The best way to Do the Dumbbell Pullover for Higher Physique Muscle and Mobility

Perhaps you first noticed the pullover carried out in low-res movies of Golden-era bodybuilders. Now, it’s frequent to see in industrial health facilities, rehabilitation services, and residential gyms. The dumbbell pullover is a basic again and chest train that’s experiencing a renaissance — and for good causes.

A person doing dumbbell pullovers.
Credit score: Wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

This information covers step-by-step directions, advantages, distinctive issues, variations, and programming for the dumbbell pullover.

Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell Pullover Tutorial Video

Right here’s Dr. Merrick Lincoln instructing the normal type for the dumbbell pullover. Overview the shape and listen to particular ideas earlier than practising the motion by yourself.

The best way to Do the Dumbbell Pullover Step By Step

The dumbbell pullover is an overhead shoulder extension exercise performed lying on a bench. These step-by-step instructions ensure proper form. 

Step 1 — Set Up a Strong Foundation

Step 1 - A person properly positioned on the gym bench for a pullover.
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

For the traditional dumbbell pullover, five stable points of contact are required — The back of your head, shoulder blades, and glutes must remain in contact with the bench, and both feet must be touching the floor. If your bench is too tall, placing your feet on the bench frame or atop weight plates is acceptable. 

Form Tip: Position your head as far up the bench as possible. By placing your head high on the bench, you reduce the likelihood of the bench impeding shoulder range of motion during the pullover.

Step 2 — Retrieve Your Dumbbell and Brace

Step 2 - A person securely grasping a dumbbell with both hands on the gym bench for a pullover.
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

The pullover requires a spotter due to movement of the dumbbell over your face and head. A spotter is an individual who assists with the movement and provides physical assistance in the event of form breakdown or failure.

A spotter is also helpful, because they can pass you the dumbbell when you are ready to begin. Otherwise, you will need to transfer the dumbbell from atop your thigh to above your chest, which can be awkward positioning. Whether or not you choose to recruit a spotter, you will cradle the inside top half of the dumbbell in your palms with thumbs and fingers wrapped around the handle.

Form Tip: Grasp the dumbbell securely before bringing it over your face or before giving your spotter the signal to release it. The handle of the dumbbell should sit between the base of your thumbs and body of the hands. With one palm on each side of the dumbbell, create a “closed” grasp by overlapping your thumbs behind the handle and overlapping fingers in front.

Step 3 — Lower to the Bottom Position

Step 3 - A person securely holding a dumbbell in the bottom position of a pullover.
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

Begin with dumbbell above your upper chest with your arms vertical and elbows unlocked or slightly bent. Brace your abdominal muscles and maintain the five points of contact with the bench and the floor. Lower the dumbbell toward the floor with control. End the downward movement when you reach the greatest amount of shoulder flexion (stretch) that you can tolerate and control.

Form Tip: Achieve a tolerable stretch across your shoulders at the bottom position. The goal is to move through your full available range of overhead motion, not simply bringing the weight as close to the ground as possible.

Step 4 — Raise to the Top Position

Step 4 - A person securely holding a dumbbell in the top position of a pullover.
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

Reverse the movement by pulling the dumbbell through the same arc of movement. The repetition is complete when your upper arms are vertical. Keep your head locked in neutral and your gaze directed at the ceiling — don’t follow the weight with your eyes or head. Allowing your head to tilt into extension (looking overhead) promotes undesirable extension throughout the entire spine.

Form Tip: Maintain the same degree of arm bend throughout each repetition. If your elbows are bending and straightening during the exercise, you’re shifting muscular stress away from your chest and back and onto your triceps.

Step 5 — End the Set Safely

Step 5 - A person securely holding a dumbbell on his thigh at the end of a pullover set.
Credit: Merrick Lincoln, DPT, CSCS / YouTube

If you are using a spotter (recommended), indicate the set is complete. The spotter should take the dumbbell with both hands. (1) If you’re coaching solo (at your personal threat), convey the dumbbell to your thigh.

Type Tip: Keep away from dropping the dumbbell in your face or chest. Except you’re itching for a go to to the hospital and sure cosmetic surgery, security is precedence primary. Make sure the spotter has full management of the dumbbell earlier than you let go. If coaching alone, keep a safe grip till the dumbbell rests in your thigh.

