Bottoms-Up Pullovers For Size, Strength, and Stability
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Looking for a way to clean up your pullover technique while simultaneously blasting your entire core and upper body? Try this eccentric isometric bottoms-up pullover variation with a hollow body leg raise hold.
There are multiple benefits of this variation as each component provides its own unique asset in terms of enhancing form and stimulating the targeted musculature.
Bottoms Up Technique
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 this bottoms-up protocol helps to correct this as excessive elevation and or range of motion will cause the lifter to lose their leverage and grip on the kettlebells causing them to fall out of their hands. In addition, the further instability of the bottoms-up position helps to ensure the lifter centrates and packs their shoulders throughout the motion (even when moving into the overhead position). Simply put it helps to eliminate excessive range of motion commonly used by lifters as the bottoms up technique will punish faulty mechanics.
THE HOLLOW BODY LEG RAISE
Performing a hollow body leg raise further exaggerates the stress to the core and abdominal musculature. However, it also helps to promote a more neutral spine during the eccentric phase of the movement. As previously stated, most lifters when performing the eccentric phase of the pullover produce too much range of motion. This also tends to produce excessive lumbar arch and extension in the low back, which can lead to back pain and decreased core activation. Performing the hollow body leg raise helps to eliminate both of these issues.
Contracting the core by holding the hollow body leg raise position not only promotes better anti-extension and a neutral lumbar spine, it also helps to ensure the lifter doesn’t over stretch the shoulders or use too much range of motion (ROM) in the eccentric position. That’s because increased core activation helps to stabilize and lock the spine into position resulting in concurrent activation potentiation (increased neural drive up the kinetic chain). As a result this translates into improved stability around the glenohumeral joint where the lifter can more easily centrate and pack their shoulders. This also helps prevent hypermobility and over-stretching of the shoulder joint.
By focusing on maintaining these dialed in shoulder mechanics the lifter can feel where using excessive ROM would cause these optimal body mechanics to be breached. In addition the lifter should concentrate on keeping the shoulders moderately depressed and retracted even in the stretched position. This is critical for avoiding excessive range of motion that can lead to joint stress and shoulder injuries. Unfortunately many lifters allow excessive elevation and protraction of the scapula on many upper body movements including pullovers. This can spell disaster for the joints and connective tissue not to mention the fact that it minimizes the strength and hypertrophy stimulus. Think optimal and natural range of motion, not maximal or excessive range of motion.
ECCENTRIC ISOMETRIC PROTOCOL
By incorporating eccentric isometrics (slow negative followed by a pause in the stretched position) this not only maximizes the strength and hypertrophy stimulus of the exercise but it also teaches the lifter to use somatosensory feedback to fine-tune their body position and movement mechanics. In other words, each of the various factors previously discussed in terms of optimal range of motion and ideal shoulder mechanics can be more easily adhered to. That’s because emphasizing the stretched position causes the lifter to have a better sense of his or her body position through improved kinesthetic awareness and enhanced proprioceptive feedback. Simply put, if you’re having trouble finding your mechanics on pullovers and determining the optimal technique, simply incorporate eccentric isometrics into the movement and your body will naturally learn the optimal form. This is true of all movement patterns, not just pullovers.
Besides instilling strong biomechanics, the longer lever arm produced from the bottoms-up position creates an enormous amount of tension in the lats, triceps, and upper back particularly in the stretched position. Additionally, the grip, hands, and forearms get pulverized when performing these as you’ll need to squeeze the daylights out of the kettlebells to keep them from collapsing in your hands. Besides improving grip strength this provides further stabilization of the shoulder joint through irradiation and concurrent activation potentiation (greater full body tension through increased neural drive).
Due to the unusually long time under tension for each repetition as well as the increased intensity of each repetition I recommend 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps per set. These are also excellent for super-setting with pullups. Try pre-exhausting the lats with these bottoms-up pullovers then immediately performing pullups. Be prepared for an enormous burn and muscle pump in your lats with some excellent growth to boot.