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Dumbbell Pullover Exercises: Build Arm, Chest, Strength and Upper Powers

Everybody does the traditional bench presses, squats and deadlifts, but not many people really pay attention to some of the long-forgotten exercises, reminiscent of the old-school, golden era. 

Such exercises are the sissy squats, vertical leg presses and last but not least, the exercise praised by 7 time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger, namely, the Dumbbell pullover and other pullover workout groups. 


The pullover is a multi-joint exercise, best suited for intermediate and advanced athletes.  

The exercise targets a wide variety of muscle groups, including the lats, chest, triceps, shoulders and pretty much the whole upper body, in one way or another (actively or passively). 

This is NOT a beginners’ exercise, which is why we recommend you not to do it if you are just starting to get into training.

We also do not recommend this exercise to people with injuries, as it requires perfectly healthy wrists, elbows, shoulders and spine. 

If you have past trauma in those areas, proceed to the exercise with a proper warm up beforehand and nonetheless, precaution during the exercise itself.

If you experience pain during the exercise, even if your form is correct, then it would be more than good to cease doing the exercise. 

Involved muscle groups 

  • Pectoral muscles (All chest portions) 
  • Latissimus dorsi 
  • Levator scapulae 
  • Triceps brachii 
  • Front deltoids 
  • Wrist flexors 

The pectoral (chest) muscles and the back (latissimus) muscles are dynamically contracted during the exercise.

The rest of the muscle groups involved work in synergy and stabilize the joints involved in the movement. 

Pushing VS. Pulling 

Dumbbel PushUp

As a matter of fact, this exercise can be done in multiple ways, depending on the muscle group that you want to target.  

Knowing that the shoulders, chest and triceps are pushing muscle groups, we can easily say that if we push during the pullover, those 3 will be the main target. 

If, however, we pull, we will greatly engage the back muscles or in other words, the lats. 

Pushing dumbbell pullover 

With the pushing version of this exercise, done with a dumbbell, we do not observe a movement of the hip area.

We keep the abdominals tense and steady and the position remains static.  

We also see that the range of motion is relatively short, due to the fact that the elbows do not pass the shoulder level. 

When pushing up, we aim to drive the tension with a pushing force and a nearly locked out elbow, pushing the dumbbell over the head, while the elbows are closer to the body and not flared. 

With this version of the exercise, we stretch out the chest and the lats, and contract the chest on the upper portion, along with the triceps. 

Pulling barbell pullover 

With this version, we observe a downwards movement of the hips while we let the barbell down and behind the head.

This serves as a stabilizing and stretching movement that helps us keep our upper back on the bench, without taking the risk of falling back. 

The barbell is grabbed at about shoulder width, with the elbows slightly bent and flared.  

We then observe a longer range of motion, as the elbows can slightly pass the shoulder line, as the barbell is going all the way down carefully. 

Then, the barbell is pulled up slowly, focusing the tension on the lats. 

Dumbbel pullover exercise: Execution steps

Dumbbel Pullover Executions

Here are the exact execution steps towards the perfect dumbbell pullover

  • Pick an appropriate weight and put it on the bench press, then lie down with your upper back (shoulder line) on the side of the bench press. 
  • Place your feet close to one another and just below the knees, at a 90-degree angle.
  • Grab the dumbbell with both arms comfortably and lift it above your chest, keeping the elbows slightly bent.
  • Keep the shoulder line tight and slowly let the dumbbell back and behind your head. 
  • Keep going down as long as you feel a good, comfortable stretch and stop when the upper portion of the arm is parallel to the ground (Elbows are at shoulder level).
  • Slowly push the dumbbell back up to its original position, without extending the elbow like you would during a triceps push.


Muscle Building Breathing, Determination

We generally consider breathing to be one of the least utilized tools when it comes to generating force during a workout.  

The proper breathing pattern for each and every exercise is the following – Inhale on the negative part of the exercise, where no muscle force is applied, then exhale on the concentric (positive) part. 

In other words, muscle contraction = exhalation. 

Which variant of the exercise is best? 

As we mentioned, you can either do it with a dumbbell or a barbell. You can do it pushing or pulling. 

Now you may be asking “Well, which one should I do?” and the answer is: There is no better exercise! 

Both are different as they focus on different muscle groups, meaning that it would be best to implement both. 

The biggest benefits of this exercise are synchronizing the upper body muscle groups and last but not least, creating a more prominent V-Taper, by developing the outer part of the lats. 


The pullover is a forgotten exercise that many people neglect.

This exercise is a compound movement that can be done as either a pulling or a pushing exercise. 

The main muscle groups worked here are the chest and back, while the triceps, biceps, and shoulders stabilize the upper portion of the torso. 

We usually recommend switching between dumbbells and barbells.

Use the dumbbells to emphasize on the chest and the barbell to emphasize on the lats. 

Proceed to the exercise with precaution if you have had shoulder, wrist, elbow and spine injuries in the past and avoid doing it if you have present such. 

Either way, we recommend thorough warm up prior to the exercise or, including it at the end of the workout.

Focus on lighter weights, proper execution with moderate pace and a good stretch and contraction. 

Stay injury free!

That is of course a requirement in case you are looking to avoid injuries and remain biomechanically functional.

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