7 Great Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives

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Dumbbell pullovers can offer many benefits but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to dumbbell pullovers with similar benefits?

Dumbbell pullovers are a resistance training exercise where you lie down on a weight bench and move a dumbbell from behind you to over your body with slightly stretched arms. You can also use other free weights, machines, and resistance bands.

This exercise is mainly done to work your lower chest muscles or your latissimus dorsi back muscles depending on how wide you hold your elbows.

In turn, that means that the dumbbell pullover benefits include helping you build muscle mass, burning calories, and offering other positive resistance training effects.

Whether you don’t enjoy dumbbell pullovers, you want to do an exercise without a weight bench, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to dumbbell pullovers can offer you some or all of the same benefits.

Keep in mind that implementing these alternatives can offer benefits but like any exercise, there is always some risk of injury. Implement a good technique to keep your injury risk low. When in doubt talk to an expert.

1. Decline chest fly

For this first dumbbell pullover alternative you preferably have a decline weight bench. You will also need some type of one-handed resistance. To do a decline chest fly with dumbbells on a weight bench take the following steps:

  1. Sit on the decline weight bench and secure your legs under the pads with a dumbbell in each hand. After that lie down.
  2. Keep your arms with the dumbbells slightly less than stretched and pointing up. Your hand palms should face each other and your hands should be as close together as possible.
  3. While keeping your arms slightly less than stretched slowly lower the dumbbells down sideways until your arms are about horizontally to the ground.
  4. Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.

An actual decline bench is helpful but you could also do a decline chest fly at home without a weight bench by doing a floor variation in a bridge position.

The chest fly is a relatively standard chest exercise. By changing the upward angle in relation to your body you engage your lower chest muscles more compared to the regular chest fly.

This makes the chest fly a great substitute for the lower chest dumbbell pullover variation.

2. Straight arm pulldown

For the straight arm pulldown you will need either a cable machine or resistance bands anchored somewhere high. To do a straight arm pulldown take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine pull as high as possible and preferably use a straight bar handle. You can also use a variety of other handles.
  2. Grab the handle, take a step or two away from the cable machine, and stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width and your face towards the machine.
  3. Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight. Let your slightly less than stretched arms point upward toward the cable pulley.
  4. Lower your arms until they reach your waist. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the movement.
  5. Move your arms back up into the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.

Straight arm pulldowns are basically dumbbell pullovers but with a different type of weight and at a different angle. This makes the exercise safer for your shoulders and safer if you drop the weight.

At the same time, you can still target the exact same muscles used in dumbbell pullovers. With a cable machine possibly even to a bigger extent since you can easily increase the amount of weight you use.

3. Cable crossover

For the cable crossover exercise, you will need to attach single-grip handles to each side of a double-pulley cable machine at about shoulder level. After that to do a cable crossover take the following steps:

  1. Grab 1 handle, walk towards the other handle and grab it with the other hand. Stand in the middle between the two cables.
  2. Put one foot a small distance backward and the other foot forward for balance. Slightly tilt your upper body forward while keeping your back straight. Keep your arms slightly less than extended throughout the exercise.
  3. Slowly bring your hands to the center and downward. Instead of stopping when right before your hands touch each other, you let one arm go above the other to go a little further.
  4. Slowly go back to starting position.
  5. When doing multiple repetitions switch between which arm goes above.

Make sure your arms really move from an up to a down position in the exercise. This movement makes it so you engage your lower chest muscles more compared to a more sideways-only movement.

One potential downside or upside depending on your training goals is that your core muscles will have to work harder compared to a dumbbell pullover.

4. Pull-up

The pull-up is a classic compound back exercise that can be a good alternative to dumbell pullovers. It is true that you need something to do the pull-up on but even if you currently don’t have something like this, a doorway pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive. To do a pull-up take the following steps:

  1. Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward.
  2. Pull your body up slowly until your shoulders are the height of the bar.
  3. Lower your body again into starting position in a controlled motion.

Pull-ups are an exercise that can definitely help you train your lats. Where they are different from the dumbbell pullover is that pull-ups also engage other muscles like your biceps, core, rhomboids, and deltoids.

If regular pull-ups are currently too hard you can do the assisted variation or other exercises. On the other hand, bodyweight pull-ups become too easy. At that point you can do weighted pull-ups.

5. Decline bench press

The bench press is a popular chest compound exercise. For this dumbbell pullover alternative, you will need a weight bench and a weight to press, for example a barbell, and a barbell rack. To do a decline barbell bench press take the following steps:

  1. Load up the barbell in the rack with the desired weight.
  2. Lie down on the decline weight bench and secure your legs under the pads and place your hands with an overhanded grip on the barbell at about shoulder width.
  3. Unrack the barbell and keep your arms slightly less than stretched and pointing up.
  4. Slowly lower the barbell to your chest. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides.
  5. Push the barbell back up in the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.

By changing the angle of the regular bench press, you focus more on your lower chest muscles similar to the dumbbell pullover. A potential upside or downside is that decline bench presses also focus on your tricep muscles.

A downside of the decline bench press is that its equipment requirements are relatively strict. Not all gyms have a decline bench.

If you plan to do this exercise at home the total setup is also pricier compared to a simple flat weight bench and dumbbell.

6. Straight arm kickback

To really isolate your lats you can use an incline weight bench for this next exercise. Bent-over is an option too. You will also need some type of resistance. To do an incline bench straight arm kickback with two dumbbells take the following steps:

  1. Put the incline bench at about a 45-angle degree. Grab 2 dumbbells of the same weight. Lie down with your front on the weight bench. Let your arms hang down for now.
  2. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched and slowly bring them somewhat more back than in line with your upper body. Keep them close to your body.
  3. Let gravity do its work on your arms in a controlled motion until they are back into starting position.

The tricep kickback is an exercise that is done to isolate your triceps. By keeping your arms straight you shift the focus to your lats similar to a dumbbell pullover.

You can also do the straight arm kickback bent-over. This version still isolates your lats a relatively high amount but you do engage your core muscles more compared to the incline bench version.

7. Incline pushup

Pushups are a popular bodyweight compound exercise for training your chest muscles. By changing the angle of a regular pushup you can change what parts of the chest muscle get engaged more.

By doing an incline pushup you focus more on your lower chest muscles which makes it more of a dumbbell pullover alternative.

To do one you need an elevated platform to put your hands on. Once you have that, to do an incline pushup take the following steps:

  1. Put your hands about shoulder-width apart on the elevated platform. Your arms start stretched.
  2. Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line and your arms are at a 90-degree angle to your body.
  3. Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the platform. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
  4. Stretch your arms again until you are back in the position from the second step.

Incline pushups are easier to do than regular pushups since less of your body weight rests on your arms, wrists, and shoulders. The more incline you go, the higher you place your hands, the easier the pushup becomes.

In some cases, this can be an advantage. Even so, when trying to build a lot of muscle you likely want more resistance.

One way to solve this is by adding resistance to your incline pushups for example by wearing a weighted vest or using resistance bands.

How to do an incline pushup
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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.