What Are Dumbbell Pullovers and How to Do Them

Dumbbell pull over exercise. Studio shot over black.

Implementing new exercises into your gym regimen can be scary! There are so many different workout routines, machines, and training programs. It is important to learn your options as well as learn the different exercises you can do. If you don’t have a personal trainer, it is okay. There are many resources to help you decide what exercises are best for you. There are also many resources to tell you how to do the exercises you choose. A simple google search such as, “What are dumbbell pullovers and how to do them” will get you hundreds of resource options. But first, you should begin creating your plan by considering what your fitness goals are. From muscle growth to flexibility improvement there are so many great exercises. One way to make a great start is to focus on pullover exercises such as the dumbbell pullover. Here is information about what they are and how to do them. dumbbell image

What Are Dumbbell Pullovers?

A dumbbell pullover is a weight training move. It mainly targets your Pectoral and Latissimus Dorsi muscles. However, it also can strengthen your core, Teres Major, Serratus muscle, Anterior Deltoids, and/or your wrist flexors. It became a very popular exercise in the bodybuilding culture in the 60s and 70s largely due to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Reg Park.

History of the Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell pullovers are considered one of the “original” moves in bodybuilding. The beginning of pullovers is largely unknown. There is mention of them as early as 1911 by a man named Alan Calvert. At this time, weightlifters would complete the move accompanied by drinking gallons of milk. But the first pullover machine was invented in 1948 by Arthur Jones. This move has been called the “Upper Body Squat” as it is as effective for your upper body as a squat is for your lower body. It is also commonly referred to as a DB pullover. This exercise can be done using a machine or a dumbbell free weight.

How To Do Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell pullovers are best completed with the use of a dumbbell and a weight bench. But, if you don’t have access to a bench they can be done by lying on a mat.

First, grab a dumbbell with both hands. Shimmy both hands to one side so that they are holding only one plate. Hold your arms straight over your chest. Then lower the weight slowly over your head. Lower the weight until your arms are almost locked fully behind your head. Then return to the starting position.

Dumbbell pullovers are a great addition to any weight training workout. How many repetitions you do may depend on your goals. To build strength in your pectoral muscles, perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions. To improve your muscular endurance, start with 3 to 4 sets of dumbbell pullovers completing 15 to 20 reps per set. dumbbell image How To Choose a Dumbbell Pullover Weight

Bigger doesn’t always mean better. This especially applies when it comes time to choose a dumbbell weight. We often think we can handle much more than we actually can. Starting light is the best choice when making a weight decision. You can always increase the weight as needed. You can also choose to calculate 30% of your body weight and select the closest dumbbell weight option. You may also want to consider the other weight amounts you have been lifting for other exercises. This may be telling as to what weight is a great starting place for you. The most important factor to consider is that you will be lifting the weight over your head and face. You do not want to put yourself at risk of dropping the weight and causing an injury.

Benefits of Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbells have many great benefits to your body and fitness routine. They are a solid choice when it comes to creating and maintaining your strength. Here are some other top benefits of dumbbell pullovers.

Upper Body Balance

The dumbbell pullover is widely recognized as a great exercise for your upper body. What’s better is that it focuses on both the front and back of your upper body. Many upper body moves solely target the back, shoulders, or biceps. The dumbbell pullover gives great balance as it can impact pectoral muscles, abdominal muscles, latissimus dorsi, etc.

Core Stability

Your core is something you use throughout your day. It impacts your posture, balance, stability, etc. A strong core is also essential as it protects your internal organs and can help you to avoid injury and pain. Dumbbell pullovers help you to build midline stability as you will have to engage your core to complete the move. This exercise is an excellent tool to help you throughout your everyday tasks and protect yourself against injury. girl doing pullover  

Muscle Isolation

Dumbbell pullovers are also great because they allow you to focus on one group of muscles at a time if you choose. If you want to isolate your Latissimus Dorsi muscle, you will want to flare out your elbows slightly. You will also want to keep the dumbbell as close to your body as possible. If you want to isolate your pectoral muscles, you will need to keep your elbows in and your arms straight. Muscle isolation helps to achieve hypertrophy which is the best way to help you achieve muscle growth.

Shoulder Mobility

Shoulder mobility can also be improved by doing dumbbell pullovers. Implementing dumbbell pullovers into your strength training helps to increase your range of motion. Building shoulder mobility is important as it can help to protect your shoulder muscle from injury. It is important to focus on form and stretch when completing a dumbbell pullover. This exercise is known to cause injury when using too heavy of weight or improper form. But, doing them correctly will help to build needed shoulder mobility and help to protect your joints.

Mind-Muscle Connection

It has been said that physical fitness is directly related to mentality. You need a strong connection between your brain and your body to complete exercises effectively. If you are a beginner, you likely know the frustration that comes when your body doesn’t perform as you expect it to. But, many athletes face this problem as well. Moves such as a dumbbell pullover require extreme concentration. Focusing on a specific muscle group is what allows for muscle isolation. It takes a lot of practice and patience to form mind-muscle connections. But, this is a skill you will utilize every day. Dumbbell pullovers are a great way to implement a mind-muscle connection and build your strength.


A dumbbell pullover is another move that will help to improve your flexibility. The range of motion used in both your chest and shoulder areas is a great stretch. Lengthening and strengthing muscles is a key piece of a good workout routine. Well stretched muscles improve your functional abilities. Including exercises such as a dumbbell pullover is a great way to improve your overall flexibility. dumbbell pullover  


One benefit of this move is that you can perform it anywhere. While a gym is a great location to complete the move, it is also possible to do it at your home gym or outside. Dumbbells are widely available to purchase online or in your local sports store. The ability to take dumbbells anywhere is great because it allows you a change of scenery. Sometimes we lose motivation when we have to get to the gym. Take out this step and work out in your backyard or local park. Not to mention all those looks your body is going to get from the cute neighbor. 

