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Barbell Pullover E-mail
Written by By Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

The Barbell Pullover is an advance isolation movement that focuses on thbarbell pullovere stretching and development of the Latissimus Dorsi (lats). The lats are the part of the back that when developed flare out to give you that "V" taper that people strive for. There are several variations to this advance movement that can be done to also employ the chest muscles as well.

Often the exercise is done in a way that it works both lats and the chest, as well as expanding the ribcage.  The fine line as to what parts of the body it works will dpend on several factors such as the stretch, hips position and what bodyparts are being flexed when in the top position.Wheon the arms are bent more, as oposed to doing the arc movement with the arms in a more straighter position, the lats are less employed and more focus is on developing the Pectoralis Major, Sterna (chest)

Barbell Pullover Overview

  • Main Muscle(s) Worked: Lats
  • Other Muscles Worked: See below
  • Equipment: Barbell, Flat Bench
  • Mechanics Type: Isolated (An exercise that involves just one discernible joint movement).
  • Force: Pull (A movement toward center of body during the concentric contraction of the target muscle. Isolated movements are classified by their compound counterparts).
  • Utility: Auxiliary (An optional exercise that may supplement a basic exercise. Auxiliary exercises may place greater relative intensity on a specific muscle or a head of a muscle).

Target Muscles Used for the Barbell Pullover

  • Latissimus Dorsi

Synergist Muscles Worked When Performing the Barbell Pullover

  • Pectoralis Major, Sternal
  • Pectoralis Minor
  • Triceps, Long Head
  • Teres Major
  • Deltoid, Posterior
  • Rhomboids
  • Levator Scapulae

Stabilizers Worked When Performing the Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover

  • Pectoralis Major, Clavicular
  • Wrist Flexors
  • Deltoid, Anterior
  • Triceps Brachii

How to Properly Perform the Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover

  • Lie on a bench, head over the end, with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Flex hips slightly. 
  • Grasp barbell from behind off the floor and position the barbell over chest with elbows bent slightly.
  • With elbows bent slightly, the abs tight and the body stable. inhale and lower the bar over and beyond head until upper arm is approximately parallel to torso.
  • While exhaling, pull bar back up using the same path.
  • Inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up.
  • Repeat.

Caution Needed Performing the Barbell Pullover

  • If you have any shoulder problems, be smart and just avoid the Barbell Pullover altogether. There are plenty of other exercises which deliver success without such risk. 
  • If you feel or have any shoulder pain while performing this exercise stop.
  • When lowering the Barbell if you start feeling pain, stop before the point where you first started feeling pain

Tips for Performing Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover

  • Begin with a light weight to practice good form and control.
  • Keep your elbows slightly bent and close to the body to keep the emphasis on your lats thereby preventing possible shoulder injury.
  • Keep the abs tight and the body stable. A tight core will help prevent injury and give you added stability to engage the weight.
  • Squeeze the Lats at the top of the movement to get maximum fiber recruitment and maximum muscle contraction.
Common Errors While Performing the Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover
  • Using too much weight. A common mistake many novice lifters is having to arch your back to pull the weight up.
  • Raising your head off the bench. This can cause a strain to your neck. Keep your head supported on the bench. 
  • Raising your hips. Raising the hips takes the weight resistance off the lats and diminishes the effectiveness of the exercise. The objective of the movement should be top keep your hips down and to get a good slow stretching before reversing the path and squeezing the lats at the top of the movement. 
  • Not keeping feet flat on floor or bench. Not keeping your feet flat on the floor can cause lower back injury or strain.
  • Overstretching. This can lead to strains in the ribcage area ad also possible shoulder damage.
  • Performing the movement too fast. Performing the movement too fast doesn't allow you to fully recruit as many muscle fibers.
  • Letting your elbows flare out. This takes the emphasis off your chest and cause possible shoulder injury.
  • Jerking the weight up. Do not jerk the weight. Not only can this cause you to lose proper form and lead to injury but it also takes the resistance off the muscle and will diminish the exercise effectiveness.

Variations of the Barbell Pullover

Variations are intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are plenty of variations to this exercise. Some other variations of the Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover include:

  • Bent-Arm Dumbbell Pullover. One or two dumbbells with same movements as detailed above.
  • Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover on an exercise ball. Same movements as above plus with the advantage of core strengthening.

Additional Exercises to Compliment the Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover

  • Bench Press Dumbbell or Barbells. An excellent exercise for both Pectoralis Major and Minor.
  • Wide Grip Cable Pulldowns. An excellent exercise for the Latissimus Dorsi (lats).
  • Chin Ups. Great for the lats.
  • Low Row Cable Pulls. Great exercise for the lats and middle back.

Bottom Line

The Barbell Pullover is an advance movement that should be done with care because it can cause serious injury if done improperly. It is actually one of the most commonly incorrectly performed exercises. However, when done correctly the barbell pullover can be a great exercise to stimulate back growth (the lats) and also help expand the rib cage of the chest in the process. 

About Jeff Behar

Jeff Behar
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA is a recognized
health, fitness and nutrition expert, regularly writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and alternative medicine. Jeff Behar's work often appears in several of the major health and fitness newsletters, health and fitness magazines, and on  major health, and fitness websites. Jeff Behar is also a well sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker and weight loss expert.
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