Gain Massive Size and Strength With This Pullover and Bench Press Combo
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Looking for a unique way to thrash your entire upper body and core? Try this barbell negative pullover to dead stop bench press. These can be performed in a power rack or squat cage as I’m shown doing in the first variation or on the floor as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients Leslie Petch in the second variation.
So why are these so effective? Here’s why:
Pullovers and variations thereof are some of the most underrated upper body movements. Besides improving stability and mobility in the shoulder joint (when performed properly), they also tax nearly ever muscle in the upper torso including the lats, chest, triceps, deltoids, and serratus muscles. In addition, they’re also incredibly effective for working the entire musculature of the core as you’re essentially resisting extension forces on the spine as you move from shoulder flexion to extension. In fact the movement pattern is very similar to an abdominal rollout or long lever plank. The further the shoulders move into flexion the greater the extension forces on the spine become that the lifter must resist by firing the entire musculature of the core particularly the rectus abdominals and transverse abs.
Like any free-weight exercise, eccentric overload and heavy negatives can also be applied to pullovers. Unfortunately most scenarios involving negative pullovers are either impractical or downright dangerous as going slightly too far in the range of motion with heavy overload could spell disaster for the shoulders even with a competent spotter. However this specific protocol allows the lifter to safely and effectively apply eccentric overload to the pullover motion by simply combining two movements; the pullover and the dead stop bench press. Simply set up a power rack or squat cage with the pins 1-3 inches above chest height. This will allow for the full range of motion in the pullover while also providing the ideal position for performing a dead stop bench/floor press.
Once you’ve found the ideal settings, perform a heavy yet controlled eccentric/negative pullover by lowering the load slowly behind you to the pins or the floor. Once you reach the pins/floor, roll the bar over your torso so the barbell is directly over the chest in a position that’s conducive for performing a bench press or floor press. Repeat this sequence for the desired reps.
Besides crushing the entire upper torso, this is also an excellent dynamic speed and power exercise for the upper body pressing muscles. Essentially you’re performing an explosive dead stop bench press by firing the chest, shoulders, and triceps aggressively to over-come inertia and get the weight moving violently from the dead stop position. As a result you’re able to stimulate hypertrophy from the negative pullovers while simultaneously working on power output and torque with a relatively light yet explosive, pressing movement. On a side note, this exact same protocol can be applied to skull crushers (i.e. negative accentuated skull crushers into dead stop bench press)
Recommended Protocols and Loading Parameters
With this in mind the loading parameters should involve a weight that’s approximately 40-65% of your 1 RM bench press or floor press. This should represent a supramaximal load (greater than your 1 RM) for the pullover while also being a relatively lighter load that can be moved with high velocity on the pressing phase of the lift.
Because of the heightened levels of eccentric micro trauma, muscle damage, and mechanical tension, I recommend conservative numbers when programming. Several sets (2-4 heavy working sets at most) of 4-6 repetitions will be ideal not only for maximizing functional strength and hypertrophy in the upper torso and core but also for improving dynamic speed and explosive power in the upper body pressing muscles.
If the goal is to isolate the upper body and core more so, the floor press variation is more conducive as it eliminates the ability to use the legs. If overload and full body activation is the emphasis then the power rack variation is more ideal. Alternating between the two variations each time this protocol is used is also a solid option as both variations provide their own unique stimulus.