Dumbbell Pullover: Chest or Back Exercise?

Scott Herman
Written By: Scott Herman
January 18th, 2018
Updated: March 30th, 2021
Categories: Articles Training
Tags: Video
BSN Athlete Scott Herman breaks down the differences in the technique used when performing the dumbbell pullover to better isolate the back and the pecs.

Team BSN athlete and YouTube star, Scott Herman, recently visited the M&S Headquarters to share some of his training knowledge with us and our loyal M&S fans.

One of the topics he discussed was the dumbbell pullover.

A lot of folks don’t know whether the dumbbell pullover targets the back or the chest.

In this video, Scott breaks down the dumbbell pullover exercise, and how slight changes in its technique can change the point of emphasis of the exercise to either target the pecs or the lats.

Breaking Down the Dumbbell Pullover

First thing’s first, to perform this exercise you’re going to need a dumbbell and a bench. Go a little lighter on your weight selection until you’ve properly achieved a mind-muscle connection with the muscle group you’re targeting with each of these dumbbell pullover techniques.

Get into position by lying down on a bench. Hold the dumbbell over your chest with your hands interlocked in a diamond shape. Once in position, slide up the bench slightly so your head is hanging off the edge.

This position will be exactly the same for each exercise.

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Dumbbell Pullover to Target the Chest

The main difference in the starting position that enables you to target one body part over the other is the bend in the elbows. To target the chest, you’ll want to keep your elbows in and your arms as straight as possible during the movement.

Lower the weight down as far as you can. Then, reverse the movement by bringing the weight back up the same exact way and flex your chest at the top of the exercise. Repeat this for the desired number of repetitions.

Dumbbell Pullover to Target the Back

When trying to target the lats, you’ll want to flare your elbows slightly. And instead of keeping your arms straight, you’ll want to keep the weight as close to the body as possible, causing the elbows to flare out even more as you go through the movement.

Squeeze through the lasts as you pull the dumbbell through the range of motion and stop just short of engaging your chest.

Wrap Up

It might take you a few tries before you establish that mind-muscle connection.

In the meantime, be sure to stick to a lighter weight, practice both variations, and feel the muscles work.

Before you know it, you’ll be able to utilize this exercise to target both body parts.

Posted on: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 23:55

I see some exercise databases have these pullovers done with barbells or ez-bars. How does that change the dynamic of the exercise compared to the barbell? My goal is to target the lats. I have been using an ez-bar and a bench with a small incline just to get a little extra stretch. How would I focus on lats this way regarding grip width and elbow flare?

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Posted on: Mon, 01/22/2018 - 08:41

Hi Brian,

Certain implements such as the EZ bar and barbell will make your elbows flare more so than a dumbbell simply because of the grip you must take to hold it (pronated vs neutral grips). I'd argue that they'd already hit the lats more effectively than other variations because of this.

Hope this helps!

Posted on: Tue, 01/23/2018 - 08:50

Thanks for the input. I appreciate it.