Muscles Worked With Dumbbell Pullovers

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Many people understand dumbbell pullovers work muscles but the details are not always clear. Find out what body parts have to work the hardest.

The confusion is somewhat understandable because you can do dumbbell pullovers in different ways to focus on different muscles.

If you keep your elbows flared inward and close to the center, dumbbell pullovers mainly work your pectoral major (main chest muscle), more specifically the lower and middle part (sternal head).

Dumbbell pullovers with your elbows pointed more outward will mainly work your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back muscle).

You can grow and strengthen these muscles with dumbbell pullovers but you still need to implement enough resistance, repetitions, and sets.

Dumbbell pullover muscles worked

An interesting aspect of dumbbell pullovers is that you can switch the focus of the exercise with small modifications.

More specifically, with your elbows more outward, the main muscles worked with dumbbell pullovers are your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back) muscles.

On the other hand, with your elbows closer to the center, the main muscles worked with dumbbell pullovers are your pectoralis major, more specifically the lower part.

In both versions, you also work your triceps to some extent to keep your arms slightly less than stretched. However, there certainly still is a difference between dumbbell pullovers and skull crushers.

Most people do pullovers with dumbbells but you can also do this exercise with a cable machine, resistance bands, a kettlebell, etc.

The muscle groups worked in these equipment choices stay the same. At the same time, you may focus more on certain muscle fibers due to different amounts of tension at different points in the movement.

Does a dumbbell pullover work chest or back?

One of the reasons why people get confused about whether dumbbell pullovers work chest or back is that you can do this movement in slightly different ways.

The change in technique also makes it so you focus on different muscles (but still work both chest and back to some extent).

To get a better idea of what changes, here is a refresher on the steps involved in a dumbbell pullover:

  1. Lie down on a flat weight bench with enough space behind you for the rest of the exercise. You hold one dumbbell in both of your hands with your hand palms against one of the weights.
  2. Point your arms upward but keep them slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
  3. Slowly move the dumbbell back and down as far as comfortable. The position of your elbows depends on what muscles you want to work.
  4. Move the dumbbell back to the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.

The way you can change up this exercise is by either keeping your elbows close to the center or moving them more outward.

With the information below, you can conclude that the dumbbell pullover in the video demonstration above will focus more on the chest muscles.

In simpler words, a dumbbell pullover can work both your chest or back depending on where you keep your elbows.

How to target your back aka lats with a dumbbell pullover

The main way to target your back aka your lets with the dumbbell pullover is really focusing on pointing your elbows outward (to safe extents).

Besides that, the movement of the exercise is mostly the same which means you move the dumbbell behind your head and back.

If you don’t feel your lats during pullovers you want to focus more on bringing your elbows outward.

In case that is still not good enough, you can start with an easier exercise like a straight arm pulldown to get used to engaging your lats.

How to target your chest with a dumbbell pullover

To target your chest, more specifically the lower part, with a dumbbell pullover you want to keep your elbows close to the center.

It is normal that you don’t really feel your upper chest working during dumbbell pullovers.

That being said, if you also don’t feel your lower chest working, your technique may be off. You can also do something like a decline chest fly to get used to engaging your lower chest muscles.

Do dumbbell pullovers build muscle?

Since dumbbell pullovers are a resistance training exercise, they can definitely help you build muscle.

At the same time, you need to keep in mind that this still requires you to use enough weight, do enough repetitions, and do enough sets.

To build muscle, you want to do around 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 dumbbell pullovers with a weight where you are barely able to complete these sets and reps.

For something like improving muscle endurance, you would do more dumbbell pullovers and/or use lighter weights.

Again, you don’t need to stick to dumbbells. Many other equipment options will be able to provide you with enough resistance too.

No matter what equipment you use, you want to increase how much weight you use as you get stronger to keep seeing a lot of progress.

In short, you can definitely say that building muscle is one of the benefits of dumbbell pullovers. Make sure you implement the right workout routine if this is your goal.


What part of the chest do dumbbell pullovers work?

Dumbbell pullovers mainly work the lower part and to some extent middle part of the chest muscles. This movement will not really work the upper part.

Do dumbbell pullovers work lats?

Yes, dumbbell pullovers work your lats aka latissimus dorsi middle/upper back muscles. Especially if you point your elbows outward enough.

Where should I feel a dumbbell pullover?

You should feel a dumbbell pullover in either your lower chest muscles or latissimus dorsi middle/upper back muscles. It is possible to change the focus of the exercise by modifying your technique.

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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.