The decline dumbbell pullover is a fantastic exercise that actively engages the lats, chest, triceps, shoulders and core, and provides larger range of motion than a traditional dumbbell pullover.
It both strengthens and stretches the muscles, and can be incorporated into all sorts of exercise regimes to suit all fitness levels.
In this article, we delve into everything you need to know about the decline dumbbell pullover, including how to perform the exercise safely, the muscles worked, benefits, and variations.
How to Perform Decline Dumbbell Pullovers Safely
- Set a bench to a decline position.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lay flat on the bench, with your feet securely fixed in place. Make sure your head is supported by the bench so it is not hanging over the edge.
- Push the dumbbells up vertically in the air (similar to if you were doing a decline chest press). Hinging at the shoulders, lower the dumbbells towards the ground, keeping your arms straight.
- With your arms parallel with the your body, squeeze your lats and chest to bring the dumbbells back to an upright position.
- This movement is all about hinging at the shoulders and you want to avoid bending the elbows to move the weight.
- Repeat the movement for repetitions before placing the dumbbells back on the floor.
There are two fundamental ways you can perform the decline dumbbell pullover, one of which involves holding a dumbbell in each hand and the other involves holding a single dumbbell with both hands. Both variations will largely target the muscles in the same way but holding a dumbbell in each hand will give you more ability to tailor the exercise to your lats, as well as requiring more stability and balance during the movement too.
We would tend to opt for holding a dumbbell in each hand as this avoids one side of your body overcompensating for the other. It also creates more imbalance so your shoulder and lats have to work harder to create the stability to keep each dumbbell secure for the duration of the exercise.
To perform the exercise safely, it wants to be a very controlled movement, especially as you lower the dumbbells. You can also change up the speed to leverage eccentric training, as well as concentric training. Our guide on the best dumbbell exercises for the lats provides some ideas for exercises that would pair nicely with pullovers if you’re doing a dumbbell workout.
The primary muscle groups the decline dumbbell pullover works are the lats and the chest (specifically the lower chest). The lats are the large muscles on the side of your back that help to create a “V” shape, and the chest is located above the abs, in between your shoulders.
Both these muscle groups are large and subsequently worth focusing on in relation to any sort of strength training programme. The decline dumbbell pullover will also work the back of the shoulders, triceps and upper back, as well as the core.
Benefits of doing Decline Dumbbell Pullovers
Build Strength in Lats and Chest
The decline dumbbell pullover is primarily a strength training exercise designed to target the lats and chest. If you’re looking at upper body exercises, dumbbell pullovers are a popular choice and the decline variation enhances the movement.
The decline dumbbell pullover will also engage the lower chest more than on a flat bench, so if this is one of your objectives, then it’s worth factoring that in.
Stretch out the lats and chest
As well as building muscle in the chest and back, the pullover also helps to stretch out these muscle groups which aids mobility and flexibility during your workouts.
The movement is all about hinging at the shoulders, so it’s a great exercise to also help improve shoulder mobility. If you find you’re struggling with the movement, it may indicate that you have stiff shoulders and lack the range of motion needed to do the movement in full.
Identifying this potential limited range of motion in your shoulders is very useful, as it means you can work on shoulder mobility to help improve overall fitness (and performance in other strength exercises).
Pullovers primarily work the chest, lats, shoulders and triceps, but the movement will also require solid core stability. As you bring the dumbbell back upwards, your core will need to be activated to create the balance required to keep your body stable.
Decline Dumbbell Pullover Vs Flat Dumbbell Pullover
The main difference between doing a dumbbell pullover on a decline or on a flat bench is that you are increasing the range of motion when you opt for a decline. This simply means the muscles are engaged for longer, as they are moving the dumbbells further.
A decline dumbbell pullover will also activate the lower chest more than doing flat dumbbell pullovers.
If you are a beginner, it’s worth doing dumbbell pullovers on a flat bench first, so you can get familiar with the movement before doing them on a decline bench.
On a flat bench, you’ll get a range of motion of around 90 degrees, whereas on the decline, you could get an extra 20 degree during the movement. This means the muscles have been engaged for longer during each repetition which also provides benefits associated with muscular endurance, as well as strength.
Decline Dumbbell Pullover Variations
As well as changing the degree of decline, another way you can very up the exercise is based on the equipment used.
Barbell Decline Pullover
By swapping dumbbells for a barbell, you may find that