Contralateral vs. Ipsilateral Pressing and Rowing

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Today’s guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Ethan Dyer. 

The current sports performance training meta as it pertains to unilateral pressing and rowing exercises is to lean on contralateral variations as the default. This is because contralateral activities generally allow for greater force production due to the extension bias associated with those movements.

A problem with this is that cable exercises will always be harder to load than most pressing and rowing where dumbbells or kettlebells (and, of course, barbells) are involved. So, if 90% of the time we assume that cables are a poor choice when prioritizing load, what can we really use a cable press or a cable row to accomplish? I would argue that putting a dent in hip range of motion to allow for improved on-field movement is the best answer.

With a split-stance contralateral cable row, for example, the concentric portion of the movement is going to bias external rotation at the front hip. The actual activity of rowing is pulling us away from our front side. The flip side of this is when we find internal rotation on our front side during a split-stance ipsilateral row; the preponderance of concentric activity pulls us into our front hip.

The same logic applies to pressing. During a contralateral split-stance cable press, for example, the activity carries us into our front hip (IR), whereas an ipsilateral press is going to carry us out of our front hip (ER).

Now that we’ve established what we can accomplish with these movements in terms of rotation, we can make programming decisions based on the athlete we have in front of us. It’s important that we base these decisions on their task and performance as opposed to strictly looking at table range-of-motion measures (which may or may not tell us how they’re going to move on the field).

If we have a left-handed pitcher who struggles to find IR at their glove-side hip after front foot strike, a left-side only contralateral press and a right-side only ipsilateral row can be useful weapons. If we have a receiver or an attacker who struggles to juke and change direction at higher sprint speeds, leaning on contralateral rowing and ipsilateral pressing to get/keep them out of a hip can be a useful strategy.

Besides the obvious programming implications here, there is an important overarching rule that should be appreciated as well. It’s fine to have multiple priorities – qualities that you are training for – within a program, but we get in trouble when we try to use an exercise to target multiple or all qualities at once. Cable rows and presses are perfect examples.

[bctt tweet=”When we use an exercise to improve both force production and range of motion, we end up doing neither to the extent that we desire. We’d be wise to learn from the Latin writer Syrus, who said “To do two things at once is to do neither”.”]

About the Author

Ethan Dyer serves as a Strength & Conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance. He started as a client at CSP and eventually went on to intern at CSP-MA. Following another internship at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training, Ethan joined the CSP-MA team. He was a pitcher at the College of the Holy Cross before transferring to Endicott College to complete his undergraduate work with a major in Exercise Science and minor in Psychology. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Ethan has been a volunteer with both the Miracle League and Special Olympics, and has a passion for working with young athletes to help them fall in love with training while avoiding injury. You can follow him on Instagram at @Ethan___Dyer.

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