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Horizontal Pulling/Rowing: the missing link in many CrossFitters’ training programs

March 22, 2014

CrossFit is awesome at promoting the big compound movements! This is something I love about it! The BIG exercises are great, but I personally feel CrossFit programming leaves a few holes.

One of these holes, in my opinion, is the lack of horizontal pulling. I’m a HUGE fan of horizontal pulling/rowing. I wrote a bit about it here in my post on shoulder health. It should be a staple in just about everyone’s program. It builds upper back strength in places where most people are lacking (middle trap, lower trap, rhomboids etc), which plays a big role in keeping the shoulders healthy. Most CrossFitters would benefit GREATLY from adding in more horizontal pulling, especially with the huge amount of pull-ups that we do (a lat-dominant movement that encourages internal rotation of the humeral head).

Vertical pulling movements (where your hands are lined up with your body, usually overhead, like pull-ups) are great, but they should not be the only back exercise done in a program. Horizontal pulling movements (where your hands are perpendicular to your body) target back muscles, including some of the smaller, stabiliser muscles, that don’t get targeted with pull ups and other vertical pulling movements.

Here are 4 reasons why I feel horizontal pulling movements should be a part of everyone’s program:

1- Help improve your main lifts, like pullups, beyond what ONLY training those big lifts can provide. Horizontal pulling movements will definitely get you a more stable shoulder girdle and you’ll be well on your way to getting those elusive pull-ups in no time.

2- Injury Prevention. Especially in the shoulder area! I see too many Crossfiters complain of chronic shoulder pain, or having to get shoulder surgery because of a torn labrum or rotator cuff. Why is this happening? I believe it often comes back to muscular imbalances, caused by a lack of horizontal pulling to balance all the vertical pulling and overhead movements that are huge in CrossFit programming.

3- Build muscle/strength in areas not hit by the main lifts. I have personally found building up my lats through bent over rows as helped me tremendously in learning how to recruit my lats during the first pull of the Olympic lifts. This is just one carry-over that happened to me personally! The benefits of horizontal rowing are endless.

4- This relates directly to # 2. Horizontal rowing movements are excellent for improving posture. Many people spend a whole lot of time sitting all day, hunched over at a desk, which causes the rhomboids and the mid and low traps to get lengthened throughout the day. By adding horizontal rowing movements, you wake up these muscles that help stabilize the scapula.

Some of my favourite horizontal rowing movements are:

-Single arm dumbbell row


-Ring rows (If ring rows are easy for you, try doing them with straight legs and your feet elevated.


-Pendlay rows. Here's Glenn Pendlay explaining them and having them demonstrated:


-Facepulls. I wrote about, and did a demo of these in my other post as well. Here's another video of Eric Cressey explaining facepulls with external rotation, and having them demonstrated:


When in doubt, do some horizontal pulling/rowing!




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