When 20s-era weightlifter Alan Calvert described the pullover as the “very best exercise for increasing the size of the rib-box,” he wasn’t lying.
Then again, it was the early-1900s, the same era where we held this absurd belief that radioactive chemicals like uranium and radium had “healing” benefits (… learned that one the hard way).
As all things do, the pullover eventually fell out of style and into the old-school weightlifting history books. In its place entered a pullover machine that could simulate the exercise with solid form.
But the pullover and its upper-body benefits never completely faded.
If you’re tight on time, space, and equipment and want to beef up your back and chest while reveling in the nostalgia, we have the answer: the resistance band pullover.
What Are Resistance Band Pullovers?
The long answer: the resistance band pullover is an upper-body exercise targeting the back, chest, and shoulder muscles.
Known as an adduction exercise because it drives the palms closer to the body’s midline (around your waist, in this case), the resistance band pullover comes in two forms:
- Standing, with the center of a resistance band lodged in a door anchor
- Lying, with the center of the band wrapped around a sturdy object
We’ll review how to perform each of these later on.
But assuming you choose a high-tension resistance band and stick within that 8-12 rep sweet spot, resistance band pullovers can nudge you toward both strength and mass gains (not just toning).
How to Do Resistance Band Pullovers
Once you’re geared up and ready to beef up and sculpt those back (and chest) muscles, you need to decide between the standing and lying pullover.
Either way, start with the lightest bag in the bunch. That way, you can learn what it’s supposed to look and feel like before you swap in a thicker band.
How to Do the Lying Resistance Band Pullover
- Loop your resistance band through the door anchor and position the anchor between the bottom of the door and the floor. (Or, wrap it around a weighted-down bench leg.)
- Lie flat on your back with your head facing the door and your feet flat on the floor.
- Grab one end of the band with either hand so that there’s equal tension in both. (It’s best to use a neutral grip.)
- Slide about a foot away from the door so that the band is taut in your hands.
- Start with your arms at about 30-45° above the ground with arms slightly bent.
- Bring your arms straight over your head and toward your waist.
- Stop when your hands wind up beside your waist.
- Slowly return your arms to their starting position.
How to Do the Standing Resistance Band Pullover
- Wrap your elastic band through a door anchor and wedge it between the top of the door and the door frame.
- Stand up straight facing the door, with a slight bend at your waist. (You can stagger your stance with one foot in front of the other for a more stable base.)
- Grab one of the band with each hand with a neutral grip and take a few steps back.
- With your arms at about 45° above your head and arms slightly bent, drive the band’s ends toward your hips.
- Pause for a moment when your hands are at your waist.
- Slowly return your hands to the starting position.
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Resistance Band Pullovers Tips
If you really want to master the resistance band pullover, take a look at these tips:
- For better grip, wrap the ends of the resistance bands around your hands.
- Add some artificial resistance by kneeling, taking a few steps away from the door or stationary object, or stacking your bands (if applicable).
- Focus on slow, controlled reps instead of allowing gravity to take over or for the loose band to fling your arms back.
- Don’t lock your knees or elbows!
- If you want even more resistance, wrap the resistance band around a dumbbell handle, attach it to a stable object, and crank out regular dumbbell pullovers.
- When using a door anchor, do pullovers on the side that door doesn’t open on (safety).
- Save the resistance band pullover for last.
What You Need For Resistance Band Pullovers
Before you swap out regular pullovers for the resistance band version, you need to make sure you have the right supplies:
A Resistance Band Set
The pullover is one of the few resistance band exercises where you don’t need a certain type of elastic. You can make it work with either a looped, handled, or handle-less version.
However, zero in on a resistance band set.
Fitness Dreamer Resistance Bands
Premium quality resistance bands for training almost anywhere. Combine different bands to give different levels of resistance. Plus a 100% satisfaction guarantee with a 90-day warranty.
Each colored band offers more or less resistance so that you don’t have to buy a new band every time you ‘level up.’ Some are even stackable up to 150 pounds, more than enough for a pullover.
You want this to be a one-and-done type of purchase.
