Push-Pull Workout

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

These chest and back exercises will improve your posture and prevent pain in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

How’s your posture this very second? Are your shoulders pulled back—or rounded forward? Do your neck and back feel relaxed and strong—or tense and achy? Is your chest open and lifted—or does it feel scrunched?

If your posture isn’t picture-perfect, give yourself a break. For starters, practicing good posture requires just that: practice. You have to know what good posture looks like and actively remind yourself to avoid breaking it. Plus, good posture requires strong, balanced chest and back muscles to help you stay upright.

The chest and back exercises in this push-pull workout will improve your posture. And with better posture comes less pain in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.

How the Push-Pull Workout Works

You’ll need a bench and a variety of gym machines. If you don’t have access to a particular machine, try one of the suggested alternatives.

Warm up with at least five minutes of walking or this warmup routine. Perform the exercises below as instructed, and you’ll perform some exercises in pairs as part of a circuit. Cool down with deep breathing and stretches of your choice.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Circuit #1

Do 2 rounds

Perform the two exercises below as a pairing, resting as needed in between. Aim to do two rounds of the pairing.

Exercise #1A: Plank

Hold for 30 seconds

Lie on your stomach with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor. Focus your eyes between your hands. Your legs should be resting behind you, knees hip-width apart (or slightly farther apart for extra balance).

From here, clasp your hands and lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from head to ankles. Squeeze your upper back, core, and glutes. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

Make it easier: Do the move with your knees on the floor, and lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to knees.

Exercise #1B: Plank Progression

Do 3 reps

Get into plank position on your forearms as you did before. Hold your plank for five seconds, squeezing your upper back, core, and glutes. Gently lower your knees to the floor, and hold here for five seconds. That’s one rep. Do three reps.

Exercise #2: Cable Reverse Fly

Do 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side

Attach one stirrup handle to the cable station. Stand with your left side to the machine, and grab the handle in your right hand. Step out from the pulley, and position your feet about shoulder-width apart. Allow your right arm to hang down by your side, and brace your core.

With your left arm holding the handle straight and positioned across your body, pull the handle way from the machine to the opposite side, like you’re opening a door. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side, resting as needed between sets.

If you don’t have a cable station available, you can attach a resistance band to any sturdy anchor point that’s about chest height.

Circuit #3

Do 2 to 3 rounds

Perform the two exercises below as a pairing, resting as needed in between. Aim to do two to three rounds of the pairing.

Exercise #3A: Hands-Elevated Eccentric Pushup

Do 5 reps

Stand facing a bench. Place your hands on the edge, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Move your feet back until you are at a comfortable angle, keeping your arms straight and perpendicular to your body.

Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest toward the bench, aiming to take a full three to five seconds to lower. When you reach the bottom of your pushup, carefully bend your knees and use your legs to assist in returning to starting position. That’s one rep. Do five reps.

Exercise #3B: Standing Cable Row

Do 10 reps

Attach two stirrup handles to a cable station. Grab a handle with each hand, and stand facing the station. Step back so that your arms can straighten in front of you, and position your feet about shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and bend your knees slightly so you’re in a small squat. Brace your core. This is your starting position.

Without moving your torso, pull the handles to your sides as you stand up tall. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. Keep your core braced the entire time. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps.

If you don’t have a cable station available, you can use a mid row machine or do a seated row with a resistance band.

Circuit #4

Do 2 to 3 rounds

Perform the two exercises below as a pairing, resting as needed in between. Aim to do two to three rounds of the pairing.

Exercise #4A: Overhead Press

Do 12 to 15 reps

Use the pin to select a weight on the weight stack, and set yourself up on the overhead press machine. Place your feet on the foot rest, and grab the handles, keeping your whole back against the seat back.

Squeezing your upper back, press your arms up. Pause, and lower them to starting position. That’s one rep. Do 12 to 15 reps, resting as needed.

If you don’t have an overhead press machine, you can do the seated alternating shoulder press with dumbbells instead.

Exercise #4B: Lat Pulldown

Do 12 to 15 reps

Use the pin to choose a weight from the weight stack, and set yourself up on the lat pulldown machine. Place your feet on the foot rest, secure the pad comfortably on your legs, and grab the handles with your hands about shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.

Bend your elbows to pull the bar down in front of you, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do. Pause, and straighten your arms to starting position. That’s one rep. Do 12 to 15 reps, resting as needed.

If you don’t have a lat pulldown machine, you can do a standing lat pulldown with a resistance band.

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