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Strength Training Programs: Coaching the Dumbbell Pullover

Written on January 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

For some reason, the pullover has become one of those old strength training exercises that has fallen out of favor with in the iron game.  I’m not sure why, as it definitely has some utility on a number of fronts, provided that you do it correctly.  Check out today’s video to learn the “why” and “how” of the dumbbell pullover:

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  • http://theartofphysicalfitness.com Kyle Bohannon

    Eric,

    I take it you don’t view the stress going on in the shoulder at full flexion as making the exercise contraindicated for overhead throwing athletes?

    Best Wishes,

    Kyle

  • http://www.jamescipriani.com James Cipriani

    I’m a big fan of the pullover and utilize it often. It definitely has been a forgotten exercise. I’m glad to see a highly regarded strength coach giving this exercise it’s due respect :)

  • steven

    Hey Eric,

    Question : I did see some writings with conclusions that the pullover is more an exercise for the lower pecs !!! And the work for the lats is low !!!

    Another question : Is there a problem with doing this exercise lying straight on the bench, head on the edge.. So there is less core work !!!

    Another question : Is this exercise good or not good for loads going a little heavier !! Maybe lying om the ground is better with an ez-bar.. being sure the movement can not go to far stretched down !!

    Maybe you would answers these questions ?? I hope so.

    A

  • AJ

    Fascinating stuff as always Eric, seems like it’d have some decent carryover for fast bowlers in cricket, any thoughts on that?

  • http://bootcampideas.com Kyle

    Great video Eric. I remember doing them to ‘expand my ribcage’ back in the day.

    I like the idea of using them as an alternative to chin ups as most of my clients lack the scapula strength to do them properly.

    Also, I’ve been watching your FST series of videos again, awesome information in there on core training and correcting dysfunction. Thanks!

  • http://desertsportsandfitness.com Frank

    Based on the demonstration, rather than accross the bench, would it not be as effective to lay with the bench? But still keep gtutes and abdomen fired to avoid over exagerated movement? Or am I being to specific?

    Love your site!

  • http://coachlark.com Lark

    Thanks. The Nautilus pull over machine was historically my favorite and this is a good thorough tutorial on the DB pullover.
    Later in the workout as an isolated set to cut down on tendon stress from too many grip intensive exercises sounds like the right call for programming it too. Thanks Eric

    -Lark

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Islanders-Strength-Conditioning/196984140357764 Richard Burnett

    So glad to see this article! I love doing these with my Baseball, Softball, and Tennis teams. It is multi-faceted and is a great free weight alternative for any strength coach who is not blessed with cable machines. Great video illustration as well!

  • Scott Weeks

    This seems like a great exercise to add for a pitcher then correct? About 6-8 reps for a set of 3?

  • http://www.GoToBALL.org Ted

    We grew up learning the pullover while our backside was resting on the bench. It’s very enlightening to see a correct technique, and to have it methodically explained in layman’s terms so guys like me know the “why” of it. Thanks Eric!

  • Alek Jakich

    Next time, an even more obscure exercise-the bent arm barbell pullover. This was pre-Arthur Jones.
    When done properly it is a terrific lat developer that you can use some respectable weight in its performance.

  • Collin

    Would a suspended (TRX) fallout have similar benefits. Is one preferred over the other?

  • Darren

    Is the pullover a vertical pull exercise?

  • Ryan

    Favorite exercise ever. I used to add it to the end of my upper body workouts in Maximum Strength and S & G. I found that it helped my shoulder health quite a bit. Thanks for exploring it here and providing some coaching cues. As always, quality insight and practical information. You are a standout trainer and your content is some of the best available.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Darren,

    Yes, I’d classify it that way.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Collin,

    Some similar benefits in that they are both anterior core exercises, yes. However, I’d call the pullover more of an upper body than a core exercise. This variation would be more like the pullover with the elbows flexed, I’d say:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jafhNbKhnA

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Alek,

    Sounds like a guest blog to me!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Scott,

    Some pitchers can benefit from it, yes. I’d go 6-10 reps per set.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Frank,

    I think you negate some of the anterior core benefits in that instance.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Kyle!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    AJ,

    Certainly can’t hurt!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Kyle,

    It actually usually works just fine with overhead athletes. We use it every few months with our guys’ programming.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Steven,

    I haven’t seen EMG research that shows this is more for the sternal head of the pec major, but it very well may be.

