Horizontal Push/Pull Setup & Cues: A Young Athletes Complete Guide

In today's installment of our Primal Movement Patterns Setup + Cues we are going to cover our horizontal pushing & pulling. The most common of these movements are pushups, bench presses of all kinds, and rowing of all different varieties. The key to remember is that the cues will be the same for all pushing variations and all pulling variations, however, the setup may differ slightly depending on the implement being used...

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and Iearn"
- Benjamin Franklin

Floor Press - The Youth Academy

Ahhh the beloved horizontal push, or what everyone else thinks of, the bench press... the "typical gym goers movement"... it may come as a surprise to you that we rarely bench here at The Academy, but that's a story for another time

The main thing that we need to think about when it comes to horizontal pressing & rowing is shoulder integrity and health in these young athletes & adolescents. Far too many people will press with a "flared elbow", thus placing extra stress down the shoulder joint when pressing, putting it at a higher risk of injuries...

Also, it's important to note that we want to row 2-3 more times than we push. Why? Well, this strengthens the back muscles and helps to promote proper posture... as we live in a time whereby we spend the majority of our days hunched, and tight chests are now the norm - so we don't need to work the anterior (front side) even more... we need to strengthen the posterior (back side)

For our horizontal push, we're going to cover the pushup and floor press, and for our rows we will look at our ring row and dumbbell row. The reason being that the setup for these movements will be very similar across the other variations we might use - i.e. the ring row and seated row are exactly the same, the implement simply changes

Pushup - The Youth Academy

Horizontal Press Setup - Pushup

  1. Begin on the ground in a pushup position, either on knees or on feet
  2. Hands slightly outside shoulder-width
  3. Wrists should be directly under your elbows, so that the force is able to be transitioned straight down & this will allow for the most force production - this will also cause your weight to shift forward a little
  4. Shoulders back & down/scaps in back pockets
  5. Screw hands into ground/try to turn them out
  6. Make a double chin
  7. Big belly full of air
  8. Slowly descend, keeping your butt down, until your nose touches the ground, then explosively push the floor away from you

Horizontal Push Setup - Floor Press

  1. Grab a pair of reasonable dumbbells, and with one in each hand, lie on your back
  2. Shoulders back and down/scaps in your back pockets
  3. Tuck your elbows into your sides
  4. Elbows underneath wrists - this will form a 90-degree angle and allow all the force to be transitioned straight down the arm 
  5. Big belly full of air
  6. Punch through the roof/push yourself into the floor


  1. Shoulders Back & Down/Scaps In Back Pockets/Chest Up: this cue helps us ensure that the shoulders are always in proper alignment, and we're helping to promote great posture
  2. Push The Floor Away/Push Yourself Into The Floor: we find that this cue helps to keep tightness & tension throughout the lift
  3. Elbows & Wrists In-Line With Each Other: if one of these is not directly under the other, that is the elbow joint not being at a 90-degree angle, then we're going to be unstable and lose a lot of force production for the movement
Ring Row - The Youth Academy

Horizontal Row Setup - Ring Row

  1. Grab rings with hands slightly outside shoulder width
  2. Shoulders back & down/scaps in your back pockets
  3. Chest up
  4. Walk your feet to an appropriate angle, knowing that the more horizontal you get, the harder the movement will be
  5. Come up onto your heels/pick your toes up
  6. Extend arms
  7. Squeeze your glutes and pick your butt up so that you form a straight line
  8. Picture a string attaching your elbow and ribs, then drive your elbow back to the rib - we find this really helps to activate and engage the lats and allows the back to do the majority of the work, whereby if we think of pulling with the hands, biceps and forearms take over

Horizontal Row Setup - DB Row 

  1. Grab a reasonable weight dumbbell and find something that is about the same height as your hip
  2. Place your left hand on the "bench" and have the dumbbell in your right hand
  3. Keep your left leg close to the "bench" and kick your right leg back to create space and help you begin to come down to a less than 45-degree angle with your torso
  4. Shoulders back and down/scaps in back pockets
  5. Chest up
  6. Picture a string attaching your elbow and ribs, then drive your elbow back to the rib 
  7. Squeeze at the top for 1-second


  1. Shoulders Back & Down/Scaps in Back Pockets: with the back muscles tending to be weaker, the position will be lost easily at the beginning and the chest will tend to cave/shoulders round... alleviating this is our main intention with rowing movements and tends to be the only cue we need to give
  2. Elbows To Ribs: pulling with the elbows and not the hands helps to activate and engage the back more, instead of the traditional forearm and biceps doing a majority of the work
Seated Row - The Youth Academy

And once the young athlete begins to progress and become more accustomed to the cues and movement, you can break the cues down into even simpler single-words, such a shoulders, push the floor, wrists, elbows, etc...

One key is to not overwhelm the young athletes and have them focus solely on one or two major cues they seem to have to think most about... and then have them perform the movement pattern properly so that it becomes ingrained automatically into their nervous system and the movement soon becomes second nature

Next week's article will cover our unique Academy Graduation Progression to the horizontal press & pull, and break those movements down into their core components so that young athletes & adolescents can learn to perform them both safely & effectively - and gain all the benefits from this phenomenal movement

Nick Maier