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Cable Pullover 101 Guide - Proper Form, Benefits & More

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: June 20, 2023

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.

Our fitness trainers will show you how to do this exercise properly—so that you stay safe while still getting the results you want.

Quick Summary

  • To perform a cable pullover, stand while facing the machine, grab the bar and pull it down, pause for a few seconds, and go back to the starting position.
  • Dumbbell pullover , and lat pulldowns are the diferent cable pullover variations.
  • When performing a standing cable pullover, control your movement, engage your lats, and pause in between reps.

A Standing Cable Pullover: Step-by-Step Instructions

man using a cable machine in a gym
  • 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. 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. Practice these five tips for standing pullovers to avoid both scenarios:

  1. Control movement. Slow and focused movements build your muscle mass more effectively than fast, uncontrolled movements [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. You’ll be able to pull more weight.
  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. And when you’re not enjoying your workouts, you start losing motivation.

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

man using a dumbbell
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Equipment: Bench, dumbbell, or two dumbbells

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

  1. Sit on a bench. Your feet should stay on the ground.
  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

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.

The Takeaways Of The Cable Pullover Exercise

If you perform it correctly, a standing cable pullover will not only help you build your lats but also your arms and chest.

But don’t overdo it. Try other similar exercises, like dumbbell pullovers and lat pulldowns.

Also, keep in mind that feeling some tension is normal, but you should still feel comfortable while performing the exercise.

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.

Take all the steps we suggested here, and you’ll achieve visible results in a matter of weeks.


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