Straight Arm Pullover good addition to fitness plan

Although often overlooked, the Straight Arm Pullover is a good addition to a regular fitness plan. It is a multi-muscle group exercise, working the core, back, chest and arms with each repetition.

In addition to strengthening, it aids in breathing and expansion of the ribcage. The Pullover conditions muscles involved in overhead forward throwing motions involving both arms, such as in basketball, as well as complimenting moves used in gymnastics, swimming and wrestling.

Starting position: Lie face up with knees bent and feet on the floor. Grasp a lightweight dumbbell with both hands and hold it at arm’s length over your collarbone.

Lowering Phase: Keep the arms straight or only very slightly flexed and then slowly bring the dumbbell over your head toward the floor until a gentle stretch is felt. Inhale gently as you lower the weight to lift the ribcage.

Pause, and then slowly return to starting position, exhaling as you pass the most difficult part of the lifting phase. It is important to concentrate on pulling with the shoulder joint muscles rather than allowing the arm muscles to do all the work.

Beginners can start with one to two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions to get familiar with proper form and determine how much weight should be used. As time goes by strength will increase, allowing for the addition of extra sets, repetitions or greater weight load. Note: The Straight Arm Pullover exercise does not require heavy weight in order to gain benefit.


The dumbbell can be held at each end with palms facing each other, or it can be cupped using both hands on one end of the weight with palms facing up. If using this method, range of motion may be slightly limited. You may also hold a dumbbell in each hand as shown in the photo. As long as proper form can be maintained, the type of resistance can vary.

The Pullover can be performed using a weighted bar or medicine ball instead of a dumbbell, and many gyms have machines designed to accomplish the movement.

You can perform this exercise lying on the floor or bench, or using a stability ball, which allows for greater stretch as the weight is lowered. If using one of these methods, it is very important that the head and neck are supported throughout each repetition and that the back does not arch excessively. Excess arching of the back is often an indication of insufficient flexibility of the shoulder joints. If this occurs, do not force range of motion. Instead, keep the weight light and use the lowering phase of the repetition as a means to gradually increase flexibility, pausing and giving time for a complete gentle stretch.

Safety tips

If you are unaccustomed to exercise or have a condition that makes certain motions uncomfortable, check with your doctor before attempting. Examples are breathing issues, lack of range of motion of the shoulder joints, or inability to grasp objects safely.

Despite its name, the Straight Arm Pullover is often performed incorrectly, most notably using a weight load so heavy that the back arches and the arms must bend in order to return to the starting position. Too much bending of the elbows can limit the ability to lower the weight sufficiently enough to expand the ribcage, defeating one of the key benefits.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to

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