How to do a dumbbell pullover to accentuate your upper body

Sure, the bench press can target your chest and the lat pulldown will work your back, but to hit both spots at once, a weighted pullover can be just the plate ticket for you.

As a weighted exercise that challenges both of those areas (plus your shoulders, arms, and rib cage muscles), pullovers are an upper-body exercise you may want to use regularly into your habits.

Despite being a great value for your wallet, pullovers are a move that tends to be overlooked. It’s not as popular as other chest or back exercises, so you may not see it as often in your workout plans. Therefore, you may not be as familiar with it as other upper-body pinning exercises like rows or chest presses.

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So here’s a quick summary: The exercise involves lying on your back on the floor (or on a flat weight bench) and gripping a dumbbell above your chest with both hands. With straight arms, slowly pull the dumbbell back and forth behind your head as much mobility as your shoulders allow. Then you reverse the movement to return to the starting position. If the pullover sounds simple, it is—but trust us, it actually has a lot to offer, no matter your fitness level.

We tapped personal trainer and certified performance coach Keith Hodges, CPT, founder of Mind in Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles to find out all there is to know about dumbbell pullovers, including which muscles it works, if it’s a chest press or a back press, the big benefits, how to incorporate it into your routine, and—most importantly—how to do it right way.

What muscles does a weighted t-shirt have an effect on?

Like we mentioned, the pullover does double duty: It targets your pecs (especially the pectoralis major, which extends from the upper arm to the collarbone to the sternum) and back muscles. your widest, is called the latissimus dorsi (lats). Additionally, weighted pullovers work the triceps (muscles on the back of the upper arm), deltoid (shoulder) and serratus anterior (a muscle along the rib cage that helps stabilize your shoulders ).

Pullovers for chest or back?

It’s been a long-standing debate about the word fitness, and we’re here to clarify it for you: The answer is both! Pullovers work on your chest And your back muscles; Therefore, they can be considered chest exercises as well as back exercises. In what areas would you feel this move would be effective? than, it all depends on your anatomy, Hodges tells SELF. If your back tends to be tight, you may feel that pull-ups actually hit that area more than your chest. On the other hand, if your chest and shoulders are tense, you’ll likely feel the exercise targets those muscle groups harder than your back, explains Hodges.

What are the benefits of dumbbell pullovers?

Since the pullover targets your chest, back, arms, and shoulder muscles at the same time, you can activate and strengthen your upper body muscles quite nicely with this exercise. That can make the pullover a great addition to more lower-body-focused exercises like squats, lunges and deadlifts.

Hodges says pullovers are also great for improving shoulder health. Lifting a dumbbell overhead requires both shoulder mobility and stability; and the higher you lift the weight over your head and behind you, the more work your stabilizer muscles have to do to control it safely and ensure that you don’t strain your shoulder joints or round your back.

Mastering the pullover exercise can also help improve your ability to lift weights overhead. For example, Hodges often prescribes pullovers for people who have difficulty performing overhead squats. Pullovers can help “correct that movement and increase that range of motion,” he explains, adding that he also recommends pullovers for athletes whose sports involve many overhead movements, like baseball pitchers, football quarterbacks, and basketball players.

Important note: Hodges says people with limited shoulder mobility should focus on improving that before trying a pullover. And people with rotator cuff, pectoral, lower back or mid-back problems should also be careful with pullovers, he says. In those cases, you should check with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure the pullover is right for you and your range of motion.

How can you incorporate weighted pullovers into your routine?

Hodges advises beginners to start with light weights to reduce the risk of injury. If it’s too heavy for you, you risk straining your shoulders, lower back, and pectoral muscles, he explains. Focus on moving the weight within a range of motion that is safe for you by keeping your lower back pressed into the floor or chair the entire time. If you feel it starting to lift, reverse the movement—don’t worry about lifting the weight all the way up behind you.

Once you feel comfortable with the move, start with three sets, suggests Hodges. Depending on your goals, aim for 6 to 8 repetitions per set if you want to build strength, 8 to 12 repetitions if you want to build muscle; and 15 repetitions or more if you want to improve muscular endurance, says Hodges. Regardless of your goal, choose a weight that you find challenging but can do for your chosen number of reps.

You can include a t-shirt in your workout program any day you’re already working your chest or back, such as during a dedicated back workout or chest-focused routine. Or it can work well as part of an upper-body workout — like this great 30-minute workout that works your arms, back, chest, and shoulders.

Once you’ve mastered proper form and feel it’s easy to move the stars, you can advance your skills by trying the pullover progression. One option that will especially engage your core muscles is to do pull-ups from a hollow-body position (with your legs raised in the air). You can also really stimulate your abs (especially the core stabilizers) by performing the move with your upper body resting on a stability ball and your feet flat on the ground. Or if you really want to challenge your shoulders, hold a (lighter) dumbbell in each hand and do the move with both weights.

No matter how you incorporate the pullover into your routine, focus on completing this exercise at a slow and steady pace rather than focusing on how heavy a dumbbell you can use. “Our goal is the range of motion of this exercise versus the weight we can move,” says Hodges.

How to make a dumbbell sweater

  • Lie on your side on the mat with a dumbbell (or kettlebell) in front of you. Grasp the weight with both hands, hold it against your chest, and lie on your back with your shoulder blades pressed into the ground. Keep your legs hip-width apart. (You can also do this move on a weight bench—just make sure it’s a flat bench and not an incline or incline bench.)
  • Grasp the dumbbell vertically with both hands around one end as shown in the picture. (If the weight is smaller, you can also grasp both ends of the dumbbell with your palms facing each other.) Lift the dumbbell into the air just above your chest, keeping your arms straight. Engage your core and press your lower back into the floor.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell overhead, keeping your lower back touching the ground. Bring the dumbbell as far as you can overhead without letting your lower back lift off the ground. Depending on your ability, you can gently touch the heavy object to the floor as shown in the picture. (But it’s okay if you don’t get that far!)
  • Reverse the movement, bringing the dumbbells back to the starting position. Continue to engage your core as you move the weight. This is a representation.
Katie Thompson

Demo how to move above is Drawing trayMPH, owner and operator of Body By Tray, is also an ISSA certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist.


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