Dumbbell Pullover Errors to Keep away from

The pullover seems easy and sounds self-explanatory — Lie in your again and “pull the dumbbell over,” proper? Effectively, sure, however a plethora of method faults plague this train. Avoiding these errors to enhance the effectiveness and security of the dumbbell pullover.

Extreme Elbow Bend and “Flaring”

In the course of the conventional dumbbell pullover, slight elbow bend permits the lifter to carry the dumbbell whereas transferring their higher arms in the sagittal plane (i.e. parallel to the body’s midline). When lifters allow excessive elbow bend, the difficulty of the pullover is reduced, because the dumbbell is now closer to your shoulders.

More often than not, excessive elbow bend is also associated with “flared,” or outward-pointing, elbows. This position reflects internal rotation of the shoulder and may increase stress on the inside of the elbow (i.e. ulnar collateral ligament stress) during the pullover.

A person in a blue shirt doing a two dumbbell pullover.
Credit: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

Avoid it: Focus on keeping your elbows pointing forward and/or up during the dumbbell pullover. While elbows should always remain “unlocked,” the pullover should never feel like a triceps extension (“skull crusher”).

Losing Contact with the Bench

Although allowing your hips to rise from the bench may give the impression of increased range of motion, back and hip extension does not equate to shoulder mobility. Unlike a competition-style bench press, arching is counterproductive to the pullover because it ultimately removes tension from latissimus dorsi. (2)

Worse nonetheless, extreme arching might enable a heavy dumbbell to destabilize your place, which might lead to a “glutes over dumbbell” tumble over the again of the bench.

A person on the bench for a dumbbell pullover, with an arched back.
Credit score: Vladimir Sukhachev / Shutterstock

Keep away from it: Anchor your self to the bench by digging your heels into the ground and aggressively bracing your stomach muscle mass.

Not Permitting the Dumbbell to “Cling”

A typical mistake is to try to carry or orient the dumbbell horizontally through the repetition moderately than vertically. This requires pointless motion of the wrist flexors and does little to enhance the pullover. At worst, this error might trigger untimely grip fatigue. 

long-haired person in gym doing flat bench dumbbell pullover.
Credit score: Vladimir Sukhachev / Shutterstock

Keep away from it: The dumbbell ought to hold naturally out of your arms all through the pullover. (1)  Though you must keep a agency grip on the dumbbell, keep away from turning or tilting the dumbbell throughout your set.

The best way to Progress the Dumbbell Pullover

Lifters new to the pullover ought to begin mild when first studying the train. Like all train, the pullover have to be progressed to make sure ongoing advantages. Start by progressing conventional variables like including reps and weight. Then, in some unspecified time in the future, contemplate the straightforward method modification mentioned under.

Enhance the Repetition Quantity

As an adjunct train, the pullover is usually programmed within the average repetition vary (i.e. eight to 12 reps) or a better repetition vary (i.e. 12 to 16 reps). Sure, this can be a broad advice, nevertheless it means you’ll be able to possible progress for a while by including a repetition right here and there as ready. When you’re capable of full your repetition target, simply add one more rep the following workout. In the short term, progressing volume is likely most appropriate for those focused on hypertrophy. (23)

Enhance the Weight

When you attain the highest of your goal repetition vary and really feel you can do extra, it’s time to enhance the load of your dumbbell. Alternatively, in case your main purpose is constructing power, progressing weight is more likely to be your finest short-term technique. (23) Since small jumps in weight dramatically enhance the resistance skilled by the shoulders on the backside of the pullover, incremental weight development is finest.  

Preserve Fixed Stress

The dumbbell pullover historically begins and ends when the dumbbell is above the chest. (1) Nevertheless, a lot of the key muscle mass of the pullover are offloaded at this level within the vary of movement, as a result of the dumbbell is not creating demand for the shoulder extensors (i.e. lats, pecs, and many others.). A minor tweak to pullover method will increase the problem of the early portion of the motion.

A person doing overhead pullovers.
Credit score: Wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

Though “fixed rigidity” is only a catchy misnomer (no muscle experiences fixed rigidity throughout dynamic train), we will intensify the pullover by ending the repetition and starting the following rep whereas the shoulder extensors are nonetheless working. Quite than pull the dumbbell over your chest, merely reverse the motion when the dumbbell passes above your brow.

Advantages of the Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover trains the shoulders through an arc of overhead motion. Due to its ability to place substantial tension on already lengthened muscles, this simple exercise offers exciting benefits. 