Dumbbell Pullover Tips

These top tips can help you to ensure you complete the move safely and get the best return for your efforts.

Keep Your Core Engaged

As with most exercise moves, keeping your core engaged is key. It helps to stabilize your body throughout the movement. A strong core will also help to prevent injury.

Take It Slow

There is no need to rush through your dumbbell pullovers. Rushing can cause you to miss many of the engagement opportunities and strength-building benefits of this exercise. It can also cause injury such as straining your back. Slow and steady wins the race, and in this case, the race is Adonis-like looks! another pullover man

Choosing the Right Weight

Follow the suggestions above to choose the right weight for you. Many times, athletes want to increase weight quickly. Some think that the heavier the weight the better the exercise will be. But, this thinking is not only wrong but unsafe as well. Rushing to increase your weight, especially in a dumbbell pullover is risky. During a dumbbell pullover, you are literally lifting the weight over your head. If you drop the weight, it can cause major facial damage. Using too heavy of a weight can also put stress on your should joint and cause tears, tendonitis, or impingement. Ouch! You certainly will not make gains quickly if you push yourself too hard and cause an injury. Selecting the right weight is an essential part of your workout success.

Focus on Form

There is no better tip for the dumbbell pullover than to focus on your form. Proper form will help you to achieve the many benefits of the exercise. But, when you rush through the move or have a sloppy form you eliminate the benefits and put yourself at risk for injury. One way to ensure you have a solid form is to make sure your hips stay grounded. If your hips and/or back lift off the bench you open yourself up to additional pressure on your lower back. You also do not want to force your arms past their natural range of motion. Pushing your body too far can also cause shoulder issues. It takes time to build a full range of motion safely. But, your hard work will eventually pay off. Also, make sure to keep your shoulder blades stable throughout the movement. They provide stabilization to keep your exercise smooth. Proper form is essential to a successful dumbbell pullover. pullover side  

Dumbbell Pullover Variations

Use Two Dumbbells

Rather than using one dumbbell down the center of your body, grab one for each hand. This will obviously make your dumbbell pullover more difficult. This variation can help you to focus on the form of each arm. But, keep in mind you may need to start with lower weights. Using only 1 to 2-pound weights with a higher amount of repetitions will still give you an excellent workout.

Rotated Elbows

If you are trying to focus on your back rather than your chest, rotating your elbows can be a great variation for your dumbbell pullover. Rotating your elbows to point toward your feet will change the muscle focus to your back. This is a great variation option.

Exercise Ball

In this variation, you will use an exercise or stability ball instead of a bench. This will require you to use your glutes and core more than the bench. A ball is less stable than a bench which amplifies other muscle groups.

Use a Barbell

Using a barbell is a good variation option for your dumbbell pullover. You will use the same movement as a dumbbell pullover except that your hands will now be parallel. A barbell pullover will still target the back, lats, pecs, and abs. But, it is said to give a slightly more emphasis on the lats than the dumbbell pullover. Try this variation for a solid switch-up of your dumbbell pullover routine. pullover man  

Use a Decline Bench

Using a decline bench rather than a flat bench is another option to provide a switch up to your routine. A decline bench will affect your center of gravity and help to move your arms overhead. But, it will require more of a range of motion at the shoulders. Due to the range of motion adjustment, it is essential to keep a tight core with your ribs down. Lifting the middle of your back can cause a strain. Completing a decline dumbbell pullover is an excellent addition to your routine, but, don’t sacrifice your form for a new move.

Dead Bug Dumbbell Pullover

This variation is an excellent choice if you are looking for a change-up to your dumbbell pullover. To complete this move, lay on your back with a dumbbell in each hand. Bring your knees up and stick your arms straight out over your chest. Lower your arms as you would during a traditional dumbbell pullover. The dead bug dumbbell pullover helps to increase stability. It also gives you an opportunity to focus on your form. Doing additional exercises to help with your form will further help with your shoulder mobility and flexibility. A dead bug dumbbell pullover is an awesome option to add to your routine. Try to implement this move by completing 2 to 3 sets with 10 repetitions each.

Dumbbell Chest Fly

A chest fly is another exercise that focuses on your pectoral muscles. It is a great alternative to the dumbbell pullover. Chest flys will also help you to increase shoulder mobility and control. To complete a dumbbell chest fly, you will utilize two dumbbells and a weight bench. Lay on your back and grab one dumbbell in each hand. Straighten your arms in front of you with your palms facing each other. Bring the weights out to your sides in an arc motion and go as low as possible. For added difficulty, hold the weights at the lowest point for 2 to 3 seconds. Then, bring the weights back to your starting position. Make sure to keep a tight core throughout the movement and do not extend your arms past your comfort zone. For a solid addition to your workout, try 3 sets with 10 to 15 reps each.

Dumbbell Pullover Summary

Starting a new exercise routine on your fitness journey can be exciting and intimidating. Whether you are a rookie or a seasoned pro you have likely heard of a dumbbell pullover. Dumbbell pullovers are a great exercise used to build muscle mass. It is not an overly complicated move so it can be done by beginners. Dumbbell pullovers are also a common choice for bodybuilders due to their popularity increase by big names such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. A dumbbell pullover is a great chest exercise but it is also great for your shoulder blades and core strength. It is also a great exercise to improve stability and flexibility. Learning exercises such as a dumbbell pullover can help you to reach a new level of fitness. Incorporating new exercises is a great way to add variety, work a new muscle group, and improve your overall fitness. Implementing a dumbbell pullover workout into your routine will help you to see great results. The benefits of a dumbbell pullover workout can help you to reach your next level of fitness. 

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