At first glance the dumbbell pullover seems like an isolation exercise targeting the lats muscles. In actual fact, it activates multiple muscle groups.
The popular strength and muscle conditioning exercise also does not require specialized equipment — only a bench and a dumbbell are needed, making it ideal for home workouts too.
But there is a drawback too. The movement involves just the shoulder joint, which can strain the muscles around the shoulders and lead to injuries if the exercise is done incorrectly.
Therefore, many experts suggest avoiding it altogether, or including it only after one has built enough strength and mobility in the shoulders.
“The dumbbell pullover is not in favor among many gym goers and fitness trainers,” says Noida-based personal fitness trainer Yogi Raghav. “This is because there is a chance of injury — including shoulder dislocation — in this exercise. One common reason for shoulder injury in the gym is the dumbbell pullover when done improperly.”
Dumbbell pullover and target muscles
Dumbbell pullovers target a wide range of muscle groups. The primary focus is on the latissimus dorsi (lats or the wings). But the pectoralis muscles (or pecs) in the chest, triceps, deltoids, forearms and the core muscles also get engaged.
“Every muscle has two points: an origin and an insertion,” says Raghav. “And the dumbbell pullover targets the entire lats muscles starting from origin to insertion. The lats muscles are among the biggest in the body, and this exercise provides a workout to the entire muscle group.”
Benefits of dumbbell pullover
Some common benefits of dumbbell pullovers are:
- Provide toning to the back and chest muscles.
- Stabilize the core.
- Strengthen the arms muscles.
- Improve wrist stability.
- High range of motion improves stability and flexibility of the shoulder joint.
Doing a dumbbell pullover
- Use a gym bench and a dumbbell (choose the weight based on your strength and fitness level).
- Lie down on your back with the feet planted firmly on the ground, a few inches wider than the bench.
- Hold the upper head of the dumbbell with the palms facing upwards and the dumbbell held exactly above the chest with elbows close to each other.
- Inhale and lower the dumbbell over the head, keeping a slight bend in the elbows. After lowering to a comfortable level, bring the dumbbell back to the starting position by exhaling.
- Repeat the same motion for the required number of repetitions.
Another way of doing the exercise is by resting the shoulders on the side of the bench and keeping the back in the air and supported by the feet on the ground. However, this is not advised as it adds strain on the back.
It is essential that the gluteal muscles and the back are supported throughout.
“The recommended form of doing this exercise is by supporting the back,” says Raghav. “In the other form, when the weight is lifted, the lower back remains in air with a support only under the shoulders. So, lifting a heavy weight in this form can exert excessive pressure in the lower back, resulting in an injury to the spine.”
Dumbbell pullovers: Injuries and precautions
Prior to attempting the exercise, it is essential to develop the required amount of strength in the rotator cuff muscles.
“A dumbbell pullover should not be attempted by beginners as they will have less overall strength — especially strength in the shoulder rotator cuff muscles,” says Dev Singhania, a fitness trainer from Chandigarh. “People also need to understand that this is an advanced form of exercise.”
Shoulder dislocation is a major injury which can occur if this exercise is not done properly.
The most common mistakes made by fitness enthusiasts include lifting weights beyond their capability and having an improper range of motion.
Many a times, if the hands are overstretched while lowering the dumbbell, it becomes difficult to lift a heavy dumbbell back to the starting position. This often leads to injury.
As a precaution, one can have the instructor or a training partner stand behind while doing a dumbbell pullover with heavy weights. An alternative to pullovers would be the straight arm lats pulldown.
- If done with an improper range of motion, a dumbbell pullover can result in severe injury, including shoulder dislocation. Lifting beyond your capability and overloading can also lead to injuries.
- You can try the lats pulldown exercise as an alternative to pullovers.
- The exercise should always be done with the back and gluteal muscles supported — ideally by lying firmly on the bench and with the feet planted on the floor.