Dumbbell Pullover Exercise for the Chest and Back

Dumbbell Pullover Exercise for the Chest and Back

The bench press - whether it is a flat bench press workout, an incline bench press workout or decline bench press - is one of the pet exercises to work the chest muscles. However, it is important to train the muscles from different angles and movements for a complete workout. This is where the dumbbell pullover comes in.
Now, there is a debate around whether the dumbbell pullover exercise should be performed on the day when you’re working out your chest or when you're doing back exercises. This is because the dumbbell pullover works both the pectoral muscles in the chest as well as the latissimus dorsi muscles in the back.
The result: dumbbell pullovers are often shuttled and shared between back workout day and chest workout day! Some people find a solution to this problem by tweaking their technique slightly, to target either the back muscles or the chest muscles (depending on the area they are focusing on that day).
The truth is that following the standard technique is actually good enough to exercise both muscle groups. However, there is no harm in performing the exercise with the slightly different techniques on different days of the week.
While the dumbbell pullover isn’t given the same importance as some other exercises, it has been a favourite among professional bodybuilders and fitness trainers. Former actor and governor of California, US, Arnold Schwarzenegger made it popular at his peak and fellow competitors all respected the exercise’s benefits towards building a bigger chest, but it remains restricted to the regime of the more serious fitness enthusiast even today.
Read on to know why you should include this simple exercise in your weekly routine and how to do it correctly:

Types of dumbbell pullover exercise
As mentioned above, the dumbbell pullover is beneficial for two major muscle groups in the upper body: the chest as well as the back. The exercise can be performed with slight variations to work on either muscle group:
  • Dumbbell pullover for the chest: Keep the arms straight throughout the movement to focus more on the chest.
  • Dumbbell pullover for the back. Bend the elbows slightly, to bring more focus on to the back muscles.

The dumbbell pullover may not look as impressive as the bench press or dips, but it has tremendous benefits for building the upper body. Some even think of it as an exercise that can rival dips as one of the most complete upper body exercises, nicknamed the squats of the upper body. Dumbbell pullovers allow you to
  • Lift heavier weights and do more reps than chest fly exercises.
  • Helps in building a bigger chest.
  • Develops back muscles and improves upper back stability.
  • Helps improve shoulder mobility.

Before beginning any workout, you should always warm-up and do some mobility exercises to enable the full range of motion on the targeted muscle groups. Always stretch the muscles afterwards.
Equipment required
  • A bench
  • A medium to heavy dumbbell, according to your strength level.
Muscles worked
  • Primary: Chest
  • Secondary: Back, shoulders and triceps
  • Intermediate (trainee)
Sets & reps
  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each
  • Lie across a bench with your shoulder blades resting on it, and your head suspended slightly above the edge of the bench.
  • Your knees should be bent at 90 degrees and feet anchored on the floor. Your torso should be in line with the thighs and the chest.
  • With both hands forming a diamond shape together, hold the dumbbell straight up above your chest.
  • Keeping your arms straight, bend your shoulders backwards to take the dumbbell down behind your head without raising your torso or feet off the original position. Pause for a few seconds.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell back up to the starting position, straight above your chest. This is one rep.
Tip: To target the back muscles more, instead of keeping the arms straight throughout the movement, try to bend them slightly at the elbows while still keeping them away from the body. You can also choose to lie down flat on the bench instead of across it, to have more contact between the bench and your body - if you are choosing this option, ensure that your lower back is always touching the surface of the bench to work the core muscles.

Two exercises stand out that can train the same muscle groups:
  • Dumbbell fly
  • Straight arm cable pulldown

The dumbbell pullover is a heavyweight gym athlete’s go-to exercise for building rounder, bigger chest muscles. A slight tweak in the technique also helps build and strengthen the muscles in the back, and is beneficial for strengthening the shoulders as well as the arms to some extent.
The movement can seem complicated, and deter some people from taking it on in the gym. However, there are very few exercises that can match its benefits.
The exercise, however, must be performed under the supervision of trained professionals, and those with a limited range of movement in their shoulders should not attempt this exercise.