Dumbbell Pull Over – How To And 12 Best Chest Building Variations

Explore the variations and benefits of dumbbell pull overs and learn how to do it to maximize your chest gains

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The Ultimate Guide to Dumbbell Pull Overs to Help Maximize Your Chest Gains

The dumbbell pull over is a strength-training exercise that targets the chest, back, and shoulder muscles.

This exercise can help improve upper body strength and flexibility and is often incorporated into workout regimens to enhance muscle development and endurance.

Dumbbell Pull Over Target Muscles

The dumbbell pull over is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscles in the upper body, making it a versatile choice for those looking to develop strength and muscle definition in those areas.

The dumbbell pull over primarily targets the following muscles.

  • Pectoral Muscles (Chest)
    The exercise engages the pectoralis major, which is the large chest muscle.
    It can help develop the upper and inner portions of the chest.
  • Latissimus Dorsi
    The latissimus dorsi muscles, or the “lats,” are in your upper back and sides.
    They play a significant role in the pulling motion during the exercise.
  • Triceps Brachii
    The triceps, on the back of your upper arm, are involved in the extension of the elbow joint when raising the dumbbell.
  • Deltoid Muscles or Shoulders
    The anterior and lateral deltoid muscles are engaged when stabilizing the shoulder joint during the movement.
  • Serratus Anterior
    The serratus anterior muscles, located along the sides of the ribcage, are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder blades during the exercise.
  • Rhomboids and Upper Back
    The rhomboid muscles and other upper back muscles are engaged to some extent to support proper posture and shoulder blade positioning during the exercise.

How to do Dumbbell Pull Over with Proper Form

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Required Equipment: Weight bench, dumbbell

Steps to follow


  • Lie with your back on a flat weight bench.
  • Ensure the pad supports your upper back, shoulders, and head.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees
  • at a 90-degree angle.
  • Make the dumbbell easily accessible from your lying position.

Grasp the dumbbell

  • Hold the dumbbell with both hands, using a neutral grip with palms facing each other.
  • Extend your arms straight above your chest, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.

Lower the dumbbell

  • Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbell backward in an arc motion behind your head.
  • Maintain a slight bend in your elbows throughout the movement. Extend your arms fully, but do not lock them.
  • Keep your core engaged and your lower back pressed against the bench to help stabilize your spine.

Stretch and breathe

  • Focus on feeling a stretch in your chest and upper back as you lower the dumbbell.
  • Inhale as the dumbbell descends, and exhale as you raise it back up.

Raise the dumbbell

  • Exhale and reverse the motion, bringing the dumbbell back to your starting position above your chest.
  • Focus on using your chest and lats to pull the dumbbell back up as you lift it.
  • Keep your movements smooth and controlled throughout.


  • Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.


  • Carefully place the dumbbell on the floor after completing your sets.
  • Sit up slowly and carefully from the bench.

