The barbell pullover is an effective free weight exercise that works the latissimus dorsi or lats for short. It’s often underutilized because many exercisers prefer to use dumbbells. However, each training tool seems to have its own advantage. Dumbbells seem to allow for a better stretch and contraction in the chest while barbells allow for a better stretch and contraction in the lats.
Therefore, we’re going to focus more on how it activates the back muscles and we’ve provided essentially all of the information you’ll need to effectively utilize this exercise.
Here’s a guide to the barbell pullover…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Back/lats
- Type: Strength and hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Barbell
- Difficulty: Beginner
While the barbell pullover does primarily work the latissimus dorsi muscles, there are other muscle groups involved of which we’ve provided the details for below…
The latissimus dorsi is a large muscle located in the middle of the back and is partially covered by the trapezius or traps. It also covers some of the shoulder blade. The function of the trapezius is adduction, extension, and rotation of the arms.
The teres major is a thick muscle located on the joint shoulder joint which functions to assist in the movement of the arm on the shoulder joint. It also extends the humerus (upper arm bone), rotates it toward the trunk (medial rotation), and helps to stabilize the shoulder joint.
In addition to working the lats, the barbell pullover involves the pectoralis or chest muscles. Pullovers will emphasize the upper chest, clavicle area, and the lower chest, sternal area. The chest muscles have different functions depending on the action performed.
For example, the chest fibers near the clavicle are responsible for flexion of the humerus whereas the sternal head extends the arm at the shoulder from a flexed position. Both heads work together to medially rotate, and adduct (move arms toward the center of the body) the arms.
The triceps is a three-headed muscle located on the back of the upper arm and it makes up majority of upper arm mass. Its main function is to extend the forearms at the elbow joint. But the three heads are unique in that the long head has a small action at the shoulder joint because of its attachment, while the medial and lateral heads are responsible for function only at the elbow joint.
How To Do The Barbell Pullover
To maximize lat activation, we’ve provided step-by-step instructions for how to do the barbell pullover.
- Place the barbell on the end of the bench where your head will be unless you have a partner to hand it to you. Otherwise, you can grab the barbell, sit on the bench, and move yourself into position.
- Lie perpendicular or parallel (as you would normally). If lying perpendicular, make sure your upper back is supported by the bench.
- Take a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip on the bar and hold it directly over your chest with arms extended.
- Bend your elbows as shown in the video and then reach the barbell back behind your head until you feel a good stretch in your lats.
- Drive your elbows forward, pulling with your lats until your upper arms are slightly above parallel to the floor. Your elbows should be bent throughout the entire movement.
- For the barbell variation, it’s ideal to keep the elbows bent which allows for a really good stretch. In addition, you’re able to move more weight.
- Focus on pulling with the lats by driving the elbows forward.
- Do not move the elbows lower than slightly above parallel for the concentric (positive) portion of the exercise. This can relieve tension from the lats.
- If using relatively heavy weights, try to find someone to assist you if you don’t have a partner, especially if you’re not an advanced lifter.
4 Pullover Variations
While using a barbell variation is excellent for building your lats, and surrounding muscles, there are a few other great options that’ll do the job as well.
The machine pullover is a really good option because it allows you to get a really deep stretch and you don’t have to focus on stabilizing the weight. It’s actually going to be most similar to the barbell pullover and it might be the best pullover variation that you can do.
Quite possibly the most popular pullover variation, the dumbbell pullover is an amazing exercise whether you’re looking to improve the development of your chest muscles or lats. This variation is performed similarly but it’s better to keep your arms more extended to most optimally engages the lats.
The straight-arm pulldown or pushdown is a super-effective exercise for the lats but it’s also a must for improving scapular stability that translates amazingly well to deadlifts, squats, bench presses, the pullover, and other compound movements.
Not to mention, the movement is pretty similar to the pullover so mix things up and do these sometimes as well.
Doing the pullover on a decline bench may improve the constant tension placed on the lats. It may also feel a bit better due to the downward gravity against the bar throughout the movement allowing you to feel the tension in the lats better. Give it a try!
How To Include The Barbell Pullover In Your Back Training Routine
You can benefit from the barbell pullover in a few different ways and it’s typically performed during a back workout seeing as its a back exercise.
But generally, you’ll feel lats working better after a sufficient warm up or by doing this exercise in the middle or at the end of a workout. In addition, it’s a great option for when you want to focus on the lats without engaging the biceps.
For example, you might perform bent-over rows but then instead of doing another pulling exercise, you could do the pullover to allow your biceps rest in between. This also makes them a great option for supersets because you can still work the target muscle just as good.
But honestly, no need to complicate things. Just do a few sets in your back workouts and make sure to use good form.
If you want bigger lats, the barbell pullover is a good option to include in your back training arsenal. There are a few different ways that you can do it, but just be mindful to use a safe and effective training technique throughout. We hope this guide was helpful and it’s now up to you to put this exercise to work.