Since most guys tend to feel pullovers more in the upper latissimus dorsi muscle, the dumbbell pullover is usually done as a finishing movement for just a couple of sets at the end of a back-training session. Others feel more stimulation across the chest and triceps, although I’ve always felt this is mostly due to them going too heavy. Either way, the point of the exercise is to resistively stretch and pull the rib cage up and back, forcing the rib box to maximum expansion.
Pullovers can also be done standing, using a cable, although sometimes I feel like I’m the last bodybuilder left on Earth who knows this exercise. I rarely see anyone else doing these anymore.
Standing pullovers are done facing the cable with the pulley in the high-overhead position. Using the narrow straight-bar, take an overhand grip. This can be done with the thumbs wrapped around (standard grip) or with the thumbs on the same side as the fingers. Position yourself directly under the short bar, knees slightly bent, butt pitched backward, lower back in a ski-jump (lordotic) position, chest up, and shoulders back. Reach up and grab the bar. Maintaining slightly bent elbows, bring the bar down, hinging and rotating only at the shoulder joint. The short bar should end up against your thighs. Just like the dumbbell pullover, the motion should be slow and controlled. Be careful not to cave your chest in or let your shoulders collapse forward, as is so often the case when done improperly or when too heavy a weight is selected. Repetition and set scheme are the same as when using a dumbbell.
These days, when pullovers are part of my routine, I do them on the cable. They’re less systematically draining and easier to do. Since I’m older now, I see no need for the dumbbell motion, which I do ultimately feel is superior for massive rib box expansion. But the cable version suffices to maintain what I care to hang on to and the functionality I wish to preserve.
For younger bodybuilders, especially teenagers getting started, I generally opt for the dumbbell version. It certainly worked for me back in my days competing in bodybuilding as a young teenager.When I won my class at the East Coast back in 1984 (Ouch! that hurts to write) I recall being outclassed in terms of mass by at least the top three guys who finished just below me. Though my physique was arguably more complete than the others’ and there was little doubting the superiority of my cuts that year, the freaky standout difference was my near-30-inch drop from chest to waist. It more than made up for the mass my competition had on me. Just to put that into perspective, any good tailor will tell you that a big V-taper on an average man is considered a 10-inch drop from chest measurement to waist measurement. That evening my drop was nearly triple that! Although I was always known for being shredded with a small waist, most of the comments that night were about my V-taper. I was 19 years old, and I knew even then that it was directly related to the previous three years of diligent pullovers.
Thanks to my old training partner and then-mentor Peter Neff, I worked so hard doing pullovers because he knew I didn’t have the massive muscles my competition would be showing at such a big regional. I knew my waist was small, and that was good genetics. But until I did my time doing pullovers, it didn’t stand out from the rest of my upper body—it didn’t explode like some of the pros I used to admire.
I remember staring at the images in my old muscle magazines and marveling at Frank Zane’s “vacuum” pose. He was a big inspiration to me because, like me, he wasn’t as blessed with genetics for massive muscles as his competition. But when he put his arms overhead and showed that massive rib box and the shocking differential between his rib cage and waist, people in the crowd would literally gasp. He was so amazing back then that he actually beat Schwarzenegger once. Then there were those inspiring images of Schwarzenegger crushing the dumbbell pullovers to build up his own rib box and explode his V-taper to make sure a loss like that never occurred again. That’s what drove me at only 16 years old to invest so much in pullovers. I loved the movement. That love paid of that night.
It’s a benefit that still pays dividends to this day. At age 48, though I carry far less mass than I did in my bodybuilding prime (due to some 30 fewer pounds of lean muscle), I credit my rib box development for setting the groundwork for the extreme V-taper I still have a little bit of to this day. My MMA training, dieting, and cardio even further reduce the amount of muscle mass I walk around with, or desire to have at this stage of my life. I only do pullovers about once a month, and then only a set or two, usually on the cable. Yet the V-taper remains. - FLEX