“Leave no stone unturned” is the perfect idiom for how we should approach building strong, symmetrical muscles. We should ignore no muscles, no matter how small, to achieve true total-body fitness for optimal functioning in the real world. But to do that properly, one needs to be familiar with all of those “stones.” The mission of the push, pull, swing concept is to ensure that you engage all of your muscles, not just the ones that look good in a mirror, during your workouts. Therefore, it pays to get to know the muscles that you’re looking to improve. Pushing, pulling, and swinging movements often engage more than one muscle group at a time, so this guide will also give you a better understanding of how they work together.
The Muscles That Help Push
You actually have two separate groups of muscles that make up your chest. The larger of the two is the pectoralis major, the top layer that lies closest to your skin. The fibers of this muscle originate at three locations: your collarbone, your breastbone, and your ribs just below your breastbone. From there, the fibers stretch across both sides of your chest in a fan shape, starting wide at the center of your body and tapering together at the sides of your body to attach to the top of your humerus (upper arm bone).
The smaller of the two muscle groups are the pectoralis minor, which rests underneath your pectoralis major. This thinner, more triangular muscle starts at your third, fourth, and fifth ribs and attaches near your shoulder joint.
HOW THEY WORK: Together, both muscles are responsible for moving your upper arms toward the center of your body and assist with drawing your shoulders forward. Whenever you either push a weight above your chest or push your body away from a stationary object (like the floor, when performing a Pushup), your pectorals shorten in order to pull your arms across your chest and bring them together.
Located along the backs of your upper arms, your triceps are composed of three separate muscles, or heads: the lateral head, the medial head, and the long head. The three heads each start at one of two locations your upper arm bone or your shoulder blade then come together at your forearm, attaching to a tendon that connects to your elbow bone.
HOW THEY WORK: All three heads work together to extend your elbows, which is what you’re doing every time you straighten your arm from a bent position. This happens whenever you push weight over your head or above your chest, for example. However, your triceps brachii also help out with other jobs, which include stabilizing your shoulder joints during certain pushing movements and aiding your upper back muscles with arm adduction (which happens when you bring your arms down and back toward your body).
Your quads the muscles that rest along the fronts of your thighs divide into four separate heads: the vastus intermedius, the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, and the vastus medialis. The vastus intermedius attaches to and covers much of the front and sides of your femur (your thighbone) but is not visible, as it lies below the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris starts at your pelvis and runs down your thigh in front of the vastus intermedius. The vastus lateralis and medialisbegin at the back of your femur laterally and medially, respectively. All four muscles run down your thigh and converge at the patellar tendon, which attaches along the upper part of your tibia (shinbone).
HOW THEY WORK: Your quadriceps are mainly responsible for extending your knees (straightening your legs), but they also help to support and stabilize your knee joints, particularly the inner and outer sides. Because many of the pushing exercises that target your quadriceps also involve your lower legs, your quads often work in unison with your calves.
Along the backs of your lower legs are two sets of muscle groups: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius (the larger of the two) is the one you can see. The soleus is hidden underneath the gastrocnemius and attaches just below your knee and at your Achilles tendon. Together, both sets of muscles combine to form the diamond-shaped muscle that extends from the back of your knee to your ankle.
HOW THEY WORK: The gastrocnemius’s job is to flex your foot, which is what you do whenever you elevate your heels. The soleus does the exact same thing, but only when your knees are bent.
The Muscles That Help Pull
Trapezius and Rhomboids
Considered part of your upper back, the trapezius is a flat, triangle-shaped muscle that begins at the base of your skull and attaches itself to the back of your collarbone and shoulder blades. Underneath your trapezius is your rhomboids, which are positioned in the middle of your upper back, right between your shoulder blades.
HOW THEY WORK: Your trapezius is responsible for scapular elevation (when you shrug your arms up), scapular depression (when you pull your shoulder blades down), and scapular adduction (when you pull your shoulder blades together). Your rhomboids also help out your trapezius whenever you pull your shoulder blades toward each other.
Your lats the largest muscles of your back are a set of fan-shaped muscles that start low on your spine, spread across the width of your back, and taper off at your upper arm bones (where they meet your shoulders).
HOW THEY WORK: Their primary role is to pull your arms from a raised position back down to your sides. Also, whenever your arms are extended in front of your torso, your lats are responsible for pulling your arms down toward your torso.
However, they also help stabilize your torso during other exercises (particularly moves that target your arms, such as Biceps Curls), and they help to rotate your upper arm internally, which plays a big part in giving you that extra snap of power whenever you punch or throw. Each of these jobs gets a little help from the teres major a smaller muscle that runs from the outer edge of the scapula to the humerus.
This muscle is located in the front of your upper arm and is made up of two separate heads that each attaches to your shoulder socket and inserts onto your radius one of the two bones of your forearm. Wedged between your biceps and upper arm bone is the brachialis, a thin muscle that attaches to your ulna the other bone of your forearm.
HOW THEY WORK: Your biceps are responsible for elbow flexion (when you bend your arm at the elbow) to draw your lower arms toward your shoulders. They also rotate your lower arms from side to side (known as supination) to turn your palms from an up position to a down position and vice versa. Your brachialis also helps move your lower arms toward your shoulders, but only when your palms are either facing down or in toward your body.
The real estate between your elbows and your hands otherwise known as your forearms contains two sets of muscles: your wrist extensors and your wrist flexors. If you want your arms to look bigger, pay attention to your forearms.