Tips and Best Practices for Dumbbell Pull Over

  • Warm-up
    Warm up your upper body with light cardio and dynamic stretches before starting your dumbbell pull overs.
    That will prepare your muscles and joints for the exercise.
  • Choose the right weight
    Select a dumbbell weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain proper form.
    Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the exercise.
  • Proper bench position
    Ensure the bench fully supports your upper back, shoulders, and head, with your feet flat on the floor.
    The stable position provides a solid base for the exercise.
  • Grip and hand placement
    Use a neutral grip with palms facing each other on the dumbbell.
    Space your palms evenly on the dumbbell’s handle.
  • Core engagement
    Keep your core engaged throughout the exercise to stabilize your spine and protect your lower back.
    That also helps to control the movement.
  • Breathing technique
    Inhale as you lower the dumbbell behind your head and exhale as you raise it back up.
    Proper breathing helps with maintaining control and stability during the exercise.
  • Range of motion
    Focus on achieving a comfortable range of motion without straining your shoulders or back.
    You should feel a stretch in your chest and lats as you lower the dumbbell.
  • Controlled movements
    Avoid using momentum or swinging the weight. Make the movement slow and controlled to maximize muscle engagement.
  • Mind-muscle connection
    Concentrate on feeling the muscles in your chest and lats working as you perform the exercise.
    That enhances the effectiveness of the movement.
  • Avoid overextension
    Do not lower the dumbbell too far behind your head, as this can strain your shoulder joints and neck.
    Aim for a range of motion that feels comfortable and controlled.
  • Steady pace
    Maintain a consistent tempo throughout the exercise.
    Rushing can lead to poor form and potential injury.
  • Cooldown
    Gently stretch your chest and lats after completing your sets to alleviate tightness.
  • Progressive overload
    Gradually increase the weight or the number of repetitions to continue challenging your muscles and promoting growth.
  • Consult a professional
    Consider working with a fitness trainer or coach if you are unsure about your form or have concerns.
  • Listen to your body
    Stop immediately and consult a healthcare professional or fitness expert if you experience pain or discomfort during the exercise

Dumbbell Pull Over Common mistakes

Below are some common mistakes to watch out for when performing dumbbell pull overs and tips to help you avoid them.

  • Using too much weight
    One of the most common mistakes is using a weight that’s too heavy.
    That can lead to poor form and strain on the shoulders and lower back.
    Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase it as you become more proficient.
  • Improper bench position
    Placing your upper back and shoulders too far off the bench or not having your feet flat on the floor can compromise your stability and lead to an ineffective exercise.
    Ensure you support your upper body properly on the bench with your feet firmly planted.
  • Bending your elbows too much
    Some exercisers tend to bend their elbows excessively, turning the exercise into more of a tricep extension rather than a chest and lat exercise.
    Maintain a slight bend in your elbows throughout the movement.
  • Overextending the range of motion
    Lowering the dumbbell too far behind your head can strain your shoulder joints and neck.
    Instead, focus on a comfortable range of motion where you feel a stretch in your chest and lats without discomfort.
  • Rushing the repetitions
    Performing pull overs too quickly reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and increases the risk of using momentum rather than muscle strength.
    Slow and controlled movements are essential for proper form.
  • Neglecting core engagement
    Failing to engage your core muscles can lead to arching your lower back and poor stability.
    Keep your core tight and your lower back pressed against the bench to protect your spine.
  • Not focusing on muscle engagement
    Many people perform dumbbell pull overs without paying attention to the muscles they’re targeting.
    Concentrate on the mind-muscle connection by actively feeling your chest and lats working to maximize the benefits.
  • Using excessive momentum
    Swinging the dumbbell or using momentum to lift the weight reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and increases the risk of injury.
    Maintain a smooth, controlled motion throughout.
  • Inadequate warm-up
    Skipping a proper warm-up can increase the risk of injury.
    Always warm up with light cardio and dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles and joints.
  • Ignoring discomfort or pain
    Stop the exercise immediately if you experience discomfort or pain, especially in your shoulders, neck, or lower back.
    Continuing through pain can lead to injury.
  • Not progressing safely
    While it is essential to challenge yourself, progressing too quickly in terms of weight or repetitions can lead to poor form and potential injury.
    Gradually increase the intensity as you become more proficient.

Dumbbell Pull Over Benefits

Dumbbell pullovers offer several benefits for exercisers looking to strengthen their upper body and improve fitness.

Chest and lat development

Dumbbell pull overs are excellent exercises for targeting the pectoral muscles and the latissimus dorsi.

The muscles play a significant role in upper body strength and aesthetics.

Muscle isolation

This exercise can help isolate the chest and lats, making it excellent for targeting the muscles without engaging other muscle groups to a significant degree.

Improved upper body strength

Dumbbell pull overs engage various upper body muscles, including the chest, lats, triceps, and shoulders.

That can lead to upper body strength gains.

