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Pullovers as a Chest Workout

by Kim Nunley Google

About Kim Nunley

Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.


There is often confusion on what muscles the pullover strength-training exercise targets. The pullover requires the coordinated assistance from an array of upper body muscles, but it primarily develops your chest muscle. The exercise is typically done with a single dumbbell, held with both of your hands, and the chest muscle produces most of the force that causes the dumbbell to move throughout the pathway during the pullover.

PUllover Technique

To complete the pullover, lie on your back on a bench with your knees bent and feet firmly on the floor. Hold a single dumbbell with both hands. Extend your arms so that the dumbbell is held directly over your face. Keep a slight bend in your elbows as you lower the dumbbell behind your head. Continue lowering the dumbbell down until your arms are almost parallel with the floor and then bring the dumbbell back up to starting position.

Targeting the Chest Muscle

The pullover primarily develops your chest muscle, which is anatomically referred to as the pectoralis major. The chest muscle is known for being a powerful shoulder adductor, having the ability to bring your arms together toward the center of your body, such as during the bench press. However, your chest also extends your shoulder joint, which is the movement involved during the pullover exercise.

Assitant Muscles

Other muscle groups assist during the pullover movement. Along with your chest muscle, your latissimus dorsi and rhomboids in your back, the deltoid at the back of your shoulder and your triceps at the back of your upper arm help to coordinate the movement of your arms throughout each repetition. Your latissimus dorsi and deltoid assist in shoulder extension. Your rhomboids handle movement about your scapula to stabilize your shoulder and your triceps keep your elbow joint firmly extended.

Proper Form

To maximize the emphasis on the chest muscles during pullovers, don’t allow your elbows to bend as you stretch your arms back. As you initiate movement backward, it’s likely your elbows will want to bend. Keep your elbows mostly straight, but not locked. Your triceps will contract to keep your elbows extended, but by keeping your elbows straight, you will require the chest muscle to move the dumbbell from one point to the other.

Photo Credits:

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.