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What are Dumbbell Pullovers?

By Chris Montgomery
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dumbbell pullovers are exercises that involve a person lying on his or her back and repeatedly raising and lowering a dumbbell from the chest to above the face and then behind the head. These exercises are performed with the intention of targeting the pectoral muscles, the triceps and muscles in the back called the latissimus dorsi. Studies have shown that the primary movers in this exercise are the latissimus dorsi and the long head of the triceps muscle. The pectorals, serratus, teres major and posterior deltoid are all secondary muscles involved as synergists to stabilize the movement. Those muscles do not go through a full range of motion during this exercise.

To perform dumbbell pullovers, the trainee lies in a horizontal position across a bench with only the upper back and shoulders resting on it. Holding a dumbbell in a perpendicular position with two hands, the palms should be on the flat of the innermost weight plate, with the fingers wrapped around its outer edges. A light to moderate weight facilitates control throughout the movement.

Dumbbell pullovers are initiated with the weight on the chest and pressed upward until the arms are extended. The elbows bend just enough to keep them from locking, and the weight is slowly lowered behind the head while inhaling. After the arms have reached their full range of motion, the weight is brought back to the starting point over the face or chest while exhaling. When performing a straight arm pullover, the ideal stopping point is when the arms are level with the bench. In a bent arm pullover, the arms will travel beyond this parallel point.

As the weight is lowered, the trainee contracts the gluteus muscles, thighs and abdominal muscles to counterbalance the movement of the dumbbell. This also helps to prevent injury or accident. The elbows should be pointed upward during the downward and upward phases to prevent injury to this joint.

Dumbbell pullovers contribute to a well-rounded upper body routine, which also can include exercises such as bench presses, chest flyes, military presses and pull-ups. A barbell can be substituted for this movement to add variety to a routine, using no wider than a shoulder-width grip and starting with a light to moderate weight. For greater latissimus dorsi muscle building, the elbows should be bent more and the arms lowered until they are parallel with the body or just beyond. Whether using a barbell or dumbbell, control should be maintained by the use of a slow, steady pace when performing the repetition.

If it is difficult to stabilize the lower body while lying across a bench, the length of the bench should be used instead. The exerciser should maintain a neutral position of the spine and avoid hyper-extension. It is best for a moderate weight to be used when dumbbell pullovers are first performed.

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