What Muscles Do the Dumbbell Pullover Work?

The dumbbell pullover exercise works the muscles of both the latissimus dorsi and the pectorals. The degree to which it targets either one depends on the way you do the exercise. 

Lats or Pecs (Or Both)

The dumbbell pullover is an old school bodybuilding exercise that is seeing a resurgence in popularity. However, there is quite a bit of confusion as to which muscle group the pullover is actually targeting – the lats or the pecs. The answer is that it all depends on what your intent for doing the exercise is. If you want this to be a pectoral exercise then you will do the exercise one way. If you want it to focus on your lats, you will do it differently.

The key to determining how much you activate the lasts or the pecs is the amount by which you internally or externally rotate your wrists in the starting pullover position. Having your elbows flared out will cause more internal rotation, which will make the exercise more of a pectoral exercise. 

Keeping the elbows in at your sides as you perform the pullover will cause external rotation, making the pullover more of a lat exercise. 

The second factor that determines whether the dumbbell pullover is targeting the pecs of the lats is the positioning of the hips as you perform the movement. When you drop the hips down you will more fully engage the lats. On the other hand, if you want to primarily work the chest muscles, maintain a neutral tabletop hip position. 

The third and final factor that determines whether the dumbbell pullover is a pec or a lat exercise comes down to your mind-muscle connection. In harmony with the physical cues, we have just described – wrist rotation and hip placement – focus on pulling with the target muscle. If you want this to be a pec exercise, squeeze your pecs together as you extend overhead and concentrate on the stretch in the pecs in the top position. Then, as you come back, forcefully contract the pecs once again.

For the lats, you should concentrate on stretching that muscle as you drop your hips to extend your arms overhead. At full extension contract the lats as you bring the dumbbell back overhead to the start position. 

Also Read:   The 10 Most Popular Olympic Lifts and Derivatives

Key Points: Lat Dumbbell Pullover

  • Rest your mid-shoulder blade on the bench
  • Hold the dumbbell overhead and drop the hips as low as possible
  • Tuck your elbows in
  • Keep the elbows in as you extend the arms back to stretch the lats
  • Bring the hips up as drive the dumbbell back to the starting position
  • Focus on contracting the lats on the upward drive
  • Consciously pinch the elbows in as you come up

Key Points; Dumbbell Pullover

  • Rest your mid-shoulder blades on the bench
  • Hold the dumbbell overhead, keeping the hips in a neutral position
  • Flare your elbows out
  • Keep the elbows out as you extend the arms back
  • Contract the pecs as you go back
  • Keep the elbows flared out as you come back to the start position
  • Forcefully contract the pecs as you return to the start position

This article was last updated on January 19, 2021 .

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