Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is a common gym exercise that many strength enthusiasts and coaches recommend.

But what exactly is the pullover, what muscles does it develop, and how to perform it effectively?

Read on to find out.

What is The Dumbbell Pullover?

The dumbbell pullover is a compound exercise you perform on a flat gym bench. You must support a single weight (usually a dumbbell) and move it from behind your head to over your chest.

What Muscles Does The Dumbbell Pullover Train?

Dumbbell pullovers primarily target the pectoralis major (chest) and latissimus dorsi (lats)–-two of the largest and most powerful muscles in the upper body.

So that is why it is a top dumbbell exercise! It targets, in one movement, two of the largest muscle groups:

  • Chest (Pecs)
  • Back (Lats)

Depending on how you perform the exercise, you can emphasize one muscle over the other. We will discuss some useful variations of the activity below.

In addition to these muscles, the dumbbell pullover works the shoulders, serratus anterior, glutes, and abs. For instance, the shoulders and serratus anterior actively assist during the movement, whereas the midsection muscles contribute to whole-body stability.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Pullover (Step-By-Step)

  1. Grab a dumbbell and lie on a flat gym bench.
  2. Straighten your arms and position the dumbbell over your chest. Your hands should face the ceiling and be flat against the top weight plate.
  3. Bring your shoulders back, plant your feet flat on the floor, and inhale.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head while maintaining a slight elbow bend.
  5. Hold for a moment and pull the dumbbell over your chest as you exhale.

Dumbbell Pullover Useful Variations

1. Buttocks In The Air Pullover

The most common variation of the classic pullover is where you place your upper back on a flat gym bench but keep your buttocks in the air, similar to the top of a hip thrust.

Doing so can lead to better lat activation, especially if you drop your buttocks to the floor as you bring the dumbbell behind your head.

Dumbbell Pullover

2. Floor Dumbbell Pullover

The second common way to perform the dumbbell pullover is by lying flat on the floor. Doing so limits your range of motion and keeps your shoulders in a healthy position, even if the weight you use is too heavy.

Dumbbell Pullover on Floor

3. Cable Machine Pullover

Cable machine pullovers are another popular way of performing the exercise.

Instead of lying on a bench, you must set the cable pulley to the highest position, grab the attachment, and lean your torso forward. The variation is mostly helpful for the lats, and using a cable machine provides constant tension, leading to better muscle activation.

Cable Machine Pullover

Safety Tips and Final Recommendations

Always pick weights you can handle comfortably to stay safe during your training. 

When doing a dumbbell pullover, the load you use should be enough to challenge you in the 8 to 15-repetition range, but it shouldn’t be heavy to the point where you have to use momentum or shorten the range of motion. 

Always start with a low weight and progress. This is the best way to stay safe.

In addition, always warm up well before working out. Start with up to five minutes of low-intensity cardio, do some dynamic stretching (arm swings, leg swings, etc.), and do a few warm-up sets with a lighter weight before starting your session. (1)

Click for more dumbbell workouts, or for best chest exercises and a chest workout at home without equipment.

Here are some other great dumbbell exercises to round out your dumbbell workout:

Click to see our video library of glutes workouts.

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov

Philip is a fitness writer, blogger, certified personal trainer, and the founder of ThinkingLifter.com. He has spent the last nine years writing fitness content and training men and women in the gym, as well as online. His passion is fitness and exercise, and helping others improve their fitness and wellness.

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  1. Contributors, W. M. D. E. (n.d.). Warm-up exercises: Do they improve performance and reduce injuries? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/benefits-of-warmup-exercises

Click to see our medical disclosure.