    Why would you want less core work? That’s one of the best benefits!

    Not sure why you’d want to limit the range of motion just so that you can use more weights, either.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Ryan!

  • http://none Douglas

    “The 4th powerlift ” Vince Anello.

  • steven

    Eric,

    I found one article I read some time ago about emg-studies about the pull-over.. See link

    http://www.myotropics.com/legacy/wordpress/the-pullover-an-npc-athlete-dissects-an-old-school-bodybuilding-movement/

    It’s an article of a japanese/caucasian,… model !!Nice

    But your reason of bringing the pullover to the attention is not if it is a good lat-exercise.. It is a good exercise with carry-over to throwing movements.. When I finish a set of pull-over… The movement of throwing feels really light.. I always think it is a very good training for getting stron in the movement for tennis or volleyball !!!

  • http://www.strengthmaxforathletes.com/strengthandendurance Neal Putt

    Eric, I have used a modified version of the pullover with a bent arm for years which places the exercise more as a tricep developer and have found that it works the long head of the tricep more aggressively than any other exercise. Has many of the same benefits as the straight arm pullover but will absolutely blast the triceps. Seems like that could be very beneficial for throwing and hitting athletes as well.

  • Tyler Riggs

    Hey Eric, I just listend to your interview on the FitCast from a while back about the business side of fitness. I wouldn’t mind chatting with you to get some information on something I have always wanted to do since I made my transformation of 260 lbs of almost all fat to 180 lbs with 10% body fat to owning a gym in the near future. Let me know. My email should be above and just a few quick tips would be nice. Right now I am currently a Membership Coordinator at a club in Central Illinois, Thanks!

  • Kristine Becker

    Maybe it’s only because I read the abstract, but can someone explain: ” It was determined that the pectoralis major was activated to a much greater degree than the latissimus dorsi, and that the higher activation was dependent on the external force lever arm produced”?

    Higher activation of which muscle? A shorter or longer lever? [Or do they mean force*lever arm, as in torque?]

  • http://peakphysiquetraining.com Trent

    Love this exercise. Started using it again when I ran myself though the “Core Performance” Program. I attest it to a lot of the range of motion and control I gained through my shoulder girdle after having injured it a few years back.

    What are your thoughts on doing them in a Dead Bug position on the bench? Any contraindications?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Good stuff, Neal!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Kristine,

    Definitely confusing. My assumption is that pec major was activated purely via the adduction action.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Trent,

    I just don’t think you get the same great core control benefits if you do them on the bench.

  • Sam

    Eric,
    If one had access to it, wouldn’t a pullover machine like a Nautilus version be a better option since it allows a much greater range of motion ?

  • Sean Norwood

    Thanks for the video and great explanation! I was just considering using pullovers to help my core and rib cage stability overhead, but I didn’t feel that I had enough info on correct technique.

    As always, your site is a very valuable resource!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Sam,

    Don’t love the fixed line of motion. Here and there for some variety, though, it should be okay.

  • http://n/a Mark

    Are DB Pullovers ok with acj issues (if not pain)?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Mark,

    Should be, assuming pain isn’t there and movement quality is good.

  • Roy Reichle

    Thanks for the great video, Eric! Pullovers are a great exercise and I use them all the time, but I do them with a cable set-up. I lay a bench lengthwise in front of a cable pulley, place it at its lowest position, put an EZ curl attachment on, and pull away. It works great and I get resistance through more of the range than using a Dumbbell.

  • Chris

    Eric,

    I have found during heavy sets (90lbs+) my shoulder will occasionally ‘slip’ into a sketchy internal rotation/anterior glide position at full flexion and I have to bail. Is this more likely due to poor scapulohumeral stabilization or an overactive lat dragging the humerus in/elbow out at the bottom of the movement?

    This shoulder is my non-dominant, more unstable side and sits a little higher than the other shoulder. I also have chronically tight lats. Thanks for the article!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Chris,
    At that load, I’d be more inclined to say that it’s a weakness issue as opposed to a lat being able to “overpower” a 90lb+ pound DB. Adequate anterior core control, cuff strength, and scapular stabilization would be the first places I’d look.


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