Dumbbell pullover is an amazing accessory technique. If used correctly, it will boost your results in your chest and upper back workouts.
How to include the dumbbell pullover into your program?
Based on my personal experience and online research, you will find below a detailed study on the proper technique, benefits and variations.
I hope this information will help you diversify your training.
Read on and have fun…
The dumbbell pullover is an old-school bodybuilding exercise. It engages chest and back muscles. It’s a great accessory exercise as it will challenge your muscles in a different way when you compare it to the bench press.
If you are a beginner, more common moves like pull-ups, pull-downs, or seated rows might be easier for you. However, the dumbbell pullover is worth adding to your program after some months of solid strength training.
To perform this exercise correctly, you will need a full range of motion in your shoulders. Also, a firm grip on the dumbbell is crucial for safety reasons.
Since you will be moving the weight across your face and neck, you should avoid going to failure and risking injury. That’s why it is better to use this exercise as a complement rather than the main focus of your workout.
As always, start with lighter weights and lower reps, and gradually increase them as you feel more comfortable.
To do this exercise, you will need a bench and a dumbbell, plate, or kettlebell. You can also use a barbell if you prefer a wider grip.
How to Do Dumbbell Pullover
In general, for hypertrophy aim for 2-3 reps before failure.
For muscle strength, aim for multiple sets per session. This will help you get better results.
The Set-Up Phase
- Sit on the bench with your feet on the ground, hip-width apart.
- Grip the head of the dumbbell with both hands. Place the weight on the bench in front of you. Do not hold it too tight, as this may fatigue your wrists. Instead, let the dumbbell rest lightly on your palms, so that it will always be perpendicular to the floor.
- Lie down on the bench, keeping a slight arch in your lower back. Make sure that your head, shoulders, and glutes are firmly pressed to the bench. Tuck your chin in as if holding a tennis ball under your chin.
- Press the dumbbell up to the ceiling, and keep it over your chest. Make sure your elbows are slightly bent. Rotate the pits of your elbows forward. This will help you engage your lats more. If you want to target your pecs more, angle your elbows outwards.
- You are now in the starting position, similar to the bench press. Keep your shoulder blades squeezed and your abs engaged throughout the movement.
The Overhead Phase
- Keep your hips and legs still on the bench. Do not let them move or lift up as you lower the dumbbell.
- Inhale and move the weight back behind your head, but not below your head. Keep your core braced and your back strong. Think about leading with your elbows, not your hands.
- Do not overextend your spine or flare your ribcage. Instead, keep your ribcage in line with your torso throughout the move. You can even think about pulling your ribcage down. This will help you engage your abs and prevent arching your back. This will also keep the tension in your shoulders, pecs, and lats, rather than compensating with other muscles.
- When you reach the full extension, feel the stretch in your chest, lats, and triceps. Make sure that you go as deep as comfortable, without compromising your form or safety. Feel comfortable at every phase of the move.
Back to the Center
- Exhale and bring the dumbbell back to the starting position, over your chest. Keep your arms parallel to your torso. Do not go past a 90-degree angle with your elbows.
- Pull with your lats, not your arms.
- Keep your elbows only slightly bent. Do not lock them out but do not flare them out either.
- After each rep, check if you can increase the range of motion on the next one.
- Focus on the mind-muscle connection. Make sure you feel your chest, back, triceps, and abs throughout the whole motion.
- That’s one rep. Repeat for the desired number of reps and sets.
Obviously, dumbbell pullovers will build your muscle mass and strength in your chest and back. Like most strength exercises, they can also improve your cardiopulmonary function.
Remember, one of the keys to hypertrophy is to increase the time under tension and the range of motion. You also force your muscles to work harder when you lift from a stretched position. This is the case here.
In dumbbell pullovers both your pecs and lats will work while stretched. Also, you will hit your muscles at an unusual angle which further boosts hypertrophy.
Bigger Chest and Upper Back
The dumbbell pullover is an interesting exercise because it trains the opposing muscles of the back and chest at once.
As mentioned above, as you combine loading and stretching your muscles, especially when the load is behind your head, you add a great additional stimulus to increase your muscle mass.
The primary mover in this exercise is the pectoralis major. Especially during the lifting phase of the movement. The pectoralis major is responsible for both the eccentric and concentric movements in the dumbbell pullover.
Additionally, you will also engage the latissimus dorsi, core and triceps.
The triceps will assist you in this exercise due to the slight bend in your elbows. Do not bend them too much though. Triceps should not be the main driver here.
Interestingly, some researchers suggest that dumbbell pullovers are more beneficial to your supporting muscles than any other chest exercises.
For example, you will engage your triceps more with the dumbbell pullover than the bench press.
You will also train the serratus anterior, or the “boxer’s muscle”. It’s located on both sides of your ribcage.
Regarding your lats, you will stimulate them in all phases of the move. When you start to stretch them and lower the dumbbell. The most with the load behind your head. But also when you start to contract them and initiate the pullback move.
Finally, like with most of the chest exercises, you will strengthen your front delts.
The dumbbell pullover is a great exercise for our modern era, when we spend most of our time at the desks.
It’s a postural movement because it requires you to keep your spine straight and stable in order to prevent yourself from rocking off the bench.
In order to fight the urge to arch your spine, you have to engage your glutes, abs, and back muscles. Interestingly, this can directly transition into a better bench press and dumbbell flyers.
Better Shoulder Mobility
When performing dumbbell pullovers, you stretch your lats and triceps. You also train your shoulder’s extensor muscles. This will improve your shoulder mobility and flexibility. As a result you can be better in exercises that require overhead movements, such as the overhead press.
