There are two variations of the pullover exercise: the straight-arm pullover and the bent-arm pullover. In the straight-arm pullover the arms remain straight through the execution phase. This version is best suited for a greater range of motion and for more stretching and expansion of the chest. Also, it is done with relatively light weights. Because of these factors, this variant of the pullover is used most often as a general developmental exercise.
In the bent-arm version, the elbows remain flexed, which allows for the use of very heavy weights. Thus, this variant is used most often by bodybuilders seeking to develop greater strength and muscle mass. It is a main bodybuilding exercise to develop the lower pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi and teres major muscles.
Lie on your back on an exercise bench. Your body should he well balanced with the head, trunk and pelvic girdle on the bench and feet on the floor. The body should be positioned so that the forearms clear the end of the bench when the upper arms arc overhead (when the weights are down and back). Hold a weighted barbell or dumbbell directly above the upper chest on bent arms with the hands hip width or less apart, gripping the bar. Your elbows should point to the sides toward your feet.
Keep your elbows flexed and slowly bring the bar backward over the head and down until the upper arms are in line with your trunk. A slightly lower position can be attained if you have the needed shoulder joint flexibility. At the lowest position your forearms should be vertical and your elbows pointed to the rear.
The exercise begins from this position. Keep the elbows flexed 90 degrees or less (measured from the inner side of the forearm and upper arm) and slowly raise the barbell or dumbbell to a position where the upper arm is perpendicular to the bench. Concentrate on pulling from the shoulders without using elbow joint flexion. Inhale as you lower the weights and hold your breath as you lift the barbell (or dumbbell). Exhale forcefully as you reach the end position.
• Keeping your arms straight when using heavy weights. If you do this, tremendous stress is placed on the elbow joints and can cause injury. In addition, there can be a tendency to overstretch the shoulder joints, which can bring out slight tears in the muscles or tendons involved.
• Excessively arching your back during the descent and early part of the lift. When this happens there's too much stress placed on the lumbar spine. There can be squeezing of the posterior portion of the discs, which can pinch the nerves and cause pain. If continued over time it can damage the discs.
• Bringing the weight all the way up and over so that it rests on your lower chest or abdomen. This action is controlled by the eccentric contraction of the antagonist muscles and does not involve the lower pectorals, lats or teres major. Also, it places great strain on the smaller shoulder joint flexors when you raise the weights off the body when you use heavy weights and can cause injury.
• Using a wide grip. If you do this the action in the shoulder joint changes to medial shoulder joint rotation, which also involves some of the rotator cuff muscles. They are relatively small and when a great stress is placed on them, they will tear. This type of injury has ended many careers.
• Executing elbow joint extension instead of shoulder joint extension. This does not allow for a full range of motion in the shoulder joint and limits the action of the muscles involved.
• Exhaling on the down or up portions of the lift. This does not allow for proper stabilization of the chest and can interfere with the muscle pull. When heavy weights are used, incorrect breathing can lead to injury. In fact, early exhalation during the early part of the pullover can make the lift impossible and can even be dangerous.
• Lowering the weight too low when you have insufficient flexibility in the shoulder joints. This can lead to over-stretching and tears in the muscles and tendons and even the ligaments if the overstretch is great enough.
• Using a heavy barbell with a very narrow grip. When you do this it is very difficult to keep the barbell balanced and chances are that the barbell will tip and drop. This may cause an injury
1) When first beginning this exercise it is important to keep the lower spine in its natural, slightly hyperextended position. It should not be allowed to arch extensively, which unbalances the basic position and can lead to injury
Excessive arching can also occur when there is insufficient flexibility in the shoulder joints. If this is the case, you should gradually work up to a full range of motion. Instead of trying to lower the weight to the horizontal upper arm position at the very beginning, lower it halfway back on the first repetition, three-fourths of the way back on the second repetition and so on until a full range is established.
If you have sufficient flexibility and you still hyperextend your lumbar spine, you should do the pullover lying across an exercise bench. Lie with your shoulders on top of the bench and your feet on the floor. In this position you should round your back and when you bring the weight over your head, your spine arches just slightly — back to its normal position. This is the preferred position for many bodybuilders. However, if you let the pelvic girdle drop you will still be hyperextending the spine. Thus, it is important that you raise the pelvis slightly and maintain this position as you execute the exercise.
2) The bent-arm pullover is best suited for using heavy weights. Because the elbow remains flexed at 90 degrees or less throughout the entire movement, a short arm lever is maintained. And the short lever is mechanically efficient for heavy loads. If you did this exercise with straight arms you would not be able to handle nearly as much weight.
3) A great value of this exercise is in breathing since there is expansion of the chest cavity when assuming the initial position for the pull. It provides stretching of the muscles that lift and expand the ribcage and contraction of these muscles during the pullover phase. Thus, not only do you develop the muscles involved, but you also develop a larger chest.
4) A key action in this exercise is the downward rotation of the scapula performed by the rhomboid and pectoralis minor muscles. If the scapulae did not rotate downward during execution, there would be great difficulty in completing the movement and a good chance of injury as the head of the humerus would have a tendency to come out of the joint. In other words, for successful execution of the shoulder joint actions, the shoulder girdle muscles must be involved to position the scapulae.
5) This exercise can be done with different weights. You can use a single dumbbell (or kettlebetl) held in both hands or barbell. The single dumbbell or kettlebell is preferred since it allows for more correct execution. In this case, the elbows and upper arms stay in the vertical plane during the pullover and return.