Use The Foam Roller To Master Your Pullovers and Blast Your Upper Body and Core
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
As many of you know I’m a big advocate of using the foam roller to perform chest pressing movements. I also frequently recommend using the “head off” protocol for many supine exercises. The foam roller combined with the head off protocol also works exceptionally well for pullovers. Here's an example of an eccentric isometric variation of it.
Besides teaching proper pullover mechanics it also helps activate the targeted musculature more so than traditional variations not to mention a host of other benefits. Here’s why the foam roller pullover with the “head-off” technique is so effective.
1. Pullovers are an incredible exercise for targeting the upper back, lats, triceps, core, chest, and shoulder stabilizers. Unfortunately most individuals allow their shoulders to over-elevate when performing the eccentric phase of the lift (when moving into the overhead shoulder flexion position) as they don’t pack the shoulder joint as they should. This also tends to lead to excessive range of motion rather than a crisp and more compact position.
Besides minimizing stress to the lats overstretching on the pullover and excessively elevating the shoulders can be highly destructive on the glenohumeral joint and rotator cuff as it’s essentially destabilizing the shoulder joint. Fortunately the foam roller helps to correct this as excessive elevation and or range of motion causes the stiff roller to dig into the shoulder blades and upper back making it feel highly uncomfortable. The instability of the foam roller also helps to ensure the lifter centrates and packs their shoulders throughout the motion (even when moving into the overhead position).
Both of these factors provide immediate proprioceptive feedback to the lifter making it much more likely they will avoid excessive shoulder elevation and over-stretching. These components also help to promote spinal rigidity which does wonders for improving shoulder mechanics and postural alignment. Essentially it teaches them to keep their shoulders packed and centrated throughout the movement. This has a direct effect on creating the optimal range of motion, which tends to be more compact and rigid than what most coaches erroneously advocate. Like any motion, the goal is natural and optimal range of motion not maximal or excessive range of motion.
2. Besides promoting optimal spinal alignment and shoulder mechanics, the instability of the foam roller forces the lifter to use strict form and eliminate momentum. Simply put the foam roller has a tendency to roll and move unless the lifter remains tight and locks their core in. This creates significant rotational forces that the lifter must resist to keep from falling off the foam roller. Any wiggling, cheating, asymmetrical movement, or shifting will cause the lifter to lose their balance. Pullovers are already known for their effectiveness in targeting the abs. However, this variation takes the core activation up several notches.
3. The foam roller also allows the scapula to move freely without being encumbered or fixed to the bench or floor as they would typically be on standard variations. As a result this optimizes natural scapulohumeral rhythm and glenohumeral joint mechanics similar to how a standing straight arm pulldown or overhead medicine ball slam allows optimal scapular movement.
4. The head off position also has a significant impact on improving pullover mechanics as it promotes improved spinal elongation and t-spine extension. This is pivotal during the eccentric phase of he pullover as it helps to ensure a full stretch throughout the lats without destabilizing the shoulder joint or over-elevating the shoulders. As a result the stimulus and activation to the lats is incredibly strong making this a potent mass builder for the upper torso.
The eccentric isometric protocol allows the lifter to fine-tune their body mechanics by using the proprioceptive feedback coming from the muscle spindles. This helps them to master their body mechanics and dial in the perfect position. In regards to the pullover it also helps find the ideal range of motion and eccentric stopping point which is in fact more compact than what most coaches believe it to be. In fact over-stretching on the pullover is a sure-fire way to destroy the shoulder joint and take tension off the muscles. Eccentric isometrics help the lifter find the ideal ROM. The video shown above represents the ideal ROM not just for this pullover or for my specific body but for all pullovers for any individual (approximately).