December 30

How to Do the Dumbbell Pullover for Upper Body Muscle and Mobility

By fitness

December 30, 2022

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

Credit: Wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

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

Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell Pullover Instructional Video

Here’s Dr. Merrick Lincoln instructing the standard kind for the dumbbell pullover. Review the shape and listen to particular suggestions earlier than practising the motion by yourself.

How to Do the Dumbbell Pullover Step By Step

The dumbbell pullover is an overhead shoulder extension train carried out mendacity on a bench. These step-by-step directions guarantee correct kind. 

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 standard dumbbell pullover, 5 steady factors of contact are required — The again of your head, shoulder blades, and glutes should stay involved with the bench, and each toes have to be touching the ground. If your bench is just too tall, putting your toes on the bench body or atop weight plates is appropriate. 

Form Tip: Position your head as far up the bench as potential. By putting your head excessive on the bench, you scale back the probability of the bench impeding shoulder vary of movement through 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 as a result of motion of the dumbbell over your face and head. A spotter is a person who assists with the motion and supplies bodily help within the occasion of kind breakdown or failure.

A spotter can also be useful, as a result of they will cross you the dumbbell if you end up prepared to start. Otherwise, you have to to switch the dumbbell from atop your thigh to above your chest, which might be awkward positioning. Whether or not you select to recruit a spotter, you'll cradle the within prime half of the dumbbell in your palms with thumbs and fingers wrapped across the deal with.

Form Tip: Grasp the dumbbell securely earlier than bringing it over your face or earlier than giving your spotter the sign to launch it. The deal with of the dumbbell ought to sit between the bottom of your thumbs and physique of the fingers. With one palm on all sides of the dumbbell, create a “closed” grasp by overlapping your thumbs behind the deal with and overlapping fingers in entrance.

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 higher chest together with your arms vertical and elbows unlocked or barely bent. Brace your stomach muscle tissue and preserve the 5 factors of contact with the bench and the ground. Lower the dumbbell towards the ground with management. End the downward motion if you attain the best quantity of shoulder flexion (stretch) which you could tolerate and management.

Form Tip: Achieve a tolerable stretch throughout your shoulders on the backside place. The aim is to maneuver via your full obtainable vary of overhead movement, not merely bringing the burden as near the bottom as potential.

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 motion by pulling the dumbbell via the identical arc of motion. The repetition is full when your higher arms are vertical. Keep your head locked in impartial and your gaze directed on the ceiling — don’t comply with the burden together with your eyes or head. Allowing your head to tilt into extension (wanting overhead) promotes undesirable extension all through all the backbone.

Form Tip: Maintain the identical diploma of arm bend all through every repetition. If your elbows are bending and straightening through the train, you’re shifting muscular stress away out of your chest and again 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're utilizing a spotter (really useful), point out the set is full. The spotter ought to take the dumbbell with each fingers. (1) If you're coaching solo (at your personal danger), carry the dumbbell to your thigh.

Form Tip: Avoid dropping the dumbbell in your face or chest. Unless you’re itching for a go to to the hospital and sure cosmetic surgery, security is precedence primary. Ensure the spotter has full management of the dumbbell earlier than you let go. If coaching alone, preserve a safe grip till the dumbbell rests in your thigh.

Dumbbell Pullover Mistakes to Avoid

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

Excessive Elbow Bend and “Flaring”

During the standard dumbbell pullover, slight elbow bend permits the lifter to carry the dumbbell whereas shifting their higher arms within the sagittal aircraft (i.e. parallel to the physique’s midline). When lifters permit extreme elbow bend, the issue of the pullover is lowered, as a result of the dumbbell is now nearer to your shoulders.

More usually than not, extreme elbow bend can also be related to “flared,” or outward-pointing, elbows. This place displays inner rotation of the shoulder and should improve stress on the within of the elbow (i.e. ulnar collateral ligament stress) through the pullover.

