There are many potential movements for your resistance workout routine. Find out how to do dumbbell pullovers to target different muscles and whether this exercise is the right choice for you.
Dumbbell pullovers are an exercise where you lie down horizontally and lower a weight, typically a dumbbell, behind your head with slightly less than stretched arms.
A dumbbell pullover is worth doing if you want to isolate either your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back muscle) or your pectoral major (main chest muscle), more specifically the lower and middle part (sternal head).
Keep your elbows close to the center to focus on the chest muscles and out to the sides to focus on the lats.
Besides growing and strengthening these muscles, a dumbbell pullover with lower weights can also be helpful to get an idea of how it feels to engage each muscle.
One important thing to note is that dumbbell pullovers will be too uncomfortable for the shoulders of some people. Even with the right technique. That means this exercise is not for everyone.
How to do a dumbbell pullover
The recommended pieces of fitness equipment for dumbbell pullovers are a sturdy flat bench and a dumbbell of the right weight.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a dumbbell pullover:
- Lean on a weight bench with your shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest with both of your hands on one end of the dumbbell. You can sit sideways on the bench or lie down completely at the end.
- Raise the dumbbell so that your arms are slightly less than stretched and pointing upward.
- Slowly move the dumbbell back and down as far as comfortable. The position of your elbows depends on what muscles you want to work with pullovers. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
Keep your arm movements slow and controlled to make your muscles really work hard. You also want to keep the rest of your body still so the focus of the exercise stays isolated.
The main form tips for dumbbell pullovers are keeping your arms slightly less than stretched; keeping your wrists straight, and not lowering your hands too much.
How far you want to lower the weight depends on things like shoulder mobility and muscle flexibility.
Besides that, with the position of the dumbbell, you want to play it safe and start with pullovers with a weight that is likely too light. When that goes well and your technique is good, you can build up from there.
Later in the article, you can also find some dumbbell pullover variations with other equipment options.
Dumbbell pullover muscles worked
The main muscles worked with a dumbbell pullover include your chest, latissimus dorsi, and to a small extent your triceps.
More specifically, if you keep your elbows flared inward and close to the center, dumbbell pullovers focus more on your pectoral major (main chest muscle), more precisely the lower and middle part (sternal head).
On the other hand, dumbbell pullovers with your elbows pointed more outward will focus more on your latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back muscle).
Keep in mind that you still need to use enough weight, do enough dumbbell pullovers, and do enough sets to reach your goals.
Just doing this exercise a few times will likely not be enough.
As you get stronger, what enough weight is will change. In simpler words, you will have to increase the weight of the dumbbell you use in pullovers every once in a while to keep seeing results.
Besides that, also make sure you give your body enough rest and nutrients.
Dumbbell pullover benefits
You may still need some extra motivation to get started with dumbbell pullovers or simply want to know what other positive effects they offer.
Here are some of the most important benefits of dumbbell pullovers:
- Stronger muscles: Doing dumbbell pullovers in a good routine can grow and strengthen your chest and latissimus dorsi muscles.
- Can help with losing weight: Dumbbell pullovers can help you build extra muscle mass which helps with burning more energy. Additionally, the workout itself burns extra calories too. These things tend to be helpful for weight loss (but are not always enough).
- Balance & coordination: Dumbbell pullovers can be somewhat challenging in terms of balance and coordination. This could lead to improvements in these skills.
- Can improve mobility and flexibility: Dumbbell pullovers can help you push your boundaries in terms of shoulder mobility and chest and latissimus dorsi flexibility. Doing this in safe ways can help improve your mobility and flexibility.
- Improves bone density: It is possible to strengthen your bones by putting them under safe amounts of pressure. Dumbbell pullovers can help with this in your arm and shoulder bones.
Dumbbell pullovers are not the only exercise that can offer these benefits but these positive effects can still be welcome.
