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Friday, April 12, 2013


After talking about the exercises that can be done but have been banished because of the risk of injuries, Hardcore Resistance Training & WellB started to talk about exercises that are usually used for one exercise group, when it focuses more on another. One exercise that can be put into this group is the Pullover with free weights or done on a machine.

When the pullover is included in a workout it is usually included in the days that the muscles of the back are trained, but is this right? If not, what muscle group does it most activate? Is it an exercise that has effect on more than one muscle group? Do you know the proper technique that should be used to activate the back and/or the other muscle group that is involved? What is considered better free weights or doing it on a machine?

First of all, the group of muscles that the Pullover exercise is used for is the back, but if you look in books demonstrating resistance exercises, the primary muscle that this exercise activates is the Chest muscle (Pectoralis major). When doing the dumbbell pullover, you are lying flat on your back, whether on a bench or on a ball, or even just supporting your upper back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. The exercise starts with the dumbbell held above your chest, with extended arms and elbows slightly bent. The arms are lowered downward without moving the elbows, so that they are parallel to your ears. As soon as the dumbbell reaches the level of the head, it is brought back up to the initial position. So the secondary muscles that are activated are the muscles of the back, Latissimus dorsi, Serratus anterior, Teres major, rhomboids, and then the back of the shoulder muscle (posterior deltoid), the triceps and Pectoralis minor.

So when you include the pullover exercise in your back workout routine, you are actually targeting your chest muscles and not your back muscles. According to Marchetti & Uchida (Effects of the pullover exercise on the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles as evaluated by EMG, J. Applied Biomechanics, 2001), the chest muscle is activated in all of the movement when doing this exercise. On the other hand, they demonstrated that the back muscles only participate in 10% of activation when compared to the chest muscles, and that is when it is at the level of the head.

Many may include this in their back group muscle because as discussed in “Strength from the inside out”, if you are not using full back support, while keeping the position to do this exercise, you are working out your core which strengthens the lower back. So if you would like to focus more on the actual muscle group instead of your core, maybe you should lie flat on the bench horizontally with your full back instead of across with only the support of your upper back. You could also choose the Pullover machine which could be safer especially for those beginners with less core strength. Besides being safe it also has other benefits such as the sitting upright body position instead of supine, and the machine has pads and support of the arms instead of a free weight over your face.  

The purpose of this exercise could be used to provide symmetry to your back muscles, if you’re looking for physical appearance and to stretch you rib cage muscles (core). Since it consists of the shoulder extension movement, it is useful as a rehabilitative exercise with isometric (static) contraction for individuals with injuries to the rotator cuff and shoulder where the weight is held at the lowest position, and with the difference of the head slightly hanging off the bench. It is also used as a strength exercise of the surrounding muscles for people with whiplash or cervical injuries. So if you see someone doing this after their back workout, the only thing they may be taking from it is a good stretch.

1 comment:

  1. The diagram of the posterior back muscles is inaccurate. The rhomboids are not where the label points. The rhomboids (minor and major) are medial to the scapulae. The pointer is indicating the infraspinatus muscle.