Cable Pullover Guide

Complete Exercise Tutorial & Explanation

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: July 23, 2023

The cable pullover is an excellent exercise for targeting and strengthening the muscles in your back. However, there are numerous factors to consider, including the height of the pulley, where you place your hands, and how you position your body.

This informative article outlines the steps to properly set up and perform the cable pullover exercise, enabling you to effectively engage your lats and achieve optimal results from your back workouts.

Cable Pullover

What Is A Cable Pullover?

The cable pullover is a resistance training exercise for the back muscles that involves pulling cable in a semi-circle motion while keeping your arms relatively straight.

This exercise is commonly performed on a high pulley cable apparatus or lat pulldown station at commercial gyms. But you can also do it with most universal weight-stack home gyms as well.

Cable Pullover Muscles Worked

The cable pullover is an effective exercise for targeting the muscles in the back, specifically the latissimus dorsi (lats).

The rotation around the shoulder joint also involves muscles in the upper back, such as the rhomboids, teres major/minor, and infraspinatus. In addition, holding your arms straight requires some help from the biceps and triceps.

Cable Pullover Muscles Worked

Cable Pullover Benefits & Limitations

Compared to free weights, cables allow you to adjust the resistance angle by changing the pulley height or body position. This provides the flexibility to target different parts of the lats’ range of motion during your workout.

Additionally, you can modify your hand position or focus on a single arm with the use of different handles or attachments. The only drawback is that a cable machine is required, which may not be available if you work out at home.


  • Provides more constant tension than free weights.
  • Work the lats through specific ranges of motion.
  • Multiple handles or grip options.


  • Requires a cable apparatus.

How to Do A Cable Pullover for Lats

First, set the pulley at head level or higher and attach a rope or straight bar handle. Then stand facing the machine and grab the handle with an overhand or neutral grip.

Next, position yourself a few steps away from the cable machine and lean forward to create tension on the cable. Your arms should be extended in front of you with a slight bend in your elbows.

Pull the cable down and toward your thighs in a semi-circular motion while keeping your arms relatively straight, feeling a contraction in your lats. Then slowly raise the cable back to the starting position.

Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions. Aim for 8-12 repetitions per set with 3-4 sets for back muscle hypertrophy.

Here are the basic steps to perform the cable pullover exercise:

  1. Attach your preferred handle to the high pulley.
  2. Grab the handle, step back, and lean forward with your arms extended overhead.
  3. Pull the cable down and back while keeping your arms relatively straight.
  4. Slowly allow the cable to travel back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired reps.

Cable Pullover Video Demonstration

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Cable Pullover Form

The description and video above should give you a great starting point for performing the cable pullover effectively. But here are some additional tips to help you master perfect form.

  • Range of Motion – When performing a cable pullover, leaning forward will provide the greatest resistance in the middle of the movement, which is beneficial for activating your lats. Additionally, you should experience a strong stretch at the top and a deep contraction at the bottom.
  • Tempo – To maximize the effectiveness of the cable pullover exercise, perform it slowly and with control, avoiding the use of momentum to initiate the movement. This technique will allow you to feel the exercise more intensely in your lats and upper back muscles.
  • Loading – Use a weight that you can handle for 8-12 repetitions with perfect form. Do not go so heavy that you feel the exercise more in your abdomen or shoulders.
Cable Pullover Form 1
Cable Pullover Form 2

Cable Pullover Variations & Angles

The cable pullover variation covered so far involves standing with a forward lean to put tension on the lats in the mid-range. But there are other variations you can do to work the lats more in the stretched or contracted ranges.

Upright Cable Pullover

By standing with an upright posture, you can effectively change the loading on the cable pullover to work the lats more in the bottom of the range of motion where the lats are contracted.

The downside is that you lose leverage and must use lighter weights. In addition, this variation reduces lat activation in the stretched position.

Cable Pullover Variation 1

Lying Cable Pullover

A different approach to modifying the lat pullover workout is to lie down on a bench with your head facing a low or mid-height pulley. Depending on the bench’s angle and the pulley’s height, this variation can target the contracted, stretched, or mid-range positions.

Furthermore, it lessens the requirement to stabilize your body and allows for better isolation of the lats.

Cable Pullover Variation 2

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Cable Pullover Alternatives

If you lack a cable machine for pullovers, there are various alternative exercises that can effectively target your lats.

Machine Pullover

Certain gyms offer a machine that is specifically designed for performing the pullover exercise, which resembles a seated ab crunch machine. However, unlike the ab machine, the pullover machine doesn’t involve any movement of your torso. Instead, your arms rotate around your body to activate your lat muscles.

Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is another solid lat isolation exercise that involves pulling a dumbbell over your body while lying on a bench. While the movement is similar to the cable pullover, the loading is highest in the stretched position due to the force of gravity.

In addition, you may need to consider arm position and range of motion to target your back instead of your chest.

Related: Dumbbell Pullover for Back vs Chest

Barbell Pullover

You can also do the pullover exercise with a traditional or EZ curl bar. This variation allows you to choose between a narrow or wide grip, making it effective for working your lats.

Plate Pullover

Another variation of the pullover exercise involves placing your hands on either side of a weight plate. This neutral grip provides a slightly different sensation compared to using dumbbells or barbells.

More Back Exercises & Workouts

The cable pullover is an effective exercise for isolating the lats in a unique way. But a complete back workout should still include some compound movements like rows and pulldowns.

So here are some additional articles that should help you design your ultimate back training routine.

Full Dumbbell Back & Bicep Workout

13 Best Dumbbell Back Exercises

Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives for a Wide Back

Cable Back Exercises for Chiseled Lats

Complete List of Pull Day Exercises

How to Bent Over Barbell Row

3 Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Mistakes (& Corrections)

Based on the information provided, you have a solid foundation for achieving your goals of building a stronger back. If you found this article helpful, I believe you may also find these additional resources to be valuable.

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By |July 23, 2023|Workouts|Comments Off on Best Standing Cable Pullover Angle for Activating Lats
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