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March 12, 2022 8 min read

One thing is for sure: the cable machine offers a plethora of exercises. From the cable bicep curl to the standing cable row, you can never run out of the possible exercises you can do with a can't machine.

A cable pullover is one of the numerous practical exercises that can be performed using a cable machine.  It is an isolation exercise designed to activate the major muscle groups in your upper body. If better upper body muscle definition and more significant muscle mass happen to be on your wishlist, then you may want to consider adding this to your weekly training schedule.

Muscular fit man doing cable pullover exercise in gym

Everything You Need To Know About Cable Pullovers

A cable pullover is an isolation exercise that primarily targets the latissimus dorsi muscle, also known as the lats, of the back. Although it targets the back, a cable pullover uses the action of shoulder extension to move the shoulders to reach the target muscle.

A cable pullover is a simple exercise performed using a cable machine, a steel structure containing weights attached to retractable cables. The steel machine offers machine-assisted support when you perform the exercise, taking away the need for a constant awareness of your form, which would be the case in free weight pullover variations.

When performing the cable pullover, you face the cable machine, grab the overhead pulley, and pull the cable towards your thighs with your lats. While there are other variations of the cable pullover, this is the way to perform the conventional cable pullover. Regardless of the variation, the method is the same: the movements only occur in the shoulder joint.

Muscles Worked During Cable Pullovers

The primary muscle worked during the cable pullover is the lats of the back. However, since no exercise is a hundred percent isolated, other muscles like the triceps, pectorals, teres major, rhomboids, and deltoid all contribute to your arm movement during the exercise. In a nutshell, the cable pullover is an upper-body strengthening exercise.


The  latissimus dorsi muscle is a broad, flat muscle that spans the entire length of the middle and lower back. It is a thin, superficial muscle covering most of the other back muscles except the traps. The widest of all muscles in the human body, the latissimus dorsi, works together with other connecting muscles to control the scapular movement of the shoulder blade.

The lats help motion take place in the shoulder joint. It allows the scapular rotation to rotate, adduct, or extend the arm. Other than this, the lat works as a stabilizer for the torso and a necessary respiratory muscle. In simpler terms, the lat muscle is essential for the proper functioning of the body.

Using the lats to pull the cables helps you isolate and activate them to increase their strength and muscle mass. This not only provides a broader back that will improve your physique but also enhance your performance in functional and sports activities. 


The cable pullover also works the triceps of your arm, specifically the long head. The tricep or triceps brachii is the muscle that makes up the flesh part on the back of your upper arm. The tricep might function as one intrinsic system, but it is in reality made up of three different parts, namely the medial, lateral, and long heads. 

All three heads work as a group, but they also perform independent functions. The medial head helps the forearm extend, the lateral help head helps in arm extension movements that require high-intensity forces, and the long head allows during the extension and adduction of the arm at the shoulder joint. All three tricep heads move the arm, but separately, they put finer details in the movements.

When performing the cable pullover, you're moving your arms at the shoulder joint, which is an action performed mainly by the long head. This does not mean the medial and lateral heads are not engaged, but they are not involved to the same degree as the tricep long head is.


The cable pullover also works the pectoral muscles of the chest. The pecs form the bulk of the muscle on your chest area and are formed by two major muscle groups: the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. Together, the muscles help to flex, adduct, and rotate the arm. During the cable pullover, your pecs contribute to the pulling movement of the cable as you pull it towards you. It also stabilizes your shoulder blade as you perform this movement.

Teres Major

The teres major works with the supporting muscles to initiate shoulder movement. This small muscle runs across the scapula and is popularly known as the lat’s little helper’.


The cable pullover also activates the rhomboid muscle of the upper back. The rhomboid is a bunch of muscles formed by the rhomboid major and minor. The rhomboid facilitated the movement of the upper arm while protecting and stabilizing your shoulder blade and shoulder joint.


The deltoid of the shoulder also receives some action. The deltoid is a thick shoulder muscle divided into the anterior, lateral, and posterior heads. The anterior head helps to reach your arm forward, the lateral deltoid abducts your arm away from your side, and the posterior head helps to extend and horizontally abduct the arms. While the anterior and lateral deltoid heads receive stimulation during the cable pullover, the bulk of the contraction is located in the posterior deltoid. This is because it helps you to bring the cable towards your body.