Enhanced chest expansion

The stretching motion of the pull over can help improve chest expansion and flexibility.
That can help with activities like deep breathing. It can also help in some sporting activities.

Shoulder mobility

While primarily a chest and back exercise, dumbbell pull overs also involve the shoulder joints, helping to promote shoulder mobility and flexibility.

Core stabilization

Keeping your core engaged during dumbbell pullovers can help stabilize the spine and lower back, contributing to core strength and stability.

Variety in workouts

Dumbbell pull overs provide a different stimulus than traditional chest or back exercises.
That can add variety to your training regimen and help you break through plateaus.

Potential for ribcage expansion

Some exercisers believe dumbbell pull overs can contribute to ribcage expansion. But, there is limited scientific evidence to support the claim.

Enhanced mind-muscle connection

Concentrating on the muscles you intend to target during dumbbell pull overs can help improve the mind-muscle connection, enhancing the effectiveness of your training.


You can perform dumbbell pull overs using various bench angles.
That will allow you to target different muscle fibers within the chest and back.

Minimal equipment required

You only need a dumbbell and a bench to perform this exercise. That makes it accessible for most gym-goers or those with home gym setups.

Functional strength

Strengthening the chest and back muscles can have practical applications in daily activities that involve pushing and pulling movements.

Dumbbell Pull Over Limitations

While dumbbell pullovers offer various benefits, they also come with some limitations and considerations:

  • Limited muscle engagement
    Dumbbell pullovers primarily target the chest and lats, with limited engagement of other muscles.
    That can be a limitation if you want a more comprehensive upper-body workout.
  • Not a compound movement
    Dumbbell pullovers do not involve multiple joints and muscles.
    That can make them less efficient for building strength.
  • Potential for shoulder strain
    The shoulder joints are involved in the motion of pullovers. Some individuals may experience discomfort or strain in their shoulders if they have existing shoulder issues or perform the exercise with improper form.
  • Risk of overextension
    Dumbbell pull overs can lead to overextending the shoulders or lower back, potentially causing injury.
  • Individual variability
    The effectiveness of dumbbell pullovers can vary from person to person.
    Some individuals may find them highly beneficial for chest and lat development, while others may not experience significant gains.
  • Safety concerns
    Performing pull overs with improper form or excessive weight can lead to injuries, particularly in the shoulders and lower back.
    It is crucial to prioritize safety and technique.
  • Lack of lower body engagement
    Dumbbell pull overs are upper-body exercises. Thus, they don’t engage the lower body muscles.
    You may have to incorporate other exercises if you are looking for a full-body workout.
  • Individual Goals
    Dumbbell pullovers may not align with everyone’s fitness goals.
    You might prefer other exercises if your primary goal is strength, powerlifting, or sports-specific training.

Consider incorporating dumbbell pullovers strategically into your workout training while complementing them with other exercises that target different muscle groups and provide a more well-rounded fitness program. That can help you to overcome some of the above limitations.

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Dumbbell Pull Over Variations

Dumbbell pullovers can be customized and modified to target specific muscles or to provide variety in your workout routine. Here are some popular variations of the dumbbell pull over:

Classic Dumbbell Pull over

The classic dumbbell pullover is the standard variation described earlier, where you lie on a bench and perform the pull over motion with a dumbbell.

Bench Angle Variations

Adjusting the angle of the bench can change the emphasis of the exercise.

A decline bench targets the lower chest, while an incline bench focuses more on the upper chest and shoulders.

Stability Ball Pull over

You can perform the dumbbell pullover on a stability ball instead of a bench.

Lie on a Swiss ball, a stability ball, or an exercise ball with your upper back and shoulders supported, and perform the pull overs with dumbbells.

The variation challenges your core stability and engages additional stabilizer muscles.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Pull over

Use one dumbbell and perform the pullover with a single arm.

The variation can help identify and correct muscle imbalances.

