In our last entry, we went over a machine that I would classify as a “must-have” if I were designing my own bodybuilding gym. I still have a few more of those in mind, but today I wanted to shift the focus to a movement that, though it can be done with free weight, should probably be left to be done on a machine. As I pointed out in the previous article, the lateral head of the deltoid is a very illusive muscle for most bodybuilders.
The same can be said for the entire back musculature, particularly the latissimi dorsi aka “the lats brah.” Typically, we prescribe rows or some form of pulldown/pull-up variation. While all of these are fantastic choices, I am sure you have noticed form that is “up to code” isn’t very common. However, even with bodybuilders who have tremendous form, you will hear claims that the activation isn’t really equivalent to what they are able to produce in other muscle groups. Surely you all have seen a classic dumbbell pullover. Even though it has somewhat fallen out of fashion, most everybody has tried it at some point. Most try it and quickly realized that, not only is the strength curve quite horrible, but only a portion of the movement is really even doing anything.
Also, as a side note, any rumors that this movement is great for chest expansion is completely false. If this were true, I would be very hesitant to use a movement that can restructure bone and cartilage covering many vital organs. So yes, a DB pullover is good for neither the restructuring of bones (thank God!) and really any muscle group you might assume it’s working at first glance. However, a pullover from a cable station is not only a much better version of this primitive exercise, but for many bodybuilders, it might do more for their lats than anything else they have previously tried. The movement itself is almost purely shoulder extension. Because of this, most bodybuilders will notice that, unlike other back movements, you don’t even have to encourage the lats to join in. They simply do. Another perk is that you are not limited by what your biceps can handle. Chances are that you won’t have to stop the movement short because the much smaller elbow flexors have bailed out on you.
I love doing movement one side at a time as I have found that it’s easier to acquire a good contraction this way. Initially, I figured it was because it’s easier to focus on one lat instead of two lats. While this certainly might be the case, upon further observation, I realized that when I do this movement unilaterally, I get the added benefit of being able to laterally flex my spine. Lateral flexion of the spine is a little known function of the lats, and it really completes this movement. Finally, you have the added benefit of being able to palpate the targeted muscle groups, which will only enhance the contraction that you get.
Don’t feel odd if you like this movement so much that you want to make this your first back movement on any given day. I don’t believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with this if your biceps are huge limiting factor, or if you just have a hard time connecting with them on any other movement that involves elbow flexion. Of course I would encourage you to do those movements first, and perhaps some lights repetitions with this movement as a lat activation drill prior. However in the cases of some athletes who just have the hardest time using the lats on other movements I have indeed used a single arm cable pullover as a primary back movement. Below is a full tutorial on how to perform this movement effectively as described above.