Exercise of the Month: Pullover Machine

The first step on the Pullover Machine is to position upper arms on pads. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The first step on the Pullover Machine is to position upper arms on pads. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Pullover machine can be found in most health clubs. It is an excellent exercise that uses back, chest and shoulder muscles. In addition to strengthening, it aids in breathing and expansion of the ribcage. In sports, the Pullover exercise is useful for conditioning muscles involved in overhead forward throwing motions involving both arms, such as in basketball, as well as complimenting moves used in gymnastics, swimming and wrestling.

Starting position: Position the upper arms on pads and place hands with only a light touch on the bar. Inhale gently in order to help expand the ribcage.

Strengthening Phase: Slowly exhale as you push the bar forward through the fullest range of motion. Keep your upper arms in contact with the pads, and concentrate on advancing the bar by activating the shoulder joint muscles, not the arm muscles.

Form is important. The Pullover exercise is commonly performed incorrectly, most notably using a weight load that is too heavy. When resistance exceeds the ability for the intended muscles to do the work, you will see the user grasping the bar with the hands and forcefully pushing using the arm muscles, rather than activating the chest, back and shoulders. You may also see the upper back and shoulders round forward in an attempt to get full range of motion. All of this significantly diminishes benefit that could otherwise be gained. When proper form is incorporated, a light to moderate level of resistance is sufficient.

Beginners can start with one to two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, and add resistance, sets, or repetitions as strength increases. Speed of movement should be slow and controlled.

Variations: The Pullover can be performed without a machine, using a weighted bar, medicine ball or a dumbbell. In this case, the exercise is performed lying on the floor, or on a bench, which allows for stretch as the weight is lowered. Lie face up with knees bent and feet on the floor. Grasp the weight with both hands and with straight arms, lower and lift. If using a bench, it is very important that the head and neck are supported throughout each repetition and that the back does not arch excessively.


Design of health club equipment can vary. Some Pullover machines have a foot lever that when pushed, advances the bar so that an overstretch is avoided at the start of the repetition.

Excess arching of the back during the Pullover is usually an indication of insufficient flexibility of the shoulders. Because the Pullover requires a stretch at the shoulder joints, it may not be suitable if you have issues. If you normally have somewhat tight shoulders, do not overstretch, instead, try limiting range of motion, use light resistance, while gradually working up to greater flexibility with daily stretches.

If you are not familiar with this exercise, consult a professional for instruction, or have an experienced spotter available to assist you. If you are new to exercise, have an injury or medical condition its in your best interest to check with your doctor before attempting a physical fitness program.