A common muscle group which is not as talked about but admired are the serratus and intercostals. Which exercise can be applied to your
workout routine to improve these areas? Well, probably the cross-bench dumbbell pullover. Not only does it work the muscle groups just
mentioned, but it also gives the triceps and front deltoids a good stretch. When done properly, it probably works more muscle groups
simultaneously than any other compound exercise for the upper body. If you happen to be one of those bodybuilders who enjoy training pecs
and lats together during the same workout, the cross-bench dumbbell pullover is the ideal transitional exercise. Whether you train pecs
before lats, or lats before pecs, the cross-bench dumbbell pullover stretches and warms up the antagonistic muscle groups just trained
and prepares them for the heavy work from other exercises to come.
Many bodybuilders lie along the bench when they do pullovers, not across it, or use pullover machines, which do not give the same range of motion or work as many muscle groups as effectively as the dumbbell pullover. Although you can get your body and the dumbbell into position by yourself you should really do this exercise with a partner if you expect to eventually use a very heavy dumbbell. A training partner can hand you the dumbbell as you prepare to do the exercise, and he can help you with forced reps. He can spot you if you need a little boost with a finger or two. He can help you place the dumbbell on the floor; instead of just dropping it. Trying to lift a heavy dumbbell into position by yourself means risking some kind of shoulder or wrist injury. A training partner can also sit on your hips to help keep them below the level of the bench for maximum stretch and to anchor your body.
Now let's get started. Lie across the bench so that your shoulders square with its outside edge. Your head should just hang free over the edge of the bench. Your feet are flat on the floor to provide stability. Lift your arms straight over your face. Now you are ready to do some pullovers. Have your partner hand you a medium-heavy dumbbell for your first set. The amount of weight used will probably be approximately equivalent to what you use on the first set of seated dumbbell presses or your heaviest set of dumbbell curls. Keep in mind that for most people the cross-bench dumbbell pullover is a fairly high-rep exercise. You want to do at least 10 reps, but most sets will be in the 12- to-20 range, so use a weight that allows you to get that many reps in proper form.
You don't so much grip the dumbbell with your hands as support it on your palms. Place your hands on the inside face of the top plates of the dumbbell. You do not have to keep your arms ramrod straight. A few inches of bend is permissible to take pressure off the elbow joints, but you shouldn't allow the elbows to bend as much as they want Take a deep breath to expand your rib cage and then lower the dumbbell overhead as far as you can. By arching your chest and maintaining an expanded rib cage, you increase the stretch on your pecs, rib cage, serratus and lats. If your training partner sits on your hips to keep them low and below the level of the bench as you lower the dumbbell behind your head, you will feel more securely anchored and will achieve greater stretch.
At the bottom of the movement you should feel a strong pull on just about every major upper-body muscle group - including the abs and intercostals. Try to brace against the resistance with your lats and serratus for extra tension in those muscle groups. By bracing I mean you should feel your lats and serratus are supporting the weight, not your arms. You'll need practice to learn how to brace properly, but once you master the technique, it will make all the difference in the world.
Then, using primarily the strength of your torso muscle groups, pull the dumbbell back to the overhead starting position. Exhale as you do. Your triceps will also get involved with the lifting - this is almost unavoidable, especially with a very heavy dumbbell - but for the most pan make it an effort of the torso.
Another way to greatly increase stretch to the lats and serratus is to drop your hips when the dumbbell reaches its fan/zest overhead position. This is an old Arnold Schwarzenegger trick. Just when you think the dumbbell has gone as far overhead as it will go, and your muscles are stretched to the max, drop your hips as low as you can. This motion will increase stretch to the lats, serratus and pecs even more. Bring the hips back up just a split second later before pulling the dumbbell overhead again. The two motions are almost simultaneous, but the hips come up just that split second sooner Again, you 'Ii need a bit of practice to get the movement down pat.
It's possible to do the cross-bench dumbbell pullover with very heavy weights. I recommend that beginners choose a moderate weight and do 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions (1x20, 1x16-18, 1x15). Intermediates can use heavier weights and do 3 or 4 sets of 12 to 16 repetitions (1x16, 1x15, 1x12 to 15, 1x12). More advanced bodybuilders can and should use heavy weights that not only stretch the torso muscles but build mass too. They can do 4 or 5 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions (1x15, 1x14-15, 1x12-13, 1x12, 1x10).
Keep rest between sets to about a minute. The cross-bench dumbbell pullover is the kind of exercise that can be done on chest day, on lat day, on leg day (after squats), or when doing specific specialization work for the serratus and intercostals areas. You can do it several times a week, using different repetition formats to train different muscle groups. It makes a great pre-exhaust movement before lat work - especially pulldowns and chins. It is also great as part of a superset or triset for the lats. Try 3 or 4 trisets of wide-grip lat pull downs, seated cable rows, and cross- bench dumbbell pullovers. What a pump!
The pullover is a great finishing movement at the end of a hard pec or lat workout. Or you can do it after heavy squatting to take advantage of the heavy breathing that squats cause to help expand the rib cage. It's just one of the single best upper-body exercises any bodybuilder can do. Pullovers do so many good things to the physique that it's almost foolish to leave them out of your routine.
Any bodybuilder who adds cross-bench dumbbell pullovers to his training regimen will notice a difference in lat length, serratus development, Intercostals, rib cage and lower pecs after several weeks of regular use. Results will be especially noticeable if you do dumbbell pullovers several times a week.