The pullover is one of those movements that tend to sleep under the radar. Few people are aware of its effectiveness, which is shame considering its fairly unique nature. While most individuals train their backs with pull-ups (shoulder adduction) and rows (transverse extension), they often forget that the lats can also be trained via shoulder extension.
Pullovers can be done a variety of ways – with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or even a cable attachment. The typical approach to performing a pullover is adopting a supinated (belly-up) on either a bench or the floor as this allows you to work against gravity. However, such a position can be compromised by poor lumbar mechanics. Individuals who lack the necessary core control typically exhibit a hyperextended lower back, arching excessively as a way to compensate. Not only does this nullify the effectiveness of the pullover, it also predisposes the lower back to injury and reinforces poor movement patterns.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Performing the pullover from a kneeling position allows you to take the lower back out of the equation. As a result, you're able to focus on contracting the lats properly and creating tension throughout your midsection. Start by securing a large bar attachment to both ends of the cable machine (a single lat-pulldown bar linked to one cable works just as well). Grab it with a false grip (thumb over the bar) and take a couple of steps back to create tension in the line, get down on both knees and raise your arms overhead. Keeping your shoulders depressed and your elbows straightened, pull the bar down from overhead until it contacts your abdominals before releasing it slowly.
The key to making the kneeling cable pullover work is to maintain the proper pelvic position. While the kneeling position does minimise any involvement of the lower back, hyperextension can still occur due to the direction of which resistance is being applied. While setting up for the pulllover, ensure your pelvis is in a posterior tilt. This position is not at all dissimilar to the “hollow” position adopted in pull-ups, chin-ups and dips. Visualise “scooping” your pelvis forward – your lower back should flatten out as a result.
Using higher repetitions with moderate weight tends to work best with pullover variations as they cannot be loaded in a similar manner as how one might do with pull-ups and rows. Upwards of 10 and up to 20 repetitions can be employed and one should always focus on maximising time under tension in order to reap the effectiveness of the movement. Focusing on the eccentric (stretching) portion will allow you generate tons of stress on the muscle fibres to trigger hypertrophy. You can even use the kneeling cable pullover as a more joint-friendly variation for warm-ups – great for days when your back feels stiff!