Throughout his storied bodybuilding career Arnold Schwarzenegger pioneered a number of different training techniques, exercises, and programming splits, from championing training antagonist muscles together (think chest and back) to training the muscles from a variety of angles.
But one of Arnold’s favorite exercises seems to fall in and out of love with the bodybuilding world as the years pass by. I’m here to tell you that it’s high time you start using it again. What’s that exercise? The dumbbell pullover.
The pullover is one of the oldest known exercises in the book. Some trace it’s routes all the way back to the early 1900’s, and for years it was known as the upper body answer the squat. Ever heard of doing heavy squats and drinking a gallon of milk a day to get big? Well that original recipe included doing a ton of dumbbell pullovers.
And the old geezers were onto something. The pullover really is that awesome.
Some say the pullover is primarily a chest exercise, and they’re right about that. It has a way of hammering the chest unlike most pressing and fly variations. Others say the pullover is primarily a back exercise. They’re also right, because thanks to the massive stretch and contraction, the lats are forced to work a ton during the pullover.
But the benefits don’t stop at developing a great chest and back.
Anytime you see a super lean fitness model in magazines, if you pay close attention you should notice finger-like muscles on their rib cage. Those aren’t their ribs though. Those are the serratus, and apart from playing a major role in shoulder health, they also help pull together a well balanced physique. And the pullover does a marvelous job at building a strong set of serratus.
By building a strong and well developed set of serratus not only are you on the path to pulling together your physique, to match the development of your chest and back, but your also working to keep the shoulders healthy.
The serratus play a major role in helping the shoulders move freely because the scapula and the rib cage have a deeper working relationship than most of us realize.
On top of that, by working with heavier weights in a controlled manner you’re training the shoulder blades to move freely under load, which can help keep them healthy in the long run. Allowing you to lift heavier, and more often, for a longer period of time. Which leads to massive gains.
How to do it.
The pullover is a simple move. Some people use a machine, and others lie flat on a bench. Either option works, but I prefer a dumbbell and lying perpendicular on a bench, to allow for greater range of motion.
It’s imperative that you keep a slight bend in the elbows to help keep your shoulders safe, and to control the weight more.
Above all, you need to play around with variations to see which ones your capable of doing. If you’re completely new to the pullover, then I suggest starting with a machine, work your way to lying flat on a bench, and then finally advancing to lying perpendicular on a bench.
How to incorporate the pullover.
The pullover, for all its awesome benefits, isn’t an exercise that you need to hammer constantly. It should be fairly obvious that in a fatigued state this exercise can start getting a little dangerous for most.
Because of that I like to keep the overall work relatively low. 3-4 sets per training session, at about 8-12 reps per set. And no more than a couple of days a week is perfect for the pullover.
After a few times of trying you’ll probably notice that you can use more weight than you may think. This doesn’t mean start jumping up in weight immediately though. Focus on deliberate breathing during the exercise, contract the lats and chest as hard as you can, and throw the pullover in as your 2nd or 3rd exercise of that training session for maximal benefit.
Start channeling Arnold, bros. Incorporate the pullover, and watch your physique make next level changes as a result.