A Door Anchor (or Another Sturdy Object)
Whether you’re experimenting with the standing or lying versions, you’ll need to secure the center-most portion of the band to a sturdy object.
Usually, that means weaving the band through a door anchor and closing it on the other side.
BB-Bands Door Anchor for Resistance Bands
If you don’t have a sturdy way to hook up your resistance bands, here’s a reliable door anchor that fits any door. You can exercise with confidence since its made with thick nylon and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If you’re more the DIY type or don’t want to splurge on even more gear, at least for the lying variation, you can wrap the band around a weighted-down bench press’s beam.
Commonsense — if it can tip or slide on the floor, it’ll tip or slide as you’re mid-rep.
The Benefits of Resistance Band Pullovers
This rare chest and back combo exercise is like discovering a Lucky Charm in your bowl of Corn Flakes; you don’t know why or how, but you’re not about to complain.
If you’re wondering, “why resistance band pullovers?” here’s your answer:
It’s No Better or Worse Than Standard Pullovers
The resistance band stereotype is that it belongs in a nursing home. After all, how can a one-inch thick tube possibly pack on substantial mass and strength like a stainless steel dumbbell?
Well, a 2019 study found that compared to free weights and resistance training machines, resistance bands are equally as effective in the strength department.
If you’re low on gear or simply want to switch up your upper-body workout, there’s no harm in swapping in a resistance band pullover.
It’s a Two-Fer (To an Extent)
The resistance band pullover does what very few other exercises can: targets both the back and chest enough that it’s worth mentioning.
In the concentric (lifting) phase, you’re targeting the pecs. In the eccentric (on the way down) phase, you’re honing in on those lats.
Other Notable Benefits
We could go on forever talking about why the resistance band pullover deserves a spot in your workout line-up. But these other benefits are worth considering too:
- The pull of the bands can stretch the triceps and shoulders further than any natural stretch allows, loosening tight muscles and encouraging healthier mobility.
- Resistance bands are affordable and don’t take up much space.
- You can adjust the resistance in seconds by swapping in a new band, wrapping it around your hand a second time, or stacking bands to add more resistance.
- Assuming you’re staying within the <12 rep range, you can build strength, power, and mass, possibly improving other upper body lifts (like the bench or pulldown).
It might not be the best exercise for your chest or your back, the row and bench obviously take those titles home, but the resistance band pullover certainly has a lot to offer.
Muscles Worked By Resistance Band Pullovers
Arnold Schwarzenneger applauded the dumbbell pullover for its excruciating sternum pain and forced pec growth (a win-win if you buy into the controversial “no pain, no gain” mantra).
But when you sift through mass-building workouts online and compare chest day to back day, you’ll walk away confused as ever: is the pullover a chest or back exercise?
Like their more traditional cousins, resistance band pullovers will work the following muscles:
- Pectoralis major (both the sternal and clavicular heads): The large, fan-shaped muscle making up the bulk of your chest
- Triceps (long head): The larger tricep portion that runs along the back of your arms
- Anterior deltoid: The front of the shoulder muscle that connects to the chest, too
- Posterior deltoid: Sits opposite to the anterior deltoid at the back of your shoulder
- Latissimus dorsi: Responsible for that V-shape taper from your upper back to around your waist; a relatively flat yet wide muscle
The resistance band pullover works nearly every muscle in your upper body.
The Pullover: Chest vs. Back
Now, that puts the pullover’s chest vs. back argument at a frustrating standstill.
Let’s settle this once and for all: the pullover should be on your list of resistance band back exercises.
In fact, the only similarities between the chest press and the pullover are the near-equal activation of the posterior (or rear) deltoid — the same muscles you work with rear delt flyes.
Compared to the traditional flat bench press, pullovers activate:
- Both pec heads about half as much.
- The triceps nearly twice as much
- The anterior (front) deltoids almost ⅓ as much
- The latissimus dorsi (also called the lats) about 50% more
(Another popular study from 2011 argued the opposite; that the pec major picked up more slack than the lats when using 30% of the bodyweight during the pullover.)
A Complete Muscle-Building Workout with Resistance Bands
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