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

Avoid it: Focus on maintaining your elbows pointing ahead and/or up through the dumbbell pullover. While elbows ought to at all times stay “unlocked,” the pullover ought to by no means really feel like a triceps extension (“skull crusher”).

Losing Contact with the Bench

Although permitting your hips to rise from the bench could give the impression of elevated vary of movement, again and hip extension doesn't equate to shoulder mobility. Unlike a competition-style bench press, arching is counterproductive to the pullover as a result of it in the end removes rigidity from latissimus dorsi. (2)

Worse nonetheless, extreme arching could permit a heavy dumbbell to destabilize your place, which may end in 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: Vladimir Sukhachev / Shutterstock

Avoid it: Anchor your self to the bench by digging your heels into the ground and aggressively bracing your stomach muscle tissue.

Not Allowing the Dumbbell to “Hang”

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

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

Avoid it: The dumbbell ought to cling naturally out of your fingers all through the pullover. (1)  Although you need to preserve a agency grip on the dumbbell, keep away from turning or tilting the dumbbell throughout your set.

How to Progress the Dumbbell Pullover

Lifters new to the pullover ought to begin mild when first studying the train. Like any train, the pullover have to be progressed to make sure ongoing advantages. Begin by progressing conventional variables like including reps and weight. Then, in some unspecified time in the future, think about the easy approach modification mentioned beneath.

Increase the Repetition Volume

As an adjunct train, the pullover is usually programmed within the average repetition vary (i.e. eight to 12 reps) or the next repetition vary (i.e. 12 to 16 reps). Yes, this can be a broad advice, however it means you possibly can seemingly progress for a while by including a repetition right here and there as in a position. Once you’re capable of full your repetition goal, merely add another rep the next exercise. In the quick time period, progressing quantity is probably going most acceptable for these centered on hypertrophy. (23)

Increase the Weight

Once you attain the highest of your goal repetition vary and really feel you could possibly do extra, it's time to improve the burden of your dumbbell. Alternatively, in case your major aim is constructing power, progressing weight is more likely to be your greatest short-term technique. (23) Since small jumps in weight dramatically improve the resistance skilled by the shoulders on the backside of the pullover, incremental weight development is greatest.  

Keep Constant Tension

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

A person doing overhead pullovers.
Credit: Wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

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

Benefits of the Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover trains the shoulders via an arc of overhead movement. Due to its capability to put substantial rigidity on already lengthened muscle tissue, this straightforward train gives thrilling advantages. 

Accelerated Muscular Growth

Mechanical rigidity, or the end-to-end pulling pressure skilled by muscle tissue, is usually accepted to be a major driver of muscle development (hypertrophy). (3)(4) Muscles expertise mechanical rigidity on account of muscle contraction and stretch-induced contributions. These forces mix and, when nice sufficient, set off a cascade of mobile occasions that in the end end in muscle development. (3)

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

Training at lengthy muscle lengths will increase the stretch-induced contributions to mechanical rigidity. Growing proof means that coaching muscle tissue of their lengthened place leads to greater charges of muscle hypertrophy. (5)(6)(7) Unfortunately, no long-term hypertrophy examine thus far has centered on the pullover. However, the architectural properties of latissimus dorsi and pectoralis main, two major muscle tissue of the pullover, counsel that coaching at lengthy lengths could also be notably efficient. (4)(8) 

Unlike lat pulldowns, pull-ups, and chin-ups, the resistance torque of the dumbbell pullover is maximized within the overhead place. This can also be 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 tissue at lengthy muscle lengths — within the “stretched” place. In addition to the potential hypertrophy advantages, common resistance coaching is thought to advertise modifications in muscle construction and enhance flexibility. (9)(10) In the short-term, a single bout of resistance coaching leads to quick 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 — could reveal substantial limitations in shoulder flexion. (12) 

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

Although analysis on the direct impact of the dumbbell pullover on shoulder flexibility is proscribed, proof is mounting to assist 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)

While each teams confirmed improved shoulder flexibility, the resistance coaching group confirmed a development for superior shoulder extension positive aspects. (10) While coaching durations better than 5 weeks could also be essential to substantiate the impact or present statistically important findings, it seems the dumbbell pullover is not less than equal to stretching for shoulder flexibility. 

