Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives for Lats
Dumbbell pullovers are an old-school exercise used by golden-era bodybuilders to add width to their lats and definition to their pecs.
But as you progress and get stronger, you might not have access to a big enough dumbbell. Or you may want to switch things up and hit your muscles from different angles.
Either way, you’ll find the most complete list of dumbbell pullover alternative exercises on this page.
Table of Contents
What Is a Dumbbell Pullover?
Dumbbell Pullover Muscles Worked
14 Best Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives
1-6 Free Weights
What Is a Dumbbell Pullover?
The dumbbell pullover is a resistance training exercise that involves pulling a single dumbbell over your body while lying on a bench. Generally, you hold the inside of one end of the dumbbell, but you could also wrap both hands around the dumbbell handle.
Also, you can lie lengthwise on the bench or with your body across the bench. Usually, I recommend lying across the bench so you can drop your hips and get more stretch and range of motion.
In theory, the dumbbell pullover is an isolation exercise because only your shoulder joint should move. However, this exercise actually works multiple muscle groups depending on your arm position and range of motion.
Dumbbell Pullover Muscles Worked
The primary muscles worked during a dumbbell pullover are theupperlatissimus dorsi or lats. These are the largest muscles of the back inserted in your sides and up near your armpits.
But dumbbell pullovers can also work your chest, triceps, and serratus muscles. If you’re unfamiliar, the serratus is the finger-like muscle attached to the rib cage below your chest.
Learn More: Dumbbell Pullover for Lats vs. Chest
However, the dumbbell pullover is not a direct chest exercise nor the best exercise for building your pectorals. So this article shows you several dumbbell pullover alternatives for building your lats.
14 Dumbbell Pullover Alternative Exercises for Lats
Now you know what a dumbbell pullover is and how it works your muscles. So it’s time to jump into some of the best alternative exercises.
I’ve sorted the list by equipment, so you can easily find a dumbbell pullover alternative that works with your gym setup. There are sections for free weights, machines, and other equipment.
Free Weight Dumbbell Pullover Alternative
This section includes exercise variations using dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or weight plates.
1. Dual Dumbbell Pullover
One of the main reasons you might need a dumbbell pullover alternative is that you don’t have a heavy dumbbell. But you can get around that problem by using two smaller dumbbells.
For this pullover variation, start by holding a dumbbell in each hand and grip it by the handle instead of the inside of the weight plate. Then lie back on the bench and extend both arms straight over your chest.
Lower the dumbbells simultaneously over your head from this starting position while keeping your arms relatively straight. Now pull the dumbbells back over by squeezing your lats and keeping your elbows locked.
2. Dumbbell Pullover on Exercise Ball
Another way to bypass a heavy dumbbell is by performing the pullover on an exercise ball. This makes the exercise more challenging by forcing you to stabilize your body throughout the movement.
You should notice more activation in the stabilizer muscles of your shoulder blades and back. Plus, your core will get more of a workout as well.
3. Single Arm Dumbbell Pullover
The single-arm variation is the third way you can perform dumbbell pullovers with relatively light weights.
Again, start by grabbing the dumbbell handle and lying back with your arm extended in front of you. Keep your other arm at your side or across the front of your body.
Now lower the dumbbell overhead while keeping your arm relatively starting. Finally, pull the dumbbell back to the starting position when you feel a stretch in your lat.
Performing this variation on an exercise ball, as shown below, will up the level of difficulty even more.
4. Kettlebell Pullover
You can also perform the pullover exercise with a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell. In some ways, the kettlebell is better for this exercise because the handle is easier to grip.
For this variation, hold the kettlebell with one hand on each of the angle shafts of the handle. Your thumbs and index fingers should be facing the weight.
Next, lie on your back with the kettlebell on your chest and hoist it to arm’s length. Now perform the pullover movement as you would with a dumbbell.
I should also point out that you don’t even need a bench to perform these exercises. You could do them while lying on the floor, as shown below. But not having your body elevated will reduce the range of motion.
5. Barbell Pullover
The barbell pullover is arguably more versatile than the single dumbbell pullover because you can change your grip width.
For this variation, start by grabbing a straight bar or EZ bar with an overhand grip. Then lie on a bench and press the bar to arm’s length.
Next, lower the bar over your head without bending your elbows. Once your reach full overhead extension, pull the bar back over your body to the starting position.
I recommend using a narrower grip, as shown below, when performing the barbell pullover for lats. Because the wider you go, the more likely you are to feel it in your chest and serratus muscles.
6. Plate Pullover
The plate pullover is another great dumbbell pullover alternative that you can do with most basic gym setups. All you need is a standard weigh plate.
Start by holding a weight plate on either side with your palms facing in. If the weight plate were a clock, your hands should be at 3 and 9.
Next, lie on the bench or stability ball and extend the plate in front of your chest. Then lower the plate overhead without changing the angle of your elbows.
One advantage to the plate pullover is that it develops grip strength while working your lats. However, you are limited to 45 lbs of weight unless you combine plates.
Again, you can get around limited weights using an exercise ball to make the pullover more challenging.
