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Free Weight Pullover vs Machine?

I’ve started using the Nautilus pullover machine as a back excercise. Appreciate the way it seem to isolate the lats. A great invention. Works wonders after Darden’s exhaustive “Skinny arm cure” specialization - after which I obviously can’t make a proper inroad on chinups or lat pulldown.

My question is whether the dumbbell (barbell?) pullover is an alternative to the machine version? Have tested it years ago, though not made any serious attempt (as I can remember I didn’t like the “feel” of it back then). Arnold and his friends seemed to love it back in the day…

The information I have gathered proves that it is also, or even more so, an excercise for the chest. If so, I regard this a positive observation, since it may also be useful after depleting the triceps - as well as a nice add-on for chest (similar to the agonism with dips).

Please tell me your thoughts on this.

We did a heavy barbell pullover off the back of bench (head off bench), which we felt was pretty good in the stretched portion of the lift. And fairly worthless near the contracted position.

But the Nautilus Pullover machine made that exercise completely obsolete.

There was a lot of talk about the benefits of breathing squats followed by a rather light dumbbell pullover. I never cared much for that. I was more interested in heavy squats. I might have missed out on a good exercise combination.

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I used the cross bench db pullover when I first started training 40 years ago…felt it mostly in the chest, ribcage and triceps…loved this exercise at the time

The Nautilus pullover feel it in the back…love this exercise nowadays

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If you want to really zero in on back, cable variations like this below are a better alternative than dumbells…


I train for strength and performance, but pullovers are an exercise I’ve always come back to keeping in my program. You get so much bang for your buck with them and can change them a little to put more emphasis on chest, triceps, lats, abs, etc. Bill
Starr was a big proponent of them as a triceps exercise, and the straight arm version he recommended are excellent for the long head of the triceps (which has helped with my overhead strength). Any time I’ve taken them out and then put them back in I’ve noticed more thickness in my torso (chest % back) and arms. I’ll do them with an EZ bar and keep it close to my body and head and do of a more straight arm version with a db. I haven’t found the machines when I’ve gotten to use them to be much more effective as long as I keep the ROM with the free weights in the effective range and don’t pull it all the way over where the weight isn’t providing resistance.


Thanks guys,

Pullover seems to be a great divider, in terms of positive/negative opinions.

Dr Darden, what are your experiences of the free weight pullover? Do I remember correct, that it actually was featured in one/some of your books?

Thanks kbama,

Weightwise, how much do you use? It seems there is a risk of adding to much weight. Is it more of a finisher, in your opinion?

In the New HIT he lists the straight arm dumbbell pullover in his “best exercise”section and the bent arm barbell pullover in his “next best exercise” section

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Thanks Dave,

I will check it out. Have you tried it?

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Came to an interesting recollection. When I tried the dumbbell pullover some 25 years ago - I used regular HVT reps and ended up with too low a weight. It just didn’t feel right. Didn’t know where I was supposed to “feel” it.

I wonder how 30-10-30, or even 30-30-30 will work out? Any contraindication against that?

Will probably use it as a finisher.

IMO the Nautilus Pullover is king…but the caveat here is you really have to have good healthy shoulders to do this machine which maybe I don’t have anymore…for the last few years I’ve been going through these cycles where I take a few months break from Nautilus Pullovers to heal my shoulders then start back just to flare the shoulder issues back up again…lately for pullover exercises I attach rope to high pulley cable machine and do standing straight arm pulldown…my shoulders feel a lot better but imo it’s just not as good as Nautilus pullover

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I’ve done both as I’m currently doing the routine from that book. I like both exercises quite well. They give a really good stretch in the lats, and I’m able to get deeper into the stretch as the set goes on as I get more and more comfortable with the weight. I find I’m able to handle really heavy weight on the dumbbell pullover(currently using the 105 lb dumbbell). The bent arm barbell pullover can be a bit hard to keep from scraping your face as you approach and hit failure, so having a spotter can be helpful on that exercise. I think I’ll switch to an EZ bar in the future for that exercise, as Darden says he prefers it for the barbell pullover. I think these are something of lost gems of upper body exercise, as I never see anyone else in the gym doing them.

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Great Dave,

This is what I needed to hear for motivational purposes.

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One dumbbell pullovers, as I described them on page 103 in The New HIT, were my go-to exercise for lats and ribcage, for more than ten years. I would almost always do a set immediately after a set of barbell squats. Evidently, my torso was “just right” for doing them. Only when the Nautilus Pullover machine was invented and popularized, did I stop doing them.


Thanks for clarifying things Dr Darden,

After legs it is then (like my regular back routine). Will introduce, and do them on workouts when I don’t have access to the Nautilus pullover machine.

Further question:
Do you recommend 30-10-30 on the dumbbell pullover, or regular reps? It seems inviting.

== Scott==
This is what has me concerned. If you have to take a break from an exercise so you can heal from it maybe it’s not a good exercise to be performing? I’ve been doing pullovers for a long time but it’s hard to tell if it could be doing irreversible damage to my shoulders that I don’t even know of? Maybe there’s a certain way to hold your hands or whatever to reduce or eliminate the risks of using the pullover? I know it’s not a good idea not to go into the stretched position too far but maybe there’s other techniques that help?

In the most recent upper back exercise cycle of mine, I used the 30-10-30 (actually 25-10-25) in the single dumbbell across the bench pullover followed by barbell bent-over row. That second negative on the pullover was noteworthy! I’m back (pun intended) on my Bohicalus (homemade Nautilus replica-like) Pullover and close-grip pulldown upper back cycle combo, both using Darden’s 30-10-30 protocol.


I’ve been trying to figure out the exact same thing you’re talking about…

This is me using my BNTA machine, ha ha, no but I do use my machine like this and so far I haven’t had any bad feelings but I’m wondering if such a machine is putting undue stress on my shoulders? Maybe it’s not the safest machine to use to work the lats?

Bill DeSimone tells a story of watching a newbie in a health club dislocate both shoulders while trying to do a dumbbell pullover with too much weight. Yikes! (You can find the story on his joint friendly fitness site.)

The dumbbell pullover never felt like much of a lat exercise to me. Rather, it more of an an effect on shoulders and chest in the fully stretched position. In fact, I’ve been doing them occasionally with a light dumbbell, just as a stretch for my shoulders, not as a muscle building exercise. As for rib cage expansion: never felt a need or desire for that.

My last gym had a Cybex pullover, and it was OK. But I stopped the overhead movement short of feeling a stretch in my shoulders, and focused more on the finished position, which I think you can also work with a straight armed pulldown.

Ken Hutchins was an early fan of the pullover machine, and then changed his mind and started avoiding the exercise for both himself and clients, based on risk of shoulder injuries. You can find his thoughts on the subject in the article he wrote about his line of TSC machines (posted at the Ren-Ex site).