Improved Overhead Strength and Stability

Compared to different widespread free weight workouts, the pullover requires your shoulders to work via a better vary of movement and leads to considerably better shoulder joint torques when equally loaded. (13) Informed by the specificity precept, these options could end in superior power and stability variations, particularly via the overhead vary of movement. 

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

The pullover works the stomach core together with the shoulders. Combining overhead train with core coaching is really useful 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.

Muscles Worked by Dumbbell Pullover

The major motion resisted by the dumbbell pullover is shoulder extension. (1) Therefore, the train trains the muscle tissue that reach the shoulder. Identifying these muscle tissue could seem easy, however few workouts reveal the complexities of purposeful anatomy higher than the pullover.

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

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

Until a long-term coaching examine consisting solely of dumbbell pullovers is carried out, we lean on anatomical modeling and electromyography research to deduce the reply to the query, “What muscles are trained 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 energetic through the Pullover. (17)(18)(19) The decrease fibers, or iliac half, which attaches to the pelvis, are handiest for producing shoulder extension, the motion resisted by the pullover. (8)(16) 

Pectoralis Major

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. Each half contributes disproportionately to numerous shoulder actions.

For pec coaching, actions like bench press, pec flye, and incline press are widespread. However, the sternocostal head of pectoralis main is energetic through the pullover. (18)(19) Available information counsel the decrease fibers of pectoralis main act to increase the shoulder via the overhead vary of movement. (16) Therefore, the sternocostal pectoralis main is taken into account a major goal of the pullover. 

Posterior Deltoid

The posterior deltoid, or “rear delt,” extends the shoulder. It’s energetic through the pullover. (19) From a mechanical standpoint, research counsel the posterior deltoid is a extra environment friendly shoulder extensor through the pullover than the latissimus dorsi or pectoralis main. (15)(16) This is as a result of posterior deltoid demonstrates extra “leverage” to supply extension (i.e. a better extension “moment arm”) all through the arc of movement educated by the pullover. (15)(16) While the pullover won't be your first choose in terms of posterior deltoid coaching, don’t underestimate its potential to construct the again of your shoulders.  

Triceps Brachii

The triceps brachii’s major motion is to increase the elbow. In addition, the lengthy head of triceps brachii extends the shoulder. Ultimately, the triceps forestall extreme elbow flexion and help with the precept actions of the pullover. The muscle controls the motion into shoulder flexion through the downward part and extends the shoulder through the upward part. (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 energetic within the backside half of the pullover. (20) 

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

The stomach muscle tissue are energetic through the Pullover to withstand extreme arching of the trunk, which might in any other case be attributable to the dumbbell touring overhead. (18) It’s truthful to categorize the pullover as an anti-extension stomach train. 

How to Program the Dumbbell Pullover

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

Moderate Weight, Moderate Repetitions

Those wishing to construct muscle and power with the pullover ought to think about three to 4 units of eight to 12 repetitions. Performed after chin-ups or heavy lat pulldowns, pullovers permit you wring out a bit extra hypertrophy work with out taxing your grip. 

Low to Moderate Weight, High Repetitions

Pullovers are a better train to start or finish your higher physique exercise. As an opener firstly of your exercise, pullovers prime your shoulders for subsequent overhead lifts. As a finisher to finish your coaching session, pullovers present a dose of “pump work” and a potent stimulus for hypertrophy. Two to 4 units of twelve to sixteen repetitions will do the job.

Pullover Variations

Classic workouts are likely to accumulate many variants over time, and the pullover is not any completely different. Pullover variations have a tendency to change out the resistance implement (e.g. dumbbell for a barbell) or the assist floor (e.g. bench for a Swiss ball). Four of the commonest pullover variations are proven beneath. 

