The dumbbell pullover is a foundational resistance exercise that’s been a mainstay of workouts to build strength and mass since Arnold Schwarzenegger and company popularized strength training and bodybuilding in the 1970s. The pullover is underrated as a postural movement since it requires you to keep your spine in a stable position. It opens the chest and increases flexibility, counteracting the effects of days spent in a hunched-over position at a desk, behind the wheel, or over a screen.
Dumbbell Pullover Benefits
The dumbbell pullover improves strength and coordination between the muscles of your upper back and triceps. It also works the lats as an effective core strengthening exercise. By moving your shoulders through a controlled range of motion above your head, you’ll work the core stabilizer muscles, increasing mobility and helping to prevent shoulder injury. Bottom line: if you want to build a broad chest and back and increase upper-body strength, the dumbbell pullover should be part of your routine.
What Muscles Do Dumbbell Pullovers Work?
You’ll feel it in the upper back, lats, and triceps. It’s possible to change your grip to better isolate your chest or back. By rotating the elbows in and tucking them closer, you’ll better target your back. Flaring the elbows out isolates the chest.
How to Do a Dumbbell Pullover
- Lie flat on a bench holding one or two dumbbells with arms straight over your chest or eyes.
- Keeping your upper arms in the same position, lower the weight until your elbows are bent 90 degrees.
- Now, lower your upper arms until they’re parallel to the floor.
- Pull your arms back to the starting position, straightening your elbows on the way up.
The key is to drop your hands first so that your elbows point toward the ceiling, then drop your elbows. Be sure not to extend your elbows as you would during a skull crusher. Keep your hips flat on the bench to maintain proper form and prevent stress on your back. Start with a light weight to keep from using your biceps. You want your chest, lats, and triceps doing the work and deriving the benefit. Plus, you don’t want to risk clocking yourself in the face with a heavy weight as it travels above your head.
How to Add a Dumbbell Pullover Into a Workout
The dumbbell pullover is a versatile move when it comes to organizing your workout. As an upper-body push, it fits nicely between upper-body pull exercises or lower-body moves. It’s a mainstay of chest/back workouts and triceps-specific routines.
Best Dumbbell Pullover Variations
How to Make a Dumbbell Pullover Easier
If you have shoulder problems or need to make the dumbbell pullover easier, just do the first half of the movement, bending your elbows and then straightening them. Some people also find it easier to do the move with one dumbbell held with both hands instead of a dumbbell in each hand. (Not to be confused with one-handed pullovers, a more challenging variation).
How to Do the Triceps Pullover
- Lie face-up on a bench, feet on floor, holding a dumbbell with arms straight overhead, to start.
- Bend elbows and engage triceps to bring dumbbell just behind head, then press up.
How to Make a Dumbbell Pullover Harder
When you remove a point of stability, you force your core to light up and aid your working leg in maintaining balance. There are actually a couple ways to execute single-leg dumbbell pullovers.
How to Do the Dumbbell Pullover With Leg Extension
- Start the move with hips and knees bent to 90 degrees.
- Extend the hip and knee of one leg until your leg is straight while you lower the opposite-side dumbbell by bending elbow to 90 degrees. Continue lowering from your shoulder until weight is behind your head.
- In one motion, lift your leg up while driving your elbow up, then straighten your arm to return to the starting position. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
How to Do the Single-leg Bridging Dumbbell Pullover
- Line your upper back against a bench and bridge hips up, holding dumbbells with palms facing each other.
- Lift one leg off the floor—knee bent, foot flexed, hips level—then lower dumbbells behind your head. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Hardest Dumbbell Pullover Variation
If you’re looking to add even more difficulty, try performing the move on a stability ball. If you’re new to working on a ball, start with light weight to get the movement down first, then add. By working on an unstable surface, you’ll recruit more of your glutes and core stabilizer muscles than you would on a bench.
How to Do a Stability Ball Pullover
- Lie on ball, feet wide, neck engaged, hips high, a light (10- to 15-pound) kettlebell in right hand pressed over chest, and left arm out to start.
- With arm straight, lower kettlebell behind head, until biceps is near ear, stopping before it reaches shoulder height.
- Reverse to start for 1 rep. Do all reps on right side, then switch.