Accelerated Muscular Growth

Mechanical tension, or the end-to-end pulling force experienced by muscle tissue, is generally accepted to be a primary driver of muscle growth (hypertrophy). (3)(4) Muscle tissue expertise mechanical rigidity because of muscle contraction and stretch-induced contributions. These forces mix and, when nice sufficient, set off a cascade of mobile occasions that finally lead to muscle progress. (3)

A strong body builder with big muscles holding an EZ bar.
Credit score: Lebedev Roman Olegovich / Shutterstock

Coaching at lengthy muscle lengths will increase the stretch-induced contributions to mechanical rigidity. Rising proof means that coaching muscle mass of their lengthened place ends in greater charges of muscle hypertrophy. (5)(6)(7) Sadly, no long-term hypertrophy research up to now has targeted on the pullover. Nevertheless, the architectural properties of latissimus dorsi and pectoralis main, two main muscle mass of the pullover, recommend that coaching at lengthy lengths could also be notably efficient. (4)(8

Not like lat pulldowns, pull-ups, and chin-ups, the resistance torque of the dumbbell pullover is maximized within the overhead place. That is additionally the place the place the common lifter’s lats and pecs are at or close to their longest lengths — Altogether, the dumbbell pullover seems to impose perfect calls for for “stretch-induced hypertrophy.” 

Improved Flexibility

The dumbbell pullover trains the shoulder extensor muscle mass at lengthy muscle lengths — within the “stretched” place. Along with the potential hypertrophy advantages, common resistance coaching is understood to advertise modifications in muscle construction and enhance flexibility. (9)(10) Within the short-term, a single bout of resistance coaching ends in rapid will increase in shoulder flexion vary of movement. (11) Improved shoulder flexion could also be fascinating, as a result of even devoted gym-goers can undergo from restricted vary of movement. For instance, aggressive powerlifters — those that focus totally on the bench press, squat, and deadlift — might show substantial limitations in shoulder flexion. (12

Person in white lying on gym bench holding a dumbbell overhead.
Credit score: BalanceFormCreative / Shutterstock

Though analysis on the direct impact of the dumbbell pullover on shoulder flexibility is restricted, proof is mounting to help its efficacy. Morton and colleagues in contrast the consequences of 5 weeks of resistance coaching or static stretching on flexibility. The resistance coaching group accomplished 4 weekly units of the dumbbell pullover. (10)

Whereas each teams confirmed improved shoulder flexibility, the resistance coaching group confirmed a development for superior shoulder extension positive factors. (10) Whereas coaching durations higher than 5 weeks could also be essential to substantiate the impact or present statistically important findings, it seems the dumbbell pullover is a minimum of equal to stretching for shoulder flexibility. 

Improved Overhead Power and Stability

In comparison with different frequent free weight workout routines, the pullover requires your shoulders to work by means of a higher vary of movement and ends in considerably higher shoulder joint torques when equally loaded. (13) Knowledgeable by the specificity precept, these options might lead to superior power and stability variations, particularly by means of the overhead vary of movement. 

Back view of a person holding a dumbbell overhead.
Credit score: Max kegfire / Shutterstock

The pullover works the stomach core together with the shoulders. Combining overhead train with core coaching is advisable for integrating power into whole-body actions and resisting challenges to shoulder place. (14) Programmed appropriately, the pullover seems to be a robust train choice for focused shoulder strengthening and robustification.

Muscle tissue Labored by Dumbbell Pullover

The first motion resisted by the dumbbell pullover is shoulder extension. (1) Due to this fact, the train trains the muscle mass that stretch the shoulder. Figuring out these muscle mass might seem easy, however few workout routines show the complexities of practical anatomy higher than the pullover.

In fundamental anatomy, we be taught muscle actions from “anatomical place” — a place along with your arms at your sides. However the dumbbell pullover happens by means of overhead vary of movement, and since muscle actions might change as joints transfer away from anatomical place, referencing an anatomy textbook to find out the muscle mass that stretch the shoulder labored through the pullover could also be deceptive. Furthermore, completely different elements of broad or fan-shaped muscle mass could also be biased all through sure ranges of movement. In excessive circumstances, one a part of a muscle might have a completely completely different motion than different elements of the muscle. (15)(16)

Close up view of the back and  shoulder muscles.
Credit score: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock

Till a long-term coaching research consisting solely of dumbbell pullovers is carried out, we lean on anatomical modeling and electromyography research to deduce the reply to the query, “What muscle mass are skilled by the pullover?”

