Pullovers are good for so many reasons.
When done correctly, pullovers require you to maintain a strong set of your ribcage – which helps to strengthen your diaphragm and internal obliques, and makes for a great anti-extension core exercise. Pullovers also allow for an eccentric contraction of your lats while they are in a lengthened position so many will also experience an improvement in their lat length and ability to reach their arms overhead (aka shoulder flexion). After around 130 degrees of shoulder flexion your serratus anterior becomes more active. Pullovers also help to target and strengthen that muscle, which is an essential stabilizer of your scapulae.
Here are three variations that I like – listed in a suggested sequence of progression.
This is the easiest variation to learn and will teach you how to keep your ribs sets (read this if you don’t know how to keep your ribs set) while reaching your arms overhead.
- Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell straight above your body, inhale through your nose, take a deep breath in, exhale and simultaneously reach your arms back overhead as far as you can without losing form.
- Your back and ribs should stay flat against the floor and you should not feel any discomfort in your neck or shoulders (limit range accordingly if you are). Pause in your end position for 2-3 seconds (most people will feel a stretch in their lats here).
I like to prescribe 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps for this exercise and keep the weight light (under 15 pounds for most).
½ Kneel Cable Pullovers
This exercise has all the benefits of a pullover plus the added bonus benefits the ½ kneeling stance has to offer. Due to the required thoracopelvic positioning, this exercise can help to improve hip flexor length (both rectus femoris and the psoas group) coupled with better activation of your core (if done properly).
- Take some time to set up your half kneeling position, especially if you have tight hip flexors.
- Your thorax (rib region) should be stacked over your pelvis and your pelvis should be neutral. If you have tight hip flexors be sure that your low back is not excessively arched and your shoulders are not sitting behind your hips, If this is the case you are sitting in an anterior pelvic tilt (which is not ideal).
- Your torso should be tall without extending your neck, keep your elbows as straight as possible, and raise your arms overhead trying to brush your biceps against your ears, and without letting any change in your torso or spine occur.
- Keep constant tension in your glutes and your core and be conservative with your weight (less is usually better).
I like to prescribe 3 sets of 6-10 reps with each knee down.
Pullovers on Bench
Once you are able to proficiently execute both the 90/90 and ½ Kneel Pullover, the next exercise I like to introduce is the Pullover on Bench. All the benefits and cues are the same for this variation as for the 90/90 one. However, I use this exercise as a progression to help further build eccentric strength through the lats. Normally I will have people use a heavier weight with this variation than the 90/90 version, but the weight depends on the individuals ability to maintain form in their back and rib position.
For this variation I like to prescribe 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12.
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