HOW THEY WORK: Your wrist extensors are located on the outside of your forearm, and they allow you to bend (or pull) your wrists backward. Your wrist flexors are found along the inside of your forearm, and they allow you to curl (or pull) your wrists forward.
Your hamstrings are made up of three separate muscles comprising the entire back of your thigh the biceps femoris (found on the outer rear portion of your thigh) and the semitendinosus and semimembranosus (the two muscles that make up the bulk of your inner rear thigh). Each attaches to your pelvic bone, runs down the back of your thigh, then connects to either your shinbone or the head of your fibula.
HOW THEY WORK: Individually, these three muscles help turn your knees inward and turn your feet outward. But when united, they collectively flex (or bend) your knees and extend your hips (kick your legs back behind you). However, they don’t work alone other muscles, including your hip flexors, glutes, and erector spinal muscles, help out as well.
The Muscles That Help Push and Pull at the Same Time
The muscles you confidently hang your coat over are actually divided into three heads your anterior deltoids (located in the front of your shoulders), your medial deltoids (located along the sides), and your posterior deltoids (located behind your shoulders).
The anterior and medial deltoids start at your collarbone, while the posterior deltoids start on your scapula (your shoulder blade). All three heads come together and attach themselves to your humerus (upper arm bone).
HOW THEY WORK: Collectively, all three parts of your deltoids are responsible for moving your arms away from your torso, even though each performs a different task. Your anterior deltoids raise your arms up in front of you, your medial deltoids lift your arms up and out to your sides, and your posterior deltoids raise your arms up and behind your body.
The three heads also act as secondary movers during many pushing and pulling exercises. Your anterior deltoids assist your pectoral muscles in many pushing exercises that strengthen your chest, while your posterior deltoids assist in many pulling exercises that involve your teres major (upper back), trapezius, and rhomboid muscles.
You have three separate muscles to thank if you’ve ever been complimented on your backside. Your gluteus maximus one of the largest and strongest muscles in your body is responsible for creating the rounded shape of your rear end. It originates at your pelvic bone and ends along the back of your thighbone. Your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus start and end in the same two places, but they rest directly below your gluteus maximus, along the outside of your hips.
HOW THEY WORK: Your gluteus Maximus’s main job is hip extension, which is what happens whenever you draw your leg back behind you. It also helps your body stand up from a squatting position by straightening your hips. Meanwhile, your gluteus medius and minimus work together to extend your leg out to the side, rotate your thigh inward when your hip is bent, and rotate your thigh outward when your leg is straight.
Although many hip-dominant pulling exercises that train your hamstrings (such as Dead-lifts, Straight Leg Deadlifts, and Swings) target your glutes simultaneously, all three muscles are also activated and assist when performing quad-dominant pushing exercises for your legs, such as Squats and Lunges.
The Muscles That Help Swing
Your midsection or core is made up of more than two dozen muscles that stabilize your spine, as well as bend your torso forward, backward, from side to side, and in the case of any swinging exercise rotate it in every possible direction. Here are these critical muscles, in no particular order.
Your abdominals are comprised of four muscle groups. Your rectus abdominis the long sheet of muscle in front isn’t just responsible for giving you that six-pack looks, but also for pulling your torso toward your hips. It’s other, equally important job is to act as a counterbalance against the muscles that extend your spine so that your posture is perfect.
The next two muscles are your obliques your external obliques, which run diagonally down from your lower ribs to the front top of your pelvis and pubic bone, and your internal obliques, which are found underneath, running diagonally to your external obliques. Together, their main jobs are rotating your torso and lateral flexion (bending your torso in toward your hips).
The final of the four is your transverse abdominis. Running deep beneath your obliques, this thin muscle layer, which stretches from your lower ribs to your pubic bone, pulls your abdominal wall inward. This protects your internal organs while helping to support your spine.
HOW THEY WORK: Together, all four support and assist in moving your torso through various planes of motion bending your body from side to side, twisting right and left, and lowering and raising your torso. Note: When talking about the “core,” I’m including the muscles of the lower back, which work together with the abdominals to support the spine.
Although the muscles that make up your lower back are many, the major group that men focus on is the erector spine or spinal erectors. These deep muscles rest along both sides of your spinal column, starting at the back of your skull and attaching to your pelvis.
HOW THEY WORK: With the help of other smaller muscles, both erectors extend your spine straightening it after it’s been flexed forward as well as bend your spine posteriorly (arch your back). They are also responsible for helping to support your spinal column all day long.
Located along the fronts of your thighs, your hip flexors are actually divided primarily into two muscle groups: the iliacus (which starts at your pelvis and attaches to your thigh bone) and the psoas major (which originates on your lumbar vertebrae and also connects to your thighbone).
HOW THEY WORK: Their main task is to pull your thighs toward your midsection. When you’re standing, it’s these muscles that help raise your thighs up, but when you’re lying flat, it’s these same muscles that also lift your legs toward your torso or lift your torso into a Situp position.
That’s an overview of the major muscles and muscle groups involved in every push, pull, and swing movement. But that’s hardly all of the muscles that contribute to moving in all three planes. By incorporating pushing, pulling, and swinging movements into your workouts, you’ll have the best chance of activating the greatest number of muscles both large and small for true, total-body strength, muscle tone, and endurance.