choose somewhere between full supination and a neutral wrist if possible.
Pull horizontally for the best tension in the biceps. Try to keep your back parallel to the floor on rows. This allows the muscle to shorten at either the elbow or shoulder blade while lengthening at the other location. This prevents too much shortening or stretching which keeps the contraction sites close together.