However, you should not rush into increasing your range of motion. Instead, work on it gradually and consistently. Avoid forcing yourself to go beyond your comfort level.
If you want to challenge yourself with the dumbbell pullover, you can try using two dumbbells instead of one.
You will hold each one with a neutral grip. Your palms will face each other, and you will keep your wrists straight.
This will make the exercise more unilateral. You will work each side of your body independently. It will improve your stability and coordination. It can also reduce strength or mobility differences between both sides.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Pullover
If you want to go even further, you can do a single-arm pullover. In this case you will only use one dumbbell at a time. Generally, the mechanics of this variation are the same as with the classic dumbbell pullover.
It will be more challenging though, as you will have to work hard to prevent your torso from rotating sideways. It’s a great core activator which introduces a strong stabilizing aspect to your body.
Similar to the two-dumbbell pullover, this option will also help you correct any strength or size imbalances between your left and right sides.
Using Workout Sandbag
If you want to spice up your dumbbell pullover, you can replace the bench with a workout sandbag or a stability ball.
By placing it under your shoulders, you will not only work on your upper body strength, but also on stabilizing and engaging your core. Since your hips will be in the air, you will also work on your glutes and hamstrings.
The downside is that it’s less stable than the bench, so think about using lower weights. This option is also not very comfortable for beginners. Consider working on your strength in the classic version first and then use this one to challenge yourself.
Using a Barbell
Using a barbell allows you to use heavier loads. Also, the grip is a crucial factor in this variation. It determines which muscles are more involved.
A closer grip will emphasize your chest muscles, while a standard shoulder-width grip will work more on your lats.
Of course, your palms will be facing upwards in this option. You should also pay special attention to keeping your elbows straight throughout the movement. This will prevent any unwanted stress on your joints and ensure a full range of motion.
Dead Bug Dumbbell Pullover
If you’re not enough with working on your core, this variation will challenge it even more.
To perform the dead bug version of the dumbbell pullover, you need to lie down flat on the bench or the floor. Keep your knees up in the air in line with your hips throughout the whole motion.
Follow the same instructions as with the classic variation. This will force your core muscles to work harder to keep your balance.
Dumbbell Pullover on the Floor
If you don’t have a bench, a floor variation is a great solution. Same instructions apply as in the previous options.
However, it is not the most optimal way to perform this exercise. It reduces the range of motion and limits the stretch in your chest and lats.
Perpendicular Bench Pullover
Also known as the cross-bench dumbbell pullover. It involves lying perpendicular to the bench.
This option requires more core stability and balance, as you have to keep your lower body in the air and your torso in a straight line.
Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Your upper back, shoulder blades, and the neck should be on the bench. Your head can be slightly outside of the bench.
And yes, you will engage your glutes and abs to hold this position.
Arching Your Spine
It’s actually a common mistake. People arch their lower backs when they lack power in their chest or lats. Generally, there are three reasons why they do that.
Going too heavy. A simple way to fight that and regain control is to go with lighter weights.
Lack of shoulder flexibility. This will definitely limit your range of motion. To combate that, improve your shoulder mobility using one of our shoulder warmup exercises.
Keeping your core loose instead of bracing your abs. Your core muscles are essential for stabilizing your spine and preventing excessive arching. When you engage your core properly, not only do you improve the position of your spine, but also help your body prevent injuries.
To brace your abs, you need to tighten them as if you were about to get punched in the stomach. Or else, think about moving your ribcage into the bench. Maintain this tension throughout the movement. Breath normally.
Going too fast will reduce the activation of your muscles. You will also increase the risk of injury.
To get the most out of this exercise, go slowly in both phases, the lowering and the lifting.
Focus on the muscle-mind connection. Think about the body parts you want to activate and work with your breath.
Bending Your Elbows
If you bend your elbows too much, you will take away the tension from your lats and shift it to your triceps. This is not necessarily wrong in itself, but it’s not exactly what we want to achieve with dumbbell pullovers.
Instead, keep your elbows only slightly bent. Do not flare them out. In this way you will hit your lats and pecs effectively and safely.
Lifting Your Butt Off the Bench
Try to keep your hips on the bench to prevent any possibility of lower back injury.
You will also more efficiently transfer the weight and the tension to your chest and lats.
Flopping Your Wrist
Keep your wrists in line with your forearm throughout the whole motion. This will prevent any unwanted stress on your joints.
Think about keeping your palms parallel to the ceiling. Hold the head of the dumbbell.
If your palms start to flop backwards and face your head, you might be using too heavy weight. In that case, reduce the load and come back to the exercise with a lighter weight.
Forcing the Range of Motion
Generally, avoid moving the dumbbell lower than your head. This is unnecessary and can be dangerous. Especially if you struggle with your shoulder mobility.
A good way to work around tight shoulders is to use the barbell. The wider grip can help you initially increase the range of motion and improve shoulder flexibility over time.
Recovery is equally important. If you want to boost your energy level check out our latest article on creatine.
Should I Include the Dumbbell Pullover into my Routine?
You don’t have to do it for optimal results. It’s an accessory exercise.
However, as an additional movement it will engage your chest muscles in a slightly different way, stimulating them for more growth.
What Other Tools are Useful in the Dumbbell Pullover?
You can use kettlebells, plates or a barbell.
You can also go for two kettlebells or two plates to work each hand separately. Each tool will slightly change the way you will engage your muscles.
A barbell is probably the most unique tool to use in the pullover. A closer bar grip will emphasize your chest muscles, while a standard shoulder-width grip will work more on your lats.
In What Way Is the Dumbbell Pullover Unique?
It’s an exercise which trains the opposing muscles of the back and chest at the same time.