Barbell Pullovers (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)
Barbell Pullovers are one of the best exercises for developing the Serratus Anterior. The movement also targets the long head of the triceps, latissimus dorsi, and the pectoralis major and minor.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to do Barbell Pullovers, including important coaching tips, muscles worked, benefits and a few alternative exercises as well.
How To Do Barbell Pullovers
- Barbell (also often done with an EZ Curl Bar*)
- Serratus Anterior
- Chest (Pectoralis Major)
- Triceps Brachii (focus on the long head)
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Lay on a bench with the top of your head all the way to the edge of the bench.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart.
- Press the barbell to arm’s length straight up over the chest.
- Now, reach the barbell overhead (allow some bend in the elbow) until your hands are about even with the height of the bench.
- Finally, pull the barbell back to the starting position.
*I actually prefer using an EZ curl bar over a straight barbell. The shorter bar is easier to manage and the angles make for a more comfortable position on my wrists. Either bar is fine to use, it’s all up to personal preference.
This exercise will give a deep stretch to the chest and triceps on the lift’s eccentric (lowering) phase. Stay slow and controlled and focus on the stretch followed by the strong contraction as you raise the barbell back to the start.
Benefits of Barbell Pullovers
Barbell Pullovers are a great exercise for developing the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and back. Some of the specific benefits of Barbell Pullovers include:
Increased upper body strength: Barbell Pullovers work several muscle groups in the upper body, including the chest, shoulders, back, and triceps. As you get stronger and are able to lift more weight, you’ll see an overall increase in upper body strength.
Increased muscle mass: Barbell Pullovers are a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups at once, which can lead to increased muscle mass when done in combination with regular workout regimen and proper diet.
Improved flexibility and range of motion: When done with proper form, Barbell Pullovers can also help to increase flexibility and range of motion in the chest and shoulders.
How Many Reps?
Barbell Pullovers are generally used in training programs as a supplemental upper-body exercise. These types of exercises are usually prescribed as 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Barbell Pullover Alternatives
Don’t have a heavy enough dumbbell for pullovers? Want to add some variety to your workouts? Whatever the reason, here are a few alternatives you might be able to try out.
Cable Straight Arm Pulldowns
If you have access to a cable machine but no barbell (looking at you hotel gym), then Cable Straight Arm Pulldowns are an excellent replacement for Barbell Pullovers.
The movement itself is pretty much exactly the same. The difference is, you’re standing tall and pulling the cable bar attachment down to your thighs versus laying on a bench. You don’t get quite the same stretch as you do with the barbell going behind the head, but other than that the two exercises are very similar.
Med Ball Overhead Throws
Med Ball Overhead Throws are essentially the dynamic, power version of a Barbell Pullover.
It’s a very similar movement pattern – stand tall, brace the core, reach the medicine ball overhead with both hands and throw it forward as hard as possible to a partner or a (very solid and sturdy) wall.
More Links and Info
Want to see more upper body exercises targeting the chest, shoulders and back? Head over to the Upper Body Strength section of our Exercise Library. There you’ll find dozens of exercises, all with detailed step-by-step instructions.