Cable Pullover 101 Guide - Proper Form, Benefits & More

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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A cable pullover is an excellent exercise for building lats. Our fitness trainers here at Total Shape often use it with clients who want wider back and more upper body strength.

We know that cable pullovers can help them achieve results fast. But, when done incorrectly, a cable pullover can damage your back and arms.

As a certified personal trainer, I will show you how to do this exercise properly—so that you stay safe while still getting the results you want.

It's also good to have one of the best cable machine systems in the comfort of your own house. This way, you won't have to pay for a gym membership.

Quick Summary

  • To perform cable pullovers effectively, stand facing the machine, grip the bar with an overhand grip, pull it down while keeping arms straight, pause, and then return to the starting position.
  • The exercise requires proper form and technique, focusing on controlled movements and engagement of the lats for maximum effectiveness.
  • Research indicates that for loads less than 90% of 1 repetition maximum, a 3-5 minute rest between sets allows for greater strength increases, as per a study on PubMed.
  • Drawing from a wealth of practical applications, it's evident that incorporating cable pullovers into a regular workout routine significantly contributes to a well-rounded back and upper body strength.

A Standing Cable Pullover: Step-by-Step Instructions

Cable Pullover
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Type: Isolation workout
  • Equipment: Cable machine, cable attachment

Prep the Machine for a Standing Cable Pullover

To set up a cable machine for a standing cable pullover, you need to attach a bar to a high pulley. We prefer using a straight-bar attachment, but a curl bar works too.

Adjust the weight you’ll be pulling, and you’re ready to go.

Here’s how to do a standing cable pullover:

  1. Stand up and face the machine. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Place one foot slightly back if you need more stability.
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart, too. Slightly bend your elbows.
  3. Exhale and pull the bar down. Keep your arms straight, your core tight, and your chest open. Squeeze your shoulders together as you pull.
  4. Pause for 3-5 seconds when you lower the bar down to your thighs.
  5. Go back to the starting position. Your arms should be straight and your back tight. This completes one rep.

You can keep your back straight or slightly bent for this workout. If you bend your back, bend your knees, too.

This video demonstrates how to do both versions:


Standing Cable Pullover Modification

man working out

You can also do cable pullovers in a lying position. Lying gives you more stability, so you can handle more resistance.

Here’s how to perform this exercise:

  1. Place a bench near a cable machine. Attach a straight-bar extension to a medium-high pulley.
  2. Lie on the bench with your face upward. Your head should be closer to the machine.
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Keep your arms straight and shoulder-width apart.
  4. Raise your arms upwards and forward. On an exhale, bring the bar towards your lower body.
  5. Go back to the starting position. This completes one rep.

Since you’ll have more stability, experiment with more weight and resistance. You can also do this exercise on the floor, as demonstrated in this video:


5 Tips for A Standing Cable Pullover

shirtless man in a gym

A standing cable pullover can hurt your back if performed incorrectly, something I learned the hard way during my early training days. In the best-case scenario, you’ll get away with it scot-free, but you won’t build your lats, reduce fat, nor reach your other fitness goals.

From personal experience, practicing these five tips for standing pullovers helped me avoid both injury and ineffective workouts:

  1. Control movement. Slow and focused movements build your muscle mass more effectively than fast, uncontrolled movements, according to one of the studies about hypertrophy training on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website [1].
  2. Engage your lats. If you feel the tension in other body parts and not your lats, you’re not performing the exercises correctly. Focus on engaging the muscle you’re targeting while pulling.
  3. Pull all the way through. When you lower the weight to your chest, your shoulders should come slightly behind your back. You’ll feel a stretch in your chest if you’re doing it right.
  4. Pause between reps. Give yourself time to catch your breath. According to another study from the PubMed website, you’ll be able to pull more weight [2].
  5. Reduce weight if needed. If you catch yourself engaging other body parts more than your lats, reduce weight. That’s a better option than cheating.

2 Variations Of The Exercise

Doing a standing cable pullover every day in the gym can get monotonous, as I discovered after sticking to the same routine for weeks. When you’re not enjoying your workouts, like I was, you start losing motivation. Mixing it up with variations kept my sessions fresh and engaging.

Every now and then, replace a standing cable pullover with the two variations below. This will make your fitness goals more achievable.

1. Dumbbell Pullover

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Equipment: Bench, dumbbell, or two dumbbells

Here’s how to do dumbbell pullovers, step by step:

  1. Sit on a bench. Ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground for stability, a tip I always share with my clients.
  2. Grip one dumbbell with each hand. If you’re doing this exercise with one dumbbell, grab it with both hands.
  3. Lie down. Make sure your back, head, and neck are supported.
  4. Bring your arms over your chest. Extend them towards the ceiling and keep them straight.
  5. Lower your arms behind your head. Your arms should be parallel to the ground. Hold here for 3-5 seconds.
  6. Return to the starting position. Keep your arms straight as you go back.

You can use a barbell for this exercise instead of a dumbbell. Learn how to perform a barbell pullover here:


2. Lat Pulldowns

Close Grip Lat Pulldown

This variation differs from a standing cable pullover in two ways. Firstly, you’ll be sitting down. Secondly, you’ll be using a lat pulldown machine.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Equipment: Lat pulldown machine, bar

Here’s how to do a lat pulldown:

  1. Place your hands over the bar. Grasp it and sit down. Keep your torso upright and slide your knees below the pads. Pads will keep you on the ground.
  2. Lower the bar to your chest. Your elbows should be slightly in front and in line with your hips.
  3. Pause for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. Go back to the initial position. This completes a rep.

Avoid leaning too far forward or back. Also, make sure you’re pulling weight with your elbows and not your back.


What Is the Comparison Between Cable Pullovers and Free Weight Exercises?

The comparison between cable pullovers and free weight exercises lies in their different impacts on muscle engagement and range of motion. Cable pullovers offer a more consistent tension throughout the movement, while free weights provide a natural and varied resistance pattern.

How Do Injury Prevention and Safety Tips Apply to Cable Pullovers?

Injury prevention and safety tips apply to cable pullovers by emphasizing proper form and controlled movements to avoid strain, particularly in the shoulder and back areas. Starting with lighter weights and gradually increasing as strength and technique improve is crucial for safe practice.


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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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