Barbell Pullover

You can use a barbell with a wider grip instead of a dumbbell.

The variation can provide a different feel to the exercise and can uniquely engage your chest and lats.

Cable Pull over

Attach a rope handle to a high cable pulley machine and perform the pullover motion while standing or kneeling.

The variation provides constant tension throughout the movement and can help improve your results.

Pullover with Leg Raise

You can combine the dumbbell pull over with a leg raise for a more challenging core workout.

Raise your legs as you lower the dumbbell, and lower your legs as you raise the dumbbell.

Pull over on the Floor

Lie on the floor instead of a bench, and perform the dumbbell pullover.

The variation eliminates the bench as a support but can reduce the range of motion as the floor limits the distance you can lower the dumbbell.

Pullover with Bands

Attach resistance bands to a sturdy anchor point and perform the pullovers.

You can use the resistance band alone by holding the ends or strap them around the dumbbell.

The variation adds resistance throughout the exercise.

Iso-Lateral Pull over Machine:

Some gyms have machines designed for pullovers. These machines often allow you to work each arm independently, providing an isolated workout.

Suspension Trainer Pullovers

You can use a suspension trainer like TRX to perform pullovers.

The variation challenges your stability and engages your core and stabilizer muscles.

Pull overs with Chains or Plates

You can add chains or weight plates to your dumbbell to increase the resistance as you become stronger.

Dumbbell Pullover for Chest vs. Dumbbell Pullover for Lats

You can perfom the dumbbell pullover with slight variations in form and technique to target either the chest or the lats more effectively.

Dumbbell Pull over for Chest

  • Form emphasis
    The emphasis is on creating a deep stretch in the chest muscles during the lowering phase when performing a dumbbell pull over for chest development.
  • Body positioning
    You usually lie on a bench with your upper back, shoulders, and head supported and your feet flat on the floor.
    The position helps isolate the chest muscles.
  • Range of motion
    You lower the dumbbell behind your head in a controlled arc motion.
    The range of motion may not be as deep as when targeting the lats to avoid strain on the shoulders and neck.
  • Breathing
    You inhale as you lower the dumbbell, feeling a stretch in your chest.
    Exhale as you raise the dumbbell to engage the chest muscles.
  • Reps and sets
    For chest development, perform higher repetitions, usually 8-12 reps and multiple sets of 3-4.

Dumbbell Pullover for Lats

  • Form emphasis
    The emphasis is on engaging and contracting the latissimus dorsi or lats when performing a dumbbell pull over for lats development.
  • Body positioning
    Lie on a bench with your upper back, shoulders, and head supported, but you may slightly alter your position to target the lats more effectively. Your feet remain flat on the floor.
  • Range of motion
    You aim to feel the engagement in your lats as you lower the dumbbell behind your head. The range of motion may be longer or deeper than the dumbbell pull over for lats variation.
  • Breathing
    As with the chest variation, you inhale as you lower the dumbbell but focus on engaging the lats.
    Exhale as you raise the dumbbell.
  • Reps and sets
    For lat development, you can perform moderate repetitions of 8-12 reps and multiple sets of 3-4 to help promote muscle growth.

Final words from LiveLIfe

The dumbbell pull overs are some of the best exercises for building upper body strength and muscle definition.

Follow the step-by-step guide on how to perform a proper dumbbell pullover with proper form and incorporate its many variations into your training regimen to help you reap its many benefits.

  1. Costa Campos Y, Rodrigues de Souza H, Fernandes da Silva S, Marchetti P. 2017. The use of barbell or dumbbell does not affect muscle activation during pullover exercise. Rev Bras Med Esporte. 2017; 23(05). doi:10.1590/1517-869220172305166571
  2. Costa Campos Y, da Silva S. 2014.. Comparison of electromyographic activity during the bench press and barbell pullover exercises. Motriz: Rev Educ Fis. 2014;20(2):200-205. doi:10.1590/S1980-657420140002000010

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