Machine Dumbbell Pullover Alternative
Next, let’s look at some dumbbell pullover alternatives you can do with machines and cables instead of free weights.
7. Machine Pullover
Some gyms have a pullover machine that consists of a seat, backrest, and rotating arm bar. This is my favorite way to do pullovers because it helps isolate the lats.
I should also mention that this equipment looks very similar to some ab crunch machines. However, the critical difference is that only your arms move on the pullover machine, not your whole torso.
First, make sure the seat is adjusted to the proper height. You want your shoulder joint to be aligned with the pivot point to provide the most natural movement path.
Next, sit in the seat and place the back of your upper arms on the pads with your arms extended overhead. Now pull your arms down in front of your body as far as you can before controlling the weight on the way back up.
8. Cable Pullover
The cable pullover is another popular alternative to the dumbbell pullover. And you might hear people refer to it as a straight arm lat pulldown.
One benefit of this variation is that it provides more constant tension throughout the range of motion. And you can play around with the angle of your torso to apply more tension in different parts of the range of motion.
First, grab a straight bar or EZ bar cable attachment with an overhand grip. Now step back and lean forward until your arms are extended straight overhead, and you feel the tension in your lats.
Pull the cable down towards your thighs from this starting position while keeping your arms straight. Then control the weight as you return to the top.
9. Rope Pullover
Another option for the cable pullover is using the rope attachment. This handle places your hands closer together with your palms facing in.
The most significant advantage of this handle is that you can pull your hands past your thighs at the bottom. And this greater range of motion helps you feel a deeper contraction in your lats.
In addition, you can perform this excise while lying on a bench, as shown below. This body position replicates the laying dumbbell pullover, but it still keeps more constant tension on the lats.
10. Cable Pullback
The cable pullback is similar to a straight-arm lat pullover, except that you’re working in a different range of motion. Specifically, this works your arm behind your torso.
Before you begin, set the pulley at about hip level and attach a single handle. Then hold the handle with an underhand grip and step back so there is tension on the cable when your hand is by your hip.
Now pull your hand back behind your hip while keeping your arm relatively straight. This variation works the lats and muscles of your upper back, such as the rhomboids, teres major, teres minor, and infraspinatus.
11. Rope Pull Machine
This final machine pullover variation is one you might not expect or even have access to. But if you do, it can be a fun alternative to the dumbbell pullover.
The rope pull machine is basically a single loop of rope threaded around a large pulley. And with this apparatus, you can replicate a rope climb or rope pull, which works your back and arms.
In addition, you can replicate the pullover exercise by leaning forward and pulling the rope while keeping your arms relatively straight.
Other Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives
Lastly, we’ll look at some dumbbell pullover alternatives using less conventional equipment and/or body positions.
12. Incline/Decline Pullover
Even if you have access to dumbbells, you might want a pullover variation that hits your lats differently than the standard exercise.
One way to change the range of motion is by performing the dumbbell pullover on an incline or decline bench instead of a flat bench. The reason is that the angle changes the direction of the gravitational force relative to your body.
Specifically, by angling your torso up on the incline bench works your lats more in the stretched part of the range of motion. In contrast, a decline angle works your lats in the contracted range of motion.
The image below shows a decline barbell pullover.
13. Resistance Band Pullover
The resistance band pullover is another option for those working out at home with limited equipment. One banded pullover involves anchoring the resistance band overhead or at the top of a door.
Then, grab a handle in each hand and lean forward with your arms extended overhead. Now pull your hands down towards the sides of your thighs while keeping your arms straight.
You’ll notice that the tension increases the further you pull down, which is great for working your lats in the contracted part of the range of motion. But the downside is that you have limited resistance with the bands.
You can also use a resistance band with a dumbbell for added resistance. For this variation, anchor one end of the band to a sturdy object near the floor. Then wrap the other end around the dumbbell, as shown below.
14. Ab Wheel Lat Rollout
The final dumbbell pullover alternative uses a simple piece of equipment called an ab wheel or ab roller. This device is a small wheel with handles on either side, generally used for abdominal workouts.
With the ab rollout exercise, you start on your knees with your hands on the wheel directly below your shoulders. From here, roll the wheel forward as far as you can while keeping your arms straight.
Then pull the wheel back towards your knees by pulling with your abs and lats. You can also perform this exercise while standing and leaning against a wall if the kneeling version is too difficult.
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More Back Exercises
Now you have a baker’s dozen dumbbell pullover alternatives for building your lats with whatever equipment you have available.
But a complete back workout should also include some pulldown and rowing exercises. So make sure you check out some of these other back exercises and workouts!
More Dumbbell Lat Exercises
19 Unique Cable Back Exercises
High Row Machine Alternatives for Any Gym
15 Top T-Bar Row Alternatives
Best Exercises for Lower Lats
Lower Lat Exercises
With this information, you’re well on your way to building muscle mass in your back and lats. And if you found this article helpful, take a look at some of my other great content below!
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- Cable Lying Chest Fly.
- Lat Pulldown.
- Close Grip Band Row.
- Band Chest Press.
- Assisted Dip.
- Dumbbell Pullover.
- Cable Chest Press.
- Cable Row With Lat Bar.