Dumbbell pullover alternatives
Dumbbell pullovers can be a great exercise but they are not completely unique. There are a few alternatives to dumbbell pullovers you may like too.
- Decline chest fly
- Straight arm pulldown
- Cable crossover
- Decline bench press
What exercises are the best choice for you depends on details like your training goals, what your body can deal with, what weights you have, etc.
7 Dumbbell pullover variations
Pullovers with a sturdy flat bench and a dumbbell are the most popular version of the exercise.
However, besides the different elbow positions, there are also a few variations in terms of what equipment you can use. These have their own advantages and disadvantages.
1. Cable machine pullovers
The cable machine is a steel construction where a cord attached to weights goes through a few pulleys. You can then hold the other end of the cable, with or without attachments, to do a variety of exercises.
One of the benefits of the cable machine is that the tension is relatively consistent throughout the movements. The same goes for pullovers.
This makes cable machines a great equipment choice for dumbbell pullovers to increase the range of motion under tension. In turn, you generally get just a bit more strength and growth gains.
Most people prefer to use a double rope attachment for their cable pullover.
2. Barbell pullover
You can also do pullovers with a barbell. The main difference comes from the different wrist angles. Most people will prefer the feel of dumbbell pullovers. Especially when doing the variation with the elbows pointed outward.
It is true that you can load a barbell heavier more easily but for most people, dumbbells are more than good enough in this area.
3. Pullover machine
There are pullover machines where you do basically the same movement with your arms but while seated.
These machines can be helpful to make it so you don’t move the rest of your body. Additionally, you will engage fewer stabilization muscles which can be a good or bad thing depending on your training goals.
4. Incline dumbbell pullover
Incline dumbbell pullovers are, as the name implies, done on an incline bench where your shoulders are higher than your hips.
This dumbbell pullover variation is generally not recommended since your muscles go through a smaller range of motion compared to a flat bench or decline bench.
A smaller range of motion is typically less good for growing and strengthening muscles.
5. Decline dumbbell pullover
For the next variation, you need a good FID bench (flat, incline, decline bench). Once you have that and a dumbbell, do the same pullover exercise but with your shoulders lower than your hips.
In flat bench dumbbell pullovers, you stop the movement when your arms are vertical since going further would not train the target muscles anymore.
However, in decline dumbbell pullovers you can go through a larger range of motion under tension. This is generally good for building muscle.
6. Dumbbell pullover on the floor
You may have the right weights but lack a weight bench or other similar equipment.
In theory, you can do dumbbell pullovers on a soft floor. In practice, your range of motion will be very limited, the movement will be the bad type of uncomfortable, and your injury risk will be slightly higher.
7. Standing dumbbell pullover
Some people also do or consider doing standing dumbbell pullovers. This involves the same movement but is done while standing up straight.
By changing the angle of your body, the focus of the exercise changes completely. Standing dumbbell pullovers are a movement that works your front and side deltoids (main shoulder muscle)
Something to note is that there are people who find dumbbell pullovers uncomfortable on their shoulders and wrists.
If this applies to you, it could be smart to strengthen these body parts with other exercises too.
People who have any shoulder pain may even want to talk to an expert before doing more dumbbell pullovers.
If dumbbell pullovers feel too uncomfortable, your technique could be off. However, it is also possible this exercise is not the right choice for you (yet).
Dumbbell pullovers can be helpful for people who want to grow and strengthen their chest or latissimus dorsi muscles.
At the same time, you want to know that dumbbell pullovers could be uncomfortable. For this reason, you could choose other exercises instead.
Something many people forget is that personal preferences matter too. If you like doing dumbbell pullovers, you may find it easier to stay consistent with workout routines that include them.
When doing more dumbbell pullovers, you want to make sure you give your body enough nutrients and rest. These things benefit your muscle repair, growth, and strengthening.
Are dumbbell pullovers effective?
Dumbbell pullovers can be effective for growing, strengthening, and improving endurance in your latissimus dorsi and lower chest muscles.