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi is a broad, fan-shaped muscle spanning from the low- and mid-back, pelvis, and again of the ribcage as much as the arm. (2)(8) Latissimus dorsi is lively through the Pullover. (17)(18)(19) The decrease fibers, or iliac half, which attaches to the pelvis, are simplest for producing shoulder extension, the motion resisted by the pullover. (8)(16

Pectoralis Main

Positioned prominently on the chest, the pectoralis main is one other massive, fan-shaped muscle. It’s generally divided into two elements — the higher clavicular head and the center to decrease sternocostal head. Every half contributes disproportionately to numerous shoulder actions.

For pec coaching, actions like bench press, pec flye, and incline press are frequent. Nevertheless, the sternocostal head of pectoralis main is lively through the pullover. (18)(19) Out there knowledge recommend the decrease fibers of pectoralis main act to increase the shoulder by means of the overhead vary of movement. (16) Due to this fact, the sternocostal pectoralis main is taken into account a main goal of the pullover. 

Posterior Deltoid

The posterior deltoid, or “rear delt,” extends the shoulder. It’s lively through the pullover. (19) From a mechanical standpoint, research recommend the posterior deltoid is a extra environment friendly shoulder extensor through the pullover than the latissimus dorsi or pectoralis main. (15)(16) It is because posterior deltoid demonstrates extra “leverage” to provide extension (i.e. a higher extension “second arm”) all through the arc of movement skilled by the pullover. (15)(16) Whereas the pullover may not be your first choose on the subject of posterior deltoid coaching, don’t underestimate its potential to construct the again of your shoulders.  

Triceps Brachii

The triceps brachii’s main motion is to increase the elbow. As well as, the lengthy head of triceps brachii extends the shoulder. Finally, the triceps stop extreme elbow flexion and help with the precept actions of the pullover. The muscle controls the motion into shoulder flexion through the downward section and extends the shoulder through the upward section. (17)(18)(19)

Serratus Anterior and Abdominals

The serratus anterior consists of small projections that run diagonally alongside the ribcage. It acts on the shoulder blade. The decrease portion of serratus anterior has been proven to be notably lively within the backside half of the pullover. (20

Close up view of the Serratus Anterior on a shirtless person.
Credit score: ShotPrime Studio / Shutterstock

The stomach muscle mass are lively through the Pullover to withstand extreme arching of the trunk, which might in any other case be brought on by the dumbbell touring overhead. (18) It’s honest to categorize the pullover as an anti-extension stomach train. 

The best way to Program the Dumbbell Pullover

As a single-joint motion, the dumbbell pullover is usually categorized as an adjunct train. Historically, accent workout routines are carried out after multi-joint (“compound”) workout routines. When programming equipment, keep away from extraordinarily heavy masses and one-repetition most makes an attempt. Quite, concentrate on a number of grueling, moderate-to-high repetition units. 

Reasonable Weight, Reasonable Repetitions

These wishing to construct muscle and power with the pullover ought to contemplate three to 4 units of eight to 12 repetitions. Carried out after chin-ups or heavy lat pulldowns, pullovers allow you wring out a bit more hypertrophy work without taxing your grip. 

Low to Moderate Weight, High Repetitions

Pullovers are a greater exercise to begin or end your upper body workout. As an opener at the beginning of your workout, pullovers prime your shoulders for subsequent overhead lifts. As a finisher to end your training session, pullovers provide a dose of “pump work” and a potent stimulus for hypertrophy. Two to four sets of twelve to sixteen repetitions will do the job.

Pullover Variations

Classic exercises tend to accumulate many variants over time, and the pullover is no different. Pullover variations tend to switch out the resistance implement (e.g. dumbbell for a barbell) or the support surface (e.g. bench for a Swiss ball). Four of the most common pullover variations are shown below. 

Cross-Bench Dumbbell Pullover

The cross-bench dumbbell pullover is performed by orienting the body perpendicular to the bench and performing the exercise from a bridge position.

Not only does this setup facilitate activity of the glutes but it also encourages a stable pelvis position and allows the solo lifter to place the dumbbell conveniently on the bench before and after exercise completion. 

EZ-Bar Pullover

Without access to a full run of dumbbells? Having trouble securely holding the dumbbell during the pullover? If so, you may wish to try the EZ-bar pullover.