The lat pullover tends to make the lats spread out whereas lat exercises like pulldowns will make them more powerful. Pulldowns build strength and pullovers build muscle. Both should be in your back day routine.Are dumbbell pullovers good for lats? ›
Canon tells us that dumbbell pullovers strengthen and target your lats first and foremost, which is the largest muscle in your upper back. These pullovers also use and strengthen your pecs, serratus anterior, triceps, and core.How do you get wider lats wider? ›
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns.
- Straight Arm Pulldown.
- Single Arm Landmine Row.
- Incline Dumbbell Row.
- Bent Over Rows.
- Machine Row.
- Dumbbell Pullovers.
- Barbell Deadlifts.
- 6 Ways To Build Bigger, Wider Lats. 6 Back Strength Exercise For A Bigger Back. ...
- Neutral Grip Pull-Ups With ...
- Reclining Rows. We love pull-ups. ...
- W-Handle Lat Pull-Downs With ...
- Meadow Rows. ...
- Unilateral Lat Pull-Downs With ...
- Dumbbell Incline Lat Swings.
- Lat pull-down machine.
- Resistance band lat pull-downs.
- Straight-arm pull-downs.
- Hex bar deadlifts.
- Barbell deadlifts.
- Dumbbell rows.
- Landmine rows.
- TRX suspended rows.
- Deadlift. The deadlift is hands down the best all-around back exercise you can do because it trains every muscle in your posterior chain (the muscles on the back side of your body), including the lats. ...
- Pull-up. ...
- Chin-up. ...
- Barbell Row. ...
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row. ...
- Seated Cable Row. ...
- Lat Pulldown.
- Dumbbell Deadlift – 3 sets, 15-20 reps.
- Single Arm Dumbbell Row – 5 sets, 8-12 reps.
- Pull Ups – 5 sets, as many reps as possible.
- Dumbbell Incline Row – 5 sets 8-12 reps.
- Dumbbell Pullover – 5 sets, 8-12 reps.
- Reverse Flies – 3 sets, 10-15 reps.
Unless you have bands, you cannot recreate a lat pulldown set up at home. However, pull ups, eccentric pull ups, or inverted rows, all target the same muscle groups and similar movement patterns making them a great alternative to the lat pulldown.How can I activate my lats without equipment? ›
- Pull-Ups. If you have a pull-up bar at home, then do pull-ups to strengthen your lats! ...
- Resistance Band Lat Pull-Downs. ...
- Wide-Arm Push-Ups. ...
- Dumbbell Pullover. ...
- Renegade Rows. ...
- Supermans. ...
- Resistance Band Bent-Over Rows. ...
- Kettlebell Deadlifts.
Close Grip Pulldown
The close grip pulldown is one that you should choose if you want to focus more on isolating the lats. The closer grip will keep the arms more vertical which puts them in the best position when it comes to pulling with the lats only.
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.Do lats make your back wider? ›
If you're seeking to build a wider back, then the primary muscle that you're going to want to develop are the lats, as growing this muscle will help effectively add the width to your back that you're after.Is lat pullover good for lats? ›
It's one of the best ways to directly strengthen the lats, the large muscles that run down the sides of your back under your armpits. Typically, these muscles are strengthened with Pull-Ups, Pull-Downs and Rows. However, the Pullover is about as close to an isolation exercise for the lats as you can get.Do pullovers expand the rib cage? ›
Yes. They may help increase the density of your ribs too (as weight training in general will do), which might marginally increase the appearance in size of your ribcage.Should I go heavy on pullovers? ›
Dumbbell pullovers are not an exercise that you should aim to do with heavy weights which limit you to only a few reps. Choose a weight that is challenging and which allows you to perform 10 to 30 repetitions. You should feel less than 5 reps until complete failure or less before you end the set for best results.Is dumbbell pullover worth doing? ›
Dumbbell pullovers are a great exercise for the upper body with variations to target the chest, predominantly, and also the back muscles. The muscular focus of the exercise is somewhat dependent on the orientation of the upper arm bone within the shoulder joint, and which direction the elbows are pointed.How heavy should pullovers be? ›
The average Dumbbell Pullover weight for a male lifter is 77 lb (1RM). This makes you Intermediate on Strength Level and is a very impressive lift. What is a good Dumbbell Pullover? Male beginners should aim to lift 27 lb (1RM) which is still impressive compared to the general population.Are wide lats genetic? ›
Do Genetics Play A Role In Lat Development? Genetics play a huge role in the development of every muscle. For lats, this role is no less. For example, some bodybuilders just won't develop sweeping lats like others and might have an extremely hard time building the back.What happens if you only train lats? ›
"If you only train one body part, and avoid all other muscle groups, muscle imbalance will occur and the chances of getting a muscle, tendon or other injury increases," Riskalla Riskalla, master personal trainer and owner of Rawfit, tells Coach. "It is always important to exercise all muscles in the body."
Dumbbell pullovers can build upper body strength in your shoulders and back. The dumbbell pullover works muscle groups throughout your upper body, including your latissimus dorsi, your pectoralis major, the triceps on the back of your upper arms, and the serratus muscle on the side of your rib cage.