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Dumbbell pullover: For pecs or lats?

So you’ve always wanted to incorporate the dumbbell pullover into your routine, but you’re unsure whether it is for your pecs or lats? Well, science shows this exercise has potential for building both muscle groups.

Let’s probe deeper into the question, “Is the dumbbell pullover for pecs or lats?” so you can determine how it can help you achieve your long-term fitness goals.

Basics of Dumbbell Pullovers

Bodybuilders were already doing variations of the dumbbell pullover as early as 1911. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s when the exercise gained serious traction. Notable bodybuilders from those decades credit the dumbbell pullover for helping them develop their massive torsos.

As the dumbbell pullover’s name implies, it’s a basic pullover movement involving a dumbbell and a flat bench. You don’t need any fancy equipment to do it. If you have a simple home gym with only these two equipment, you can still easily include this exercise in your program.

Are Dumbbell Pullovers for Pecs or Lats?

Fitness experts conclude the dumbbell pullover works both the pecs and lats. However, you can only reap the full benefits for each muscle group depending on your form. When you position your arms and elbows in a certain way, you will target your pecs. But when you make a few key adjustments, you will place more tension on your lats. Bottom line: it all boils down to your form and execution.

I will now break down the specifics of each dumbbell pullover variation for you:

Ramp Up Your Pecs’ Size and Strength

The Pectoralis major is the large muscle in your upper chest. When fully developed, your pecs are among the first things people notice: they’re one of the most prominent muscles in your torso. However, these muscles aren’t merely for showing off as they also assist in your arm flexion, adduction, rotation, and extension.

When you do dumbbell pullovers to target your pecs, try to straighten your arms as much as possible without locking out your elbows. The farther the dumbbell is from your body, the more effective the exercise will be for your pectoral development.

These are the steps for doing the dumbbell pullover that will build your pecs’ size and strength:

  1. Hold the inside portion of one end of a dumbbell with both hands. Lie down on a flat bench. Hold the dumbbell straight up above your chest area. Slide up so your head is hanging off the edge. This will let you form a slight arch in your back while executing the movement. Place your feet firmly on the ground. This is your starting position.
  2. Exhale as you lower the dumbbell behind your head. Make sure you straighten your arms without locking out your elbows. Feel the tension on your pecs as you execute the movement. You will reach full extension once the dumbbell is hanging a few inches off the floor. Hold this position for a second or two.
  3. Inhale as you slowly return the dumbbell to the starting position. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions.

Achieve Lat Hypertrophy and Strength

The other target muscle group of the dumbbell pullover is the Latissimus dorsi or “lats” in bodybuilding lingo. This is the largest muscle of the upper body. It is a prominent triangular-shaped muscle found at your back which gives your body that impressive “V-taper” which many individuals desire. The Latissimus dorsi helps in arm adduction, which is crucial for exercises such as pull-ups and chin-ups, They also assist in arm extension and rotation.

A second variation of dumbbell pullovers can help you get that V-tapered body. The key in targeting your lats is in arm positioning. When you flare your elbows out and keep the dumbbell as close to your body as possible, you will fire up your lats.

I will now enumerate the steps in doing dumbbell pullovers for lat hypertrophy and strength:

  1. Hold the inside portion of one end of a dumbbell with both hands. Lie down on a flat bench and hold the dumbbell above your chest. Slide up the bench and let your head dangle off one end. Instead of straightening your elbows, you will flare them out until you feel the tension in your lats. Place your feet firmly on the floor. This is your starting position.
  2. On an exhale, lower the dumbbell behind your head until it is hanging a few inches off the floor. Try to move the dumbbell as close to your body as possible while you flare out your elbows. Feel the tension in your lats. Once you reach full extension, hold the position for a second or two.
  3. Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position. Repeat until you reach your desired number of repetitions.

Benefits of Dumbbell Pullovers

The dumbbell pullover has other benefits aside from growing and strengthening your pecs and lats. I will enumerate them for you in this section.

  • It also develops your triceps and serratus muscles: While the dumbbell pullover can help you build impressive chest and back muscles, it also works your triceps and serratus muscles, albeit to a lesser degree. The triceps are the muscles on the back of your upper arms while the serratus muscle spans your upper eight ribs.
  • It improves your shoulder mobility: The dumbbell pullover doesn’t directly target your shoulder muscles, but since it hits your lats and triceps—two muscle groups which assist in shoulder mobility—your shoulders ultimately benefit. That’s a great payoff for hard-training athletes with shoulder issues. Some fitness experts argue the dumbbell pullover can overload your shoulders. Hence, the obvious solution if you want to improve your shoulder mobility with dumbbell pullovers is to use light to moderate resistance. Better yet, hire a certified personal trainer who can guide you through the exercise.
  • It boosts your core strength: It turns out the dumbbell pullover can also help strengthen your core. You can do this by bracing your core muscles while you’re lowering the dumbbell behind your head.

Safety Tips

Whether you’re doing the dumbbell pullover to develop your pecs or lats, this exercise will turn out better for you if you follow these safety tips:

  • Start with a light weight: Work with a light resistance if you are still trying to get the hang of the movement. Lifting heavy right off the bat can overwhelm you or worse, cause injuries. Once you’ve gotten the form down pat, you may increase your resistance, but you need to do so gradually.
  • Keep your hips and head down: Make sure your head is hanging off the far end of the bench and your hips remain firmly planted on it. These will prevent a possible swinging action of the dumbbell. Placing your hips on the bench also helps you feel the tension on your lats and places less stress on your lower back.
  • Use a slow tempo: Refrain from doing the dumbbell pullover too fast. A slower tempo, especially when you lower the dumbbell behind your head, allows you to feel a greater stretch either in your pecs or lats.
  • Refrain from flaring your elbows too far out: If you flare your elbows too far out, you may lose control of the dumbbell and possibly injure yourself. Once you feel the tension in your lats, refrain from flaring your elbows out further.

The Final Word

The dumbbell pullover is an exercise which can help you develop both your pecs and lats, and a couple more. Which muscle group you target will depend on the positioning of your elbows and the distance of the dumbbell from your body. As long as you do the movement with proper form, you can get massive gains from this exercise, whether it's your pecs or lats that you want to build up.

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