The EZ-bar allows incremental loading with “change plates.” The semi-pronated inner grips on the bar may be easier to hold for those with stiff forearms, tight shoulders, or smaller hands.

Single-Arm Pullover

Those training for shoulder stability may wish to consider the single-arm dumbbell pullover. By training unilaterally, you’re challenging your shoulder to control movement in an additional plane.

Owing to the natural tradeoff between stability and maximum load, expect to drop the weight 60 to 80% for the single-arm dumbbell pullover.

Cable Pullover

Cable pullovers are performed with a pulley or cable column set to a low position, while holding a triceps rope, strap, or short bar. The cable pullover changes the line of the resistance. Instead of encountering maximum resistance torque at or near the bottom position as in the dumbbell pullover, the shoulders experience maximum resistance torque earlier in the movement during cable pullovers.

The cable resistance also increases the productive range of motion of the exercise. Rather than ending the repetition with vertical arms, continue “pulling over” until the cable gently grazes your forehead. 


Is the dumbbell pullover a back exercise or a chest exercise?

It’s both. The pullover also hits muscles in the shoulders, arms, and trunk. (16)(17)(18)(19)(20)
Should you’re utilizing a coaching break up, you will have to determine the best way to categorize the pullover. Some like to incorporate it in “chest day,” as a result of Pullovers hit the decrease portion of pectoralis main. (16) Others put pullovers on “again day,” as it may be used to coach latissimus dorsi earlier than or after grip-intensive train comparable to rows, lat pulldowns, or pull-ups. The excellent news? There is no such thing as a incorrect reply. 

Can I simply do straight-arm pushdowns as an alternative?

The straight-arm pushdown, additionally referred to as “stiff-arm pulldown” or “lat prayer,” is a shoulder extension train carried out standing with a cable machine or excessive pulley. This train could also be interesting for a number of causes. There’s isn’t any have to occupy a bench, the upright place lets you monitor your type (and your “pump”) within the mirror, and altering weights is simpler on the cable stack. However for lifters looking for hypertrophy, the crux of the query isn’t comfort and even the “really feel” of the train. It comes right down to inherent variations between train biomechanics. 
The pullover and pulldown are completely different workout routines, every with its personal distinctive resistance profile and muscular exercise sample. (18) Anecdotally, lifters are inclined to “really feel” their lats extra throughout pulldowns than pullovers. The reverse appears to be true for “feeling” pectoralis main. Certainly, the pulldown exhibits higher muscle exercise within the latissimus dorsi than the pullover, and the pullover exhibits higher muscle exercise in all elements of pectoralis main than the pulldown. (18
Does this imply the pullover is healthier for again and the pulldown is healthier for chest? Completely not. This false impression stems from a standard misunderstanding of train electromyography (EMG) research. Larger EMG doesn’t equal a “higher train,” as a result of we can’t predict long run coaching outcomes from EMG research alone. (24)(25) Furthermore, EMG isn’t a sound indicator of mechanical rigidity, a key driver of muscular variations. (24)(3)
Briefly, many options have to be thought-about when figuring out train choice. These embody, however aren’t restricted to coaching targets, private preferences, and the way the train suits into this system as an entire. 

How can hit my lats or pecs tougher within the pullover?

Presently, there is no such thing as a definitive pullover method modification to bias one agonist muscle over one other. Though some have claimed flaring the elbows through the pullover favors latissimus dorsi and holding elbows straight favors pectoralis main, both method compromises the train.
Flaring the elbows outward ends in shoulder inside rotation, which takes rigidity off latissimus dorsi. (26) — Not fascinating when you want to reap the benefits of elevated rigidity within the muscle, stretch-mediated hypertrophy, and adaptability advantages of the train. (4)(8)(9)
Holding your elbows utterly straight appears to make it simpler to “really feel” or contract your pecs on the high of the repetition, nevertheless it additionally requires excessive shoulder abduction on the backside of the repetition (consider your biceps touching your earlobes). I don’t advocate both possibility. 

The Perplexing Pullover

The pullover train is a conundrum. It’s carried out in hardcore bodybuilding gyms and rehabilitation clinics, alike. It’s an train for constructing muscle and enhancing vary of movement. It’s a again train and a chest train. It’s beloved and hated. 

Regardless of its complexities, the dumbbell pullover has stood the check of time. Perhaps now’s the time to concentrate on pullovers in your coaching program? 


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