October 5, 2021

Dumbbell Pullovers: What They Are, and How to (Safely) Do Them

Dumbbell Pullovers are one of those few workouts that are known for sculpting the muscles that we associate with those who lift weights. Our upper backs are home to our lats. The dumbbell pullover is a great workout that shapes and shapes them.

Dumbbell pullovers sound exactly like they do: A dumbbell is used to make a motion by pulling it up over your head. Because there is no minimum weight, they are easy to do. Do dumbbell pullovers are possible regardless of how heavy your dumbbell is. Continue reading to find out how dumbbell pullovers can benefit you and how they compare with barbell pullovers.


  • Michele Canon, a NASM-certified personal coach and coach for STRIDE GRO.
  • Katie Kollath, ACE-certified personal coach and co-founder at Barpath Fitness, is Katie Kollath.

What Is a Dumbbell Pullover?

A dumbbell pullover, which is usually a weighted exercise, involves using a bench to work out. You hold the dumbbell in one hand and move it over your head. This move is difficult due to the equipment and the form. Canon explains that dumbbell pullovers target and strengthen your lats, which are the largest muscles in your upper back. These pullovers strengthen and tone your core, pecs and serratus anterior. Kollath also claims they can be used to “improve mobility of the thoracic spine.” 1

Benefits of Dumbbell Pullovers

Dumbbell pullovers have the greatest benefits for your back and shoulder stability. Canon tells us that the “benefits” of the dumbbell pullover are due to the way you perform it. She says that unlike other back exercises, where you are either prone or standing up, the force of the dumbbell being lowered overhead engages your core. It also requires stability at the shoulder. This is also useful for activities such as running and swimming that require stability and a strong back.

Dumbbell pullovers can also improve posture.2 Canon states that this is because it opens the chest and scapula to counteract the hunched over position we often find ourself in. This exercise, although less important than the others, can help you create a more V-shaped shape to your back.

Proper Form


Proper form is essential for avoiding injury and reaping the full benefits of this weighted exercise. These steps are for the standard pullover. Modification instructions are available below for those who aren’t yet able.

  1. Place your back on a bench and place your feet flat on it. Canon advises to keep your core tight, with a slight arch in the back.
  2. Grab a dumbbell. Kollath recommends starting light. Canon suggests starting small. A “medium” size dumbbell is one that you can lift above your head and use with proper form. You can hold the dumbbell in both your hands.
  3. To bring the dumbbell to your chest, bend your elbows. Canon states that the dumbbell’s one end should face towards the middle of your chest.
  5. Keep your lower body firm and stable, and keep the dumbbell lowered over your shoulders. The dumbbell should form an arc from in front to behind, so that it is parallel to the bench. Canon says that you should feel the stretch in both your chest and shoulders without stretching too much.
  6. Slowly return dumbbells to their starting points, then raise them over your chest.

How to Modify


If you don’t own a bench, you can still do the move on the ground with your knees bent at 45 degrees. The range of motion can be reduced by reducing the distance between your chest and your shoulders. Kollath suggests that you start by doing the motions with no weights for those who aren’t ready for weighted moves. This will allow you to stretch your lats, and improve your range of motion without causing injury.

The bench can be used only to support your shoulders for a more advanced dumbbell pullover. Canon says that this move has a greater range of motion and is therefore more challenging.

You can do this move with two dumbbells, instead of one. This is ideal for those who need a certain weight increment that falls between the standard 5, 10, 20 etc. for dumbbells. You can use two dumbbells instead of one. Simply hold them side-by-side with one side facing down.

Dumbbell Pullovers vs. Barbell Pullovers

Dumbbell pullovers look very similar to barbell liftovers. The movement itself is very similar. You start on a bench and place a barbell in front. Next, you move the barbell backwards until it touches your shoulders. There are two main differences: With a dumbbell the weight is concentrated in your hands while with a barbell it is distributed wider. A dumbbell, unless it is very heavy, is quite small compared to a barbell. A barbell is also heavier than most dumbbells. A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds. This should not be used for pullovers unless you are an experienced exerciser. You could also do dumbbell pullovers using as little as two pounds. This makes dumbbell pullovers safer for all except advanced exercisers.

Safety Considerations for Dumbbell Pullovers

Anyone with lower-back or shoulder injuries should avoid this exercise. You should support your neck properly and keep it from lifting up. This could cause neck strain and shoulder pain. Anyone who is unable to lift their arms above their heads should avoid this move.

The Takeaway

Dumbbell pullovers can be a weighted exercise that builds and shapes your lat muscles. You do this by lying on your back, supine, on a bench or in a chair and then moving the dumbbell from your chest to your behind. You can do it with any weight. This makes it safe for those who have to lift light weights. Anyone with lower-back or shoulder injuries should avoid it. Also, anyone who is unable to lift their arms above their heads should not use this move. You can also do dumbbell pullovers on the floor if you don’t own a bench. This involves lying down flat on your back and keeping your knees bent. Dumbbell pullovers not only strengthen and stretch your lats but also help you balance better and create a V shape in your back.