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The dumbbell pullover exercise is a compound movement that has, in the past, been touted as the ‘squat for the upper body’ and it’s certainly a great way of activating your upper back, triceps and chest muscles all in one hit.
However, they may not be suitable for everyone.
Let’s say you have limited shoulder mobility or suffer from lower back pain, you may want to consider a good alternative to dumbbell pullovers that will work the same primary muscle groups.
Recommended Reading – 9 Best Lat Exercises At Home With Dumbbells For A Wide Back
In this article we’ll go over some of the best alternative to dumbbell pullover variations that you can add into your chest or back workout routine.
As mobility and strength to your shoulder joints improves and you become stronger, you can then start to add in some dumbbell pullovers.
Alternative To Dumbbell Pullover – 7 Options
Let’s dive in to exercises you can do instead of the dumbbell pullover.
1. Incline Cable Pullover
This exercise mimics the movement of a dumbbell pullover but instead of lying back on a flat bench, you’re going to be in an incline position.
Whilst this can reduce the range of motion a little, the fixed plane of motion does put less stress on your shoulders making it a great pullover variation.
It makes for a great alternative as it fully engages your latissimus dorsi (the lats), upper chest and triceps.
You’ll need access to a cable machine and incline bench to do it.
How To Do the Incline Cable Pullover:
- Set your weight bench in front of the cable machine so when seated you face away from it.
- Position the pulley to the top and use something like a rope or straight bar attachment.
- With the back rest set to around 45 degrees, take a seat and grab the attachment with both hands using an overhand grip.
- Your arms should be up overhead in a stretched position. Keep a slight bend to your elbows. This is your starting position.
- Drive your hands down towards your hips whilst contracting your upper back muscles.
- Stretch back up before driving back down.
2. Barbell Bent-Over Row
This is another great exercise with the primary muscles being your lats, rhomboids and traps and secondary muscles being your biceps, core muscles and rear delts.
Be aware that when compared to the dumbbell pullover, the range of motion may decrease.
You could raise the barbell up from the ground slightly by placing two weight plates under each end.
This will make it easier for you to take hold of the bar whilst keeping your back straight.
How To Do The Barbell Bent-Over Row:
- Stand with your feet at a hip-width distance,
- Push your hips back and lean your torso forwards until it’s just above parallel to the ground
- Make sure to keep your back straight with your chin tucked and head neutral.
- Bend your knees and take hold of the barbell with a pronated grip (overhand).
- Brace your core muscles and row the barbell up towards your lower chest bringing your elbows behind your body.
- Hold the top position for a couple of seconds and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Maintain control in your arms and lower the bar back to the start and repeat.
Pull ups are a bodyweight exercise and perfect for building muscle mass to your upper back, lats and biceps.
How you grip the pull-up bar will influence the muscles worked.
To engage more of your lats and biceps, you’ll want to keep your hands in a supinated grip and around shoulder-width apart.
How To Do Pull Ups
- Start in a hanging position with your palms facing you and hands shoulder width apart.
- Cross your feet at your ankles to help with balance.
- Keep a slight bend to your knees with your arms extended fully.
- From here, flex your elbows to pull your bodyweight up.
- Make sure your legs remain directly beneath your hips.
- For a full rep aim to get your chin to the same height as the pull-up bar.
- Slowly extend your arms to lower your body back down.
4. Wide-Grip Vertical Pulldown
Any exercise that involves vertical pulling can help to support your posture and overall mobility.
By adopting a wide overhand grip you’ll place more emphasis on the muscles of your upper back and lat muscles as well as working the biceps and anterior deltoids.
How To Do Wide Grip Vertical Pulldowns:
- Get into position on the lat pulldown machine and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Ensure your thighs are locked under the pads to lock you into place and help you keep proper form.
- Take hold of the bar so your hands are beyond a shoulder width distance.
- Lean your torso back slightly to extend your upper back.
- Engage your abs and pull the bar down towards your upper chest (your sternum).
- Contract the muscles of your mid and upper back.
- Return the bar back to the start keeping tension to your back and biceps throughout.
5. Straight Arm Pulldown
Whilst the cable pulldown is usually associated with working the triceps, you can shift the weight load and tension onto your lats by locking out your elbow joints and maintaining straight arms.
How To Do The Straight Arm Pulldown:
- Start by setting the pulley on a cable machine to its highest setting with a straight bar or similar.
- Take hold of the bar with both hands using an overhand grip.
- Take a few steps back to allow for a full range of motion.
- Bend your torso forwards around 30 degrees at your waist.
- From this initial position, your arms should be fully extended in front of you with a slight bend to your elbows.
- If you’re not able to extend your arms, then take another step backwards.
- Contract your lats and pull the bar down and towards the top of your legs.
- Hold briefly before raising your arms back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your arms straight throughout.
6. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
This exercise is similar to the barbell bent over row but can be performed unilaterally meaning you can work each side individually.
This is ideal if you want to address strength or muscle imbalances.
As a rowing movement, it’s a good way to target you lats and biceps.
You’ll need to use a flat bench and dumbbell to perform the exercise.
How To Do The Bent-Over Dumbbell Row:
- Start by placing your left knee on a bench whilst keeping your right leg straight, with the knee directly under the hip.
- Lean forward until your back is flat and support yourself with your left hand, always keeping the arm straight.
- Take hold of a dumbbell with your right hand and allow it to hang down towards the floor.
- Retract your shoulder blades and row the dumbbell up whilst keeping your elbow into your side.
- Hold for 1 or 2 seconds and the use control to lower the dumbbell back down to the start.
- Repeat for an equal number of reps on either side.
7. TRX Row
The TRX row is a bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the muscles of your upper back, including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius, as well as the biceps.
It’s performed using TRX suspension straps, which add an element of instability to help engage the stabilizing muscles of the core.
How To Do The TRX Row:
- Start by fixing your suspension trainer to a high position such as the top of a power rack or squat cage. Ideally the height of the handles should be just above your knees.
- Take hold of the handles using an overhand grip so that your palms face each other.
- Walk your feet forward so that you lean back at a slight angle while maintaining a straight body position from head to heels. The more parallel your body is to the ground, the harder the row will be.
- Keep your arms fully extended then initiate the movement by retracting your shoulder blades and pulling your chest toward the handles of the TRX straps.
- Be sure to keep your body in a straight line from head to heels throughout the movement.
- Continue pulling until your chest is in line with your hands, and your elbows are bent at approximately 90 degrees.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement to fully engage your back muscles then slowly your body back to the start.
Are Dumbbell Pullovers Necessary?
As we’ve demonstrated above, there are many exercises that can be performed in place of the dumbbell pullover which can effectively target the same muscles (although not always together) meaning that incorporating dumbbell pullovers into your workout isn’t a necessity.
If you choose not to perform pullovers because of shoulder mobility or back issues, it’s a good idea to address these problems and look to perform dumbbell pullovers when you’re ready as it’s a highly effective back and chest exercise.
These above alternatives provide an opportunity to engage the chest, back, and triceps muscles from different angles, promoting muscle growth, strength, and overall fitness.
By selecting the right exercises based on your preferences, fitness goals, and the equipment you have available ensures a well-rounded and efficient strength-based workout.
Experiment with these alternatives and tailor your workout routine to optimize results and keep your training engaging and dynamic.