10 Best Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives To Build Strength

Dumbbell Pullovers are a great exercise for targeting the lats and chest, but they can be tough on the shoulders and aren’t always accessible to those without easy access to dumbbells.

If you’re unable to perform Dumbbell Pullovers or are just looking to add some variety to your workout routine, there are plenty of alternative exercises that can provide similar benefits.

In this article, I’m going to share with you 10 of my favorite alternatives to Dumbbell Pullovers.

Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives

I’ve tried to include as much variety in this list as possible. There are exercises that utilize a wide range of equipment from barbells to machines to even a resistance band.

My goal is that no matter what equipment you have or whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, at least one of these exercises will be just what you’re looking for.

Barbell Pullovers

The closest Dumbbell Pullover alternative is most likely the Barbell Pullover.

It’s the same basic movement pattern, the same range of motion and will hit the same muscles as the Dumbbell Pullover.

The only difference is in the equipment being used and perhaps a slightly wider grip.

How To

  • Lay on a bench with the top of your head all the way to the edge of the bench.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart.
  • Press the barbell to arm’s length straight up over the chest.
  • Now, reach the barbell overhead (allow some bend in the elbow) until your hands are about even with the height of the bench.
  • Finally, pull the barbell back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

*I actually prefer using an EZ curl bar over a straight barbell. The shorter bar is easier to manage and the angles make for a more comfortable position on my wrists. Either bar is fine to use, it’s all up to personal preference.

Barbell Pullovers will give a deep stretch to the chest and triceps on the lift’s eccentric (lowering) phase. Stay slow and controlled and focus on the stretch followed by the strong contraction as you raise the barbell back to the start.

Machine Pullovers

Machine Pullovers can vary slightly depending upon the machine. Most Pullover Machines are designed for you to sit down and the handles rest around the head area.

Pads are designed for the triceps to lay across and are used to press down or ‘pull through’.

If you have access to one of these machines at your gym they can be very effective and can serve as a great way to add some variety to your training.

Most importantly, they’re one of the best Dumbbell Pullover alternatives.

Straight Arm Cable Pulldowns

Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns (1)

If you have a cable machine, Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns make an excellent Dumbbell Pullover alternative.

It may look different because it’s from a standing position, but the movement and the focus on the lats is very similar.

How To

  • Hook a long straight bar attachment to a Lat Pulldown Machine
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip
  • Stand tall, brace the core and place a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Now, keeping the arms straight, pull the bar down to the thighs.
  • Slowly return the bar back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Keep a slight bend in the elbow when doing Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns, do not completely lock out the arm as this puts unnecessary strain on the joint.

Stay vertical. It may be tempting to lean forward in order to move more weight, but then you’re compromising the movement intention. Stay vertical and pull through with the lats.

Straight Arm Band Pulldowns

If you don’t have a cable machine, you can also use a resistance band to do Straight Arm Pulldowns.

How To

  • Loop a resistance band around a high anchor point (a pull-up bar works perfectly)
  • Grab the band with an overhand or neutral grip.
  • Stand tall, brace the core and place a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Now, keeping the arms straight, pull the band down to the thighs.
  • Slowly return the bar back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Keep a slight bend in the elbow, do not completely lock out the arm as this puts unnecessary strain on the joint.

Stay vertical. It may be tempting to lean forward in order to move more weight, but then you’re compromising the movement intention. Stay vertical and pull through with the lats.

Medicine Ball Slams

Med Ball Slams

Medicine Ball Slams is a dynamic variation of the same basic Dumbbell Pullover movement.

If you want to add some power into your workouts, this is a great option.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  • Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
  • Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips.
  • Follow through with the arms and release the ball.
  • Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat.

Coaching Points

First and foremost, test how ‘bouncy’ your medicine ball is before starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen athletes almost have their face smashed by a medicine ball bouncing much harder and rebounding much faster off the ground than they were anticipating.

The biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms. The bulk of the force should be generated by aggressively using the core to hinge forward. If done correctly, it should almost (and actually might) lift your feet up off the floor.

Medicine Ball Overhead Throws

Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

How To

  • Find a partner or solid wall and stand a safe distance away*.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Reach the medicine ball overhead and brace the core.
  • Now, throw the ball as hard as you can – aim for maximum distance.

Coaching Points

*If doing Medicine Ball Overhead Throws with a partner, stand far enough away so that the ball will bounce before it reaches your partner. Catching a medicine ball out of the air can lead to a jammed wrist or finger. If throwing against a wall, allow enough space so the ball bounces once after it hits the wall before you catch it.


Pull-up Alternatives and Variations

It’s hard to list Dumbbell Pullover alternatives, or really any lat movement for that matter, and not include Pull-ups.

Pull-ups are one of the best upper-body movements you can do in the gym, period.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Later in the article, I will talk about variations, alternatives, and modifications where the supinated (palms facing in) grip will be discussed.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the Pull-up. The benefits of doing sound pull-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It provides all the benefits of an upper-body pulling movement with little to no risk.

Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldown

If you’re not able to crank out a ton of Pull-ups yet, the Lat Pulldown is another good Dumbbell Pullover alternative.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Depending on the machine or attachment that you’re using the setup may be a bit different.
  • Regardless of the setup, try to position your torso predominantly upright with a very slight lean back.
  • Grab the bar* just outside shoulder width grip with an overhand grip.
  • Now, pull the bar down to your chest, squeezing the lats hard at the bottom.
  • After a quick pause at the bottom of the rep, slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

*This is assuming you’re using a standard long Lat Pulldown Bar. If you’re using a different attachment, this is going to vary.

Stay in control of the weight. By far the most common mistake I see lifters make with Lat Pulldowns is using way too much weight and rocking and swinging all over the place to try to get the weight to move.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself with heavier weight, but make sure you’re able to maintain proper technique.

Bench Press

Bench Press

Most of us probably think of Dumbbell Pullovers at a lat exercise or maybe a serratus anterior exercise, but Dumbbell Pullovers also hit the chest.

For that reason, I’m obligated by the ‘Mondays are for Bench’ coalition to include Bench Press in this list of Dumbbell Pullover alternatives.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Do not overarch the back or let your butt come off the bench. Most professionals will not accept repetitions if the butt comes off the bench but also you will likely injure yourself with poor form.

Do not let the back of your head come off the bench because you are pulling down on your neck to watch the bar hit your chest. You will get used to the movement and your peripheral vision will allow you to know when the bar makes contact.

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if Bench Press technique is not made a priority.

Cable Crossover

Another chest exercise that is going to give you that stretch that many of us love from Dumbbell Pullovers is the Cable Crossover.

Focus on going high to low to get the lats involved, even dropping down to one knee if necessary.

How To

  • Place single-handle attachments on both sides of a cable crossover machine.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a slight forward lean through the torso.
  • Hold handles with your arms spread and a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Press the cables forward until your hands touch. (crossing the arms in the front will add more emphasis to the upper pectorals)
  • Slowly bring the hands back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

When doing Cable Crossovers make sure both pins on each side of your machine are on the same notch.

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Final Thoughts

The Dumbbell Pullover is a great exercise for building upper body strength, but it may not always be possible. Reasons for this could include a lack of access to the necessary equipment (no dumbbells and/or no bench) or maybe you’re just looking to incorporate variety into your training routine.

Whatever the reason, if you came here looking for an alternative for Dumbbell Pullovers, I hope one of the options I’ve listed here works for you.

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