Dumbbell pullover with bent elbows
The dumbbell pullover is an awesome old school exercise that will save you time by working multiple major muscles. The dumbell pullover primarily targets your lats (latissimus dorsi), and pecs (pectoralis major and minor). Quite a high demand is also placed on on your scapular and shoulder stabilizers (rotator cuff, lower traps and mid traps etc.) to keep your shoulder blade (scapula) and shoulder joint (gleno-humeral joint) stable during this exercise. Additionally your abs and spine extensors will co-contract to maintain your trunk in a fairly static position. However, its also likely that muscles around your rib cage as will get a bit of a workout too when performing dumbell pullovers.
While dumbell pullovers can be an excellent addition to an upper body resistance training program, they can come with some risk of injury when they are not performed with sound ergonomic technique. Here are three video demonstrations below with a brief commentary to help you achieve a great dumbbell pullover... without injuring yourself.
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Example of dumbell pullover with slightly bent arms
This is a good example of a dumbbell pullover with slightly bent arms. This is the way that I do this exercise. I use a dumbbell rather than other types of hand weights, but this is just my preference. I have seen people do this same exercise holding kettle bells, sandbags, machine parts... you name it people have tried it. However, you will find it is the number of repetitions, sets, amount of weight resistance (not so much the shape of it) and your technique that will impact the results you have, You will find that bending the arms slightly (at the elbow) when doing this exercise will reduce the strain on the elbow joint itself which may reduce the risk of injuring the elbow.
There are a few other key points to consider when doing a dumbell pullover:
- Gently tighten your abs and back muscles before you start and keep them tightened throughout the movement in order to avoid arching your back
- Ensure you have a firm, but comfortable grip on the dumbbell... your teeth are not well designed for catching the dumbbell if it slips.
- As you lower the dumbbell behind your head you should feel a stretch through your pecs and / or lats. If you are not able to safely and slowly lower it far enough to feel that stretch then try a lighter weight.
- If you experience shoulder pain or if your shoulder feels unstable, then you stop this exercise immediately and seek advice from a suitably qualified professional.
Dumbell Pullover - Slightly bent arms
Dumbbell pullover with bent arms
Some people prefer to do the dumbbell pullover with bent elbows. I can understand this point of view. There is certainly less strain through your elbows with this exercise when they are bent. However, I find that if the elbows are bent more than a little, people often end up turning this into a triceps exercise. As the target lats and pec major get tired, it becomes easier to start bending and straightening at the elbow rather than completing the full 'pull over' motion. This is not ideal. Instead, if you complete your dumbbell pullover with bent arms be sure to keep them at a fairly static angle throughout the movement to ensure that the correct muscle are being used.
Dumbbell Pullover - with bent arms
Dumbbell pullover with fairly straight arms
Some people prefer to do this exercise with their elbows quite straight. The example in the video below does not have completely straight arms (and I suspect that if he was using a heavy weight he would automatically put a slightly larger bend in his elbows). However, I have seen others complete this exercise with their elbows completely straight. I don't recommend this.
Dumbell pullover with straight arms
Repetitions and sets
As with most weight exercises, the number of repetitions you complete will directly affect the results you will achieve. General weight training principles apply to this exercise as per other resistance exercises. In order to achieve hypertrophy (bigger muscles) 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions are suitable. If you are after more of a lean toned look, then 10-15 repetitions of a slightly lighter weight may be more suitable for your goals. Remember the purpose of the exercise is to challenge the muscles, but ensure you can complete the dumbbell pullover in a slow controlled movement with a good technique right up to the last repetition.
Want to know more? Here are some useful links:
- Isotonic exercise example
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