Cross-Bench Dumbbell Pullover

The cross-bench dumbbell pullover is carried out by orienting the physique perpendicular to the bench and performing the train from a bridge place.

Not solely does this setup facilitate exercise of the glutes however it additionally encourages a steady pelvis place and permits the solo lifter to put the dumbbell conveniently on the bench earlier than and after train completion. 

EZ-Bar Pullover

Without entry to a full run of dumbbells? Having hassle securely holding the dumbbell through the pullover? If so, it's possible you'll want to strive the EZ-bar pullover.

The EZ-bar permits incremental loading with “change plates.” The semi-pronated inside grips on the bar could also be simpler to carry for these with stiff forearms, tight shoulders, or smaller fingers.

Single-Arm Pullover

Those coaching for shoulder stability could want to think about the single-arm dumbbell pullover. By coaching unilaterally, you’re difficult your shoulder to regulate motion in a further aircraft.

Owing to the pure tradeoff between stability and most load, anticipate to drop the burden 60 to 80% for the single-arm dumbbell pullover.

Cable Pullover

Cable pullovers are carried out with a pulley or cable column set to a low place, whereas holding a triceps rope, strap, or quick bar. The cable pullover modifications the road of the resistance. Instead of encountering most resistance torque at or close to the underside place as within the dumbbell pullover, the shoulders expertise most resistance torque earlier within the motion throughout cable pullovers.

The cable resistance additionally will increase the productive vary of movement of the train. Rather than ending the repetition with vertical arms, proceed “pulling over” till the cable gently grazes your brow. 


Is the dumbbell pullover a again train or a chest train?

It’s each. The pullover additionally hits muscle tissue within the shoulders, arms, and trunk. (16)(17)(18)(19)(20)
If you’re utilizing a coaching break up, you have to to resolve 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 “back day,” as it may be used to coach latissimus dorsi earlier than or after grip-intensive train reminiscent of rows, lat pulldowns, or pull-ups. The excellent news? There is not any flawed 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 is not any must occupy a bench, the upright place means that you can monitor your kind (and your “pump”) within the mirror, and altering weights is less complicated on the cable stack. But for lifters in search of hypertrophy, the crux of the query shouldn't be comfort and even the “feel” of the train. It comes all the way down to inherent variations between train biomechanics. 
The pullover and pulldown are completely different workouts, every with its personal distinctive resistance profile and muscular exercise sample. (18) Anecdotally, lifters are likely to “feel” their lats extra throughout pulldowns than pullovers. The reverse appears to be true for “feeling” pectoralis main. Indeed, the pulldown exhibits better muscle exercise within the latissimus dorsi than the pullover, and the pullover exhibits better muscle exercise in all elements of pectoralis main than the pulldown. (18) 
Does this imply the pullover is best for again and the pulldown is best for chest? Absolutely not. This false impression stems from a typical misunderstanding of train electromyography (EMG) research. Higher EMG doesn't equal a “better exercise,” as a result of we can't predict long run coaching outcomes from EMG research alone. (24)(25) Moreover, EMG shouldn't be a legitimate indicator of mechanical rigidity, a key driver of muscular variations. (24)(3)
In quick, 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 a complete. 

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

Presently, there isn't any definitive pullover approach modification to bias one agonist muscle over one other. Although some have claimed flaring the elbows through the pullover favors latissimus dorsi and maintaining elbows straight favors pectoralis main, both approach compromises the train.
Flaring the elbows outward leads to shoulder inner rotation, which takes rigidity off latissimus dorsi. (26) — Not fascinating if you happen to want to benefit from elevated rigidity within the muscle, stretch-mediated hypertrophy, and suppleness advantages of the train. (4)(8)(9)
Keeping your elbows utterly straight appears to make it simpler to “feel” or contract your pecs on the prime of the repetition, however 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. 

Despite its complexities, the dumbbell pullover has stood the check of time. Maybe now could be the time to concentrate on pullovers in your coaching program? 


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