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Dumbbell Pullovers: Muscles Worked, Form, Tips, and More

Strong and muscular man doing dumbbell pullover on bench to build strength and muscle in his chest and back

The dumbbell pullover is an exercise that used to be an extremely popular choice among bodybuilders and strength training athletes. Mainly before the rise of cable machines and more advanced weight training technology.

However, it's still a great exercise that you can use to build lots of muscle mass in your upper body and is definitely something worth trying out if you haven't done so before!

In this post I'll be going over the muscles worked during a dumbbell pullover, as well as the correct form, some basic training tips, alternatives for you to try and a couple other points later in the post.

The All-In-One Dumbbell Pullover Guide

How to Perform the Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is actually a pretty simple exercise to master if you take the time to learn it properly.

We'll briefly give you the steps to performing it properly, before giving you a demo video to show you what it's meant to look like when performed correctly.

This is how you perform the dumbbell pullover:

  1. Lie on your back on a stable flat weight bench.

  2. Grab the dumbbell by pressing your palms up against the flat part of the weight.

  3. Both your hands should be on close together.

  4. Arch your back slightly and plant your feet firmly on the ground.

  5. Straighten your arms out above you like you would in a bench press, with the dumbbell directly above the midline of your chest. Keep your elbows slightly bent.

  6. Take a deep breath in, and allow the weight to drag your arms down past and behind your head.

  7. Go slow on the way down, and ensure you're under control of the weight throughout the entre range of motion.

  8. Bring the dumbbell just below your head level, or until you feel a good stretch in your lats.

  9. Drive the dumbbell back up to the starting position by drawing your arms back towards your chest. Try to focus on feeling your lats and chest working.

  10. Repeat.

To see a demonstration of this exercise, check out the video below by KOTWF!

Muscles Worked During the Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is a great upper body exercise that's going to allow you to isolate the muscles of your back and chest throughout different parts of the range of motion.

The primary movers during the exercise are the:

  • lats

  • pecs

and the other muscle groups involved are the:

  • abdominal muscles

  • triceps

  • teres major

  • front delts (shoulders).

And for this reason, you'll see bodybuilders doing the dumbbell pullover on workouts such as chest and back workouts and upper body workouts.

There also aren't very many ways you can actually isolate the muscles of the check or the back, and it's a huge bonus that you can isolate both through different parts of the range of motion during a dumbbell pullover.

Definitely a huge benefit of the dumbbell pullover.

Variations of the Dumbbell Pullover

There aren't actually very many variations or alternatives to the dumbbell pullover.

Some people do like to do dumbbell pullovers on a yoga ball to decrease stability and increase the activation of the shoulders (to stabilize the weight), but there's not really any point for doing that if your main focus is to isolate and build muscle in the pecs and lets.

However there is one (even more popular) variation of the dumbbell pullover that works basically the same muscles through the same range of motion, and that would be the cable straight arm pushdown.

This is an exercise that basically takes you through the exact same motion, but further isolates your muscles by increasing stability and therefore allowing you to lift more weight.

Watch the video below by to see what this exercise looks like!

Training Tips

Go Slow on the Way Down

When you do the dumbbell pullover, it's a good idea to purposely go slow on the way down and take your time as you stretch the lats.

We recommend taking at least 2 seconds on the way down, and then bringing the weight back up with as much force as you can (whilst still keeping control over the weight).

Doing this is going to ensure that you can take advantage of time under tension (TUT), and help you get more out of each rep that you do.

You will find that you're not able to use as much weight or aren't able to achieve as many reps, but that is completely normal and completely fine.

Play around and experiment with it! See what feels good.

Don't Try to Go Too Heavy on This Exercise

The dumbbell pullover, like many other isolation exercises is not too effective if you use excessively heavy weights.

Just like cable flyes, you want to be able to take your time with the exercise or really 'feel' your muscles doing all the hard work.

If you go too heavy (below 6 reps), you're going to find it hard to feel the mind-muscle connection with your chest and lats.

Instead, keep it in a hypertrophy-focused rep range of (generally) between 8-15.


You Need to Have Pretty Flexible Shoulders to Perform This Exercise

In order to perform this exercise with the correct form, you actually have to have pretty flexible shoulders.

If you randomly asked people from your gym to perform this exercise, it wouldn't be unexpected to see that lots of people can't actually perform this exercise correctly and feel pain or discomfort if they try to do so.

So go light on the weight when you first try this exercise out and make sure that you're not going to hurt yourself by ego lifting.

Try to Extend Evenly

Chances are, you're going to have one side of your body that's stronger than the other.

If this is the case, you might find that one side actually extends further out ahead of you than the other.

If you notice this, you're going to want to specifically think about keeping the arms evenly extended and making sure that both arms are doing the same amount of work.

Otherwise, this is going to lead to large muscular imbalances over time and have a negative impact on both your training and the way your body looks.

Safety Precautions

As with almost anything in life, your own safety comes first.

Below we're going to give you some quick tips on doing the dumbbell pullover safely and possibly prevent some serious injuries.

Check That the Bench is Locked in Securely

With any exercise in the gym that involves a weight bench, you're going to want to make sure that you've set the bench up correctly.

You may or may not have seen them before, but there are videos of people getting seriously hurt or injured (by falling dumbbells) after their weight benches gave out.

Before you lie on the bench, you need to make sure that the bench is not only securely locked in, but also in a good working condition and isn't too old, rusty, too cheap, etc.

Your safety should always come first.

Get a Strong Grip on the Dumbbell(s)

Since you are going to be holding a dumbbell directly above your face ( and aren't actually gripping onto it very tightly), you need to make sure that you properly fit your hands around the dumbbell.

The last thing you want to happen is to have the dumbbell slip out of your hands and come crashing down on your face.

That could very easily break your nose and possibly cause some permanent damage to your eyes or other body parts.

Always be careful with your grip on the dumbbell during the dumbbell pullover!

Get Somebody to Help You If You're Unsure

If you feel that you need to, you can always call someone to help you out with this exercise.

There's no shame in asking for a spot! Safety comes first.

Whether you're trying to find the best grip on the dumbbell or are trying a new weight that you haven't touched on this specific exercise before, it can almost never hurt to have an extra person with you.

You could actually end up hurting yourself if you try a weight that's too heavy and end up having to let go of the dumbbell whilst it's stretching your lats out.

That's certainly not a risk that you want to take, and it's best to just ask for a spot instead.

To Conclude...

A rather old but timeless exercise, the dumbbell pullover is a great exercise that isolates the muscles of the back and the chest, making it a great addition to your upper body workouts.

If you haven't already given this exercise a try, definitely do on your next upper body workout if it's something that interests you.

Make sure that you take advantage of the training tips we've given you in this article, and really take the time to master this exercise!

Do you like to incorporate the dumbbell pullover into your workout program?

Let us know in the comments section down below!


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