Start Your Back Workout with Dumbbell Pullovers

One of the classic bodybuilding exercises that’s often forgotten is dumbbell pullovers. This exercise is responsible for both chest and back development. If you go back and look at some of the workouts from the early era of bodybuilders such as Arnold, Frank Zane, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman, you’ll see dumbbell pullovers as part of their regular workout routine.

Dumbbell pullovers are known to be trained on chest day. This makes sense because you use your chest muscles to pull the weight over from behind your head. However, I’ve recently started doing them on back day. In fact, I’m starting my back workouts with dumbbell pullovers as the first exercise.

Back Workout with Dumbbell Pullovers

This is actually the back workout I did this morning, starting out my first exercise with dumbbell pullovers. This back workout is fairly typical for me each week.

  • Dumbbell Pullovers
    • 4 sets x 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell Rows
    • 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Barbell Rows
    • 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Plate-Loaded Rows
    • 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Lat Pulldowns
    • 3 sets x 10 reps

How to do Dumbbell Pullovers

Find a flat bench and grab a dumbbell. You’ll want to start with light weight if you’re new to this exercise. Ideally you’ll want a spotter to hand you the dumbbell. Since I mostly train alone, I place the dumbbell standing up on the edge of the bench. Here are the steps for dumbbell pullovers:

  • Lie across the bench; make sure your shoulders and upper back are firmly one the bench and use your legs to help secure your body
  • Have your spotter hand you the dumbbell (or grab it from the bench like I do)
  • Start by holding the dumbbell directly over your chest
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head (there’s no need to drop below your help as this may place stress on your shoulder joints)
  • Use your lats to pull the dumbbell back into the starting position, and flex your chest muscles just before you get to that point to assist

The one mistake I see often is when people flex their elbows when they lower the dumbbell behind their head. This turns it into more of a tricep exercise. You don’t want that. Make sure your arms are straight (they can have a slight bend as long as that angle is consistent).

Dumbbell Pullovers for Back

I actually feel dumbbell pullovers in my back more than my chest. This is one of the reasons I do them with my back workout. Although my chest has some involvement, I try to hone in on my lats to do most of the effort.

I prefer to start my back workout with dumbbell pullovers as the first exercise. This warms up my back muscles and gets them ready for the heavy lifting that’s ahead.

There’s certainly a mind-muscle connection with dumbbell pullovers. It’s not one of those exercises you want to just go through the motions with. You really have to focus on the muscles you’re working. This is of course true with most exercises, unless you’re training for mere strength. If you’re building the muscle, you need to make sure you feel the muscle working.

Train with Passion,


* This is one of the exercises you’ll perform in my Hardcore Muscle Building Program, a 12 week weight training program with nutrition and supplement guides. Click below to read more:


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