The cable pullover also activates your core- which includes muscles like the erector spinae and oblique and abdominal muscles. Your abdominal muscles help to stabilize your torso during the movements. Some deep abdominal muscles and back muscles also work together as core muscles to retain proper spine alignment and maintain your balance. The core muscles help work the muscles in your lower back, hips, and abs while also providing balance and stability. Your core muscles are engaged throughout the exercise, increasing core strength. The cable pullover conditions the upper body, improving your strength and stamina.

strong muscular man posing with wide lats and back muscles

Benefits of Cable Pullovers

Cable pullovers might look nothing like other weighted exercises like the deadlifts or barbell curls, but they are equally as effective. Cable pullovers target all major muscle groups in the upper body, inducing muscle hypertrophy for higher muscle mass and honing their strength. Some benefits of cable pullovers include:

  • Better physique: Your lats are the most expansive muscle group in your back. The cable pullover targets and activates this muscle, strengthening it and helping it grow. It also targets the chest and shoulders muscles, the three points that make up the foundation of a great pique. Consistently practicing the cable pullover helps build your back, shoulder, and chest muscles, contributing to the fit v-taper look many gym-goers thirsts after. For the ultimate muscle enhancement and transformation, pair your training with our  ULTIMATE SHRED STACK designed to provide you with lean muscle gain.
  • Shoulder strength and mobility: Although the cable pullover is designed to target the back muscle, it initiates these movements using your shoulders. The cable pullover extends your shoulders through the horizontal pulling movements. Completing the range of motion helps to ensure full mobility of the shoulder joining while also strengthening the muscles that protect the shoulder joint girdle. Upper body strength is useless if your shoulders are weak and immobile. The strength and mobility of your shoulders not only make it easier to perform daily activities but also excel in sports activities that require shoulder strength.
  • Upper body strength: Upper body strength is vital for supporting the proper posture of the trunk, moving your torso, lifting items, and preventing you from suffering from injuries. The cable pullover targets the manor muscle group in the upper body and strengthens them in the long run. This helps to improve your quality of life.
  • Improved stability: The cable pullover targets important abdominal, core muscles, and other stabilizer muscles that contribute to your stamina and balance. Activating these muscles strengthen them, helping them to ensure more muscle tension and be more efficient during functional and sport exercises. 

How To Do Cable Pullovers


The cable pullover is a tricky exercise. Your arm movements have to be on point, and your form perfects if you want to achieve proper muscle response. To make it more confusing, there are different cable pullover variations that you can try.

The first thing you want to perfect when learning cable pullovers is performing the standing cable pullover. The standing cable pullover is the conventional type of cable pullover exercise, and other variations are simply a spinoff of this variation. 

To do the cable pullover:

  • Adjust the cable machine to attach the handle to the pulley on the highest setting.
  • Stand facing the cable machine.
  • Take two steps away from the machine so that the handle of the pulley is within reach.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and back straight.
  • Slightly push your chest out and keep your neck neutral.
  • Flex Your knee slightly and hinge forward at the hip.
  • Grab the handle and hold it with an overhand grip.
  • Your arms should be extended, and you gaze to the floor.
  • Engage your core and exhale.
  • Without bending your elbows, pull the cable down- using your last- towards where your thigh meets your knee.
  • Pause at the end of the motion and squeeze your lats.
  • Inhale and slowly return the cable to the starting position without breaking form. This is one repetition.
  • Complete as many reps as you can fit in a set. Perform three sets.

When you learn how to perform the standing cable pullover, it will become easier to perfect the execution of other variables like the kneeling cable pulldown and straight standing cable pullover.

Tips To Perfect Your Cable Pullovers

As with any other exercise, you are prone to make mistakes during the cable pullover. These mistakes will cause a nuance in your cable pullover form, leading to poor muscle activation and possibly injury to the muscles. To prevent this, we have provided some tips to keep in mind as you grab the handle of a cable machine.

  • Bending your elbows: The aim of the exercise is that your arms are kept straight throughout your routine. This would lead to effective contractions in your shoulders. Reflexive by bending your elbows during the cable pullover causes the tension to be retained in your elbows and forearms, leaving the lats neglected. To avoid this, only flex your elbow slightly to accommodate the downward movement. Also, don't lock your elbows out, as this will place tension in your arms.
  • Overextending the arms: The usual range of motion of the cable pullover starts from the highest point your arms extend to naturally. If you can reach the handle with your arms extended to their highest position without your shoulders rising towards your ears, it is in the right position. If you have to stretch, try adjusting the handle to the right height. This will help you reduce the risk of training your shoulder and neck muscles.
  • Using momentum: The pulley should not be pulled forward fast and allowed to snagged back too quickly. This will not ensure the activation of the right muscles. When doing the cable pullover, use controlled movements and engage your muscles throughout your sets. Slowly lower and return the cable to its positions. Successful performance of the cable pullover requires strength in the upper body.

Implementing Cable Pullovers Into Your Routine

The cable pullover is a splendid back exercise to incorporate into your workout routine. It tones and strengthens the upper body, providing a broader back and bigger arms for a more impressive physique.

It also strengthens other major muscle groups, providing a much-needed full-body exercise. Cable pullovers can be paired with other cable exercises to target other upper body parts for the ultimate upper body workout.

Don't know where to start? Here are the  ten best cable exercises for the arms.