The Dumbbell Lat Pullover 101 | Form, Benefits, and Alternatives!

By
Mike Kenler
October 23, 2020

Dumbbell Lat Pullover

Also known as the straight arm pullover, the dumbbell lat pullover is one of the best exercises to strengthen your upper body. This compound exercise delivers an array of health benefits for people of all fitness levels. In this article, we examine everything you need to know about the dumbbell lat pullover.  

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Lat Pullover 

Primary Muscle Groups:

As you may have guessed, the dumbbell lat pullover primarily works your lats. Originating in the lower-mid back, the latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle of the back. Your lats play a significant role in most “pulling” exercises such as lat pulldowns, pull ups, and other rowing exercises.

However, you may be surprised to learn that the dumbbell lat pullover also relies upon the chest as a primary mover of the exercise. The pectoralis major (the largest muscle of the chest) is made up of two heads: the upper clavicular head and the lower sternal head. The dumbbell lat pullover primarily engages the sternal head of the pectoralis major.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

The dumbbell lat pullover also incorporates the triceps, deltoids, abs, serratus and upper back. While your back and chest should do most of the work during the exercise, your abs contract to stabilize your midsection and your triceps and deltoids activate to stabilize your arms.

The serratus and upper back also work to support your upper body during the dumbbell lat pullover.

Dumbbell Lat Pullover Benefits

1. Bigger & Stronger Upper Body

The straight arm pullover is unique in that it can help you develop your chest and back muscles simultaneously. For that reason, you can reap the benefits of two exercises in one. 

This gives the dumbbell lat pullover a significant advantage, as upper body strength is essential for improving your performance in athletics, other compound lifts, and simple day-to-day activities. 

2. Improved Core Stability

Simply put, you cannot safely perform the dumbbell lat pullover without using your core. This exercise forces you to activate deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominis.

As a result, consistent training that incorporates the dumbbell lat pullover will help you improve your core stability, which in turn will give you a boost in other exercises. 

3. Injury Prevention

The dumbbell lat pullover strengthens your back and core. These muscle groups help support your spine, thus protecting you against future back injury. 

The straight arm pullover also works your deltoids and other smaller muscles that surround the shoulders that stabilize your rotator cuffs, which reduces your chances of hurting your shoulders as well. Overall, the dumbbell pullover can help you build strength and prevent injury at the same time!

How to Do the Dumbbell Lat Pullover

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells and an exercise bench (or similar surface). 

Setup: 

1. Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and straddling the exercise bench.

2. Sit on the bench and place your feet firmly on the ground. Lie back so that your head rests at the end of the bench. 

3. Raise the dumbbells side by side directly above your chest with your palms facing forward.

4. Engage your core by bringing your belly button in towards your spine.

Action:

1. Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your lats and slowly bring the dumbbells behind you until they are in line with your head.

2. Squeeze your lats hard at the bottom and contract your chest to bring the dumbbells to the starting position. Squeeze your chest hard in this position.

3. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

Recommendation:

You should aim to complete 3-4 sets of 12-18 reps of the dumbbell lat pullover. The key is to use light weight and feel a deep stretch in your chest and lats as you slowly complete each rep.

Dumbbell Lat Pullover Mistakes

1. Bending Your Arms 

Many lifters tend to bend their arms during the dumbbell lat pullover. Bending the arms allows the triceps to take over during this exercise, thus removing tension from your back.

In effect, the dumbbell lat pullover becomes a dumbbell skull crusher.  Be sure to keep those arms locked out straight during the dumbbell pullover to work your back and chest.

2. Arching Your Back

Another common mistake made during the dumbbell lat pullover is excessively arching your back. While a very slight arch is acceptable, overarching places an enormous stress on your lower back, which could lead to injury. 

Instead, engage your core and keep your back flat during the dumbbell lat pullover.

3. Pulling Too Far Back

Far too often, many weightlifters will allow the dumbbells to drop even lower than their head. While they may be trying to do extra work, they are actually placing extra strain on their shoulders, which could easily cause an injury. 

Sometimes, less is more. Pull the dumbbells back until they reach head-level to maximize the dumbbell lat pullover.

Dumbbell Lat Pullover Variations

1. Floor Dumbbell Lat Pullover

You can do the dumbbell pullover without an exercise bench. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the ground. Grasp a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and extend your arms straight up above your chest. 

Squeeze your lats as you slowly bring your arms back until the dumbbells touch the ground. Then, contract your chest to bring them back to the starting position. Repeat!

2. Alternating Hammer Pullovers

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the ground. Grasp a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing each other and extend your arms straight up above your chest. 

Squeeze your lat as you slowly bring your right arm back until the dumbbell touches the ground. Then, contract your right pec to bring the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat this motion on the left side and keep alternating arms!

3. 1-Arm Floor Lat Pullover

You can also perform the dumbbell pullover unilaterally. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the ground. Grab a dumbbell or a kettlebell with an overhand grip and extend your arm straight up above your chest. 

Squeeze your lat as you slowly bring your arm back until the weight touches the ground. Then, contract your chest to bring it back to the starting position. Repeat!

Dumbbell Lat Pullover Alternatives

If you enjoyed the dumbbell lat pullover, check out these alternative exercises to improve your upper body training:

1. Straight Arm Band Pulldown 

Attach your resistance band to an elevated hook or door frame and sit or kneel on the ground.

If your band has handles, extend your arms upwards to grab the handles with your palms facing forward. If your band does not have handles, grab the band with your palms facing forward and your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. 

Brace your core, bring your shoulder blades down and back, and while keeping your arms straight pull the band down until your hands are by your sides.

Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

 

2. Overhand Barbell Row 

Set up a barbell on the ground with light to medium weight. Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart. Step forward so that the barbell is over the middle portion of your feet. 

Grab the bar with an overhand grip with your hands just outside your knees. Brace your abs and back and lift the barbell off the ground until you are in a standing position with your back straight.

Keeping your abs and back tight, hinge your hips backwards until your back is nearly parallel to the floor. Extend your arms straight down and keep your gaze focused a few feet in front of you. 

Keeping your elbows tucked, drive your elbows up and back to bring the barbell up towards your belly button. Squeeze your lats at the top, pause for a moment, and slowly return to the starting position. Maintain tightness in your core and back and repeat!

 

3. Incline Dumbbell Fly

Grab a pair of dumbbells and assume a sitting position on an incline bench at a 30 degree angle. Lift your arms above you with your palms facing together and a slight bend in your elbows.

Lower the weight in a controlled fashion to each side and stop when the weights are roughly in line with your shoulders. Next, use your chest and shoulders to drive the dumbbells back to the starting position in a consistent pathway. Maintain tightness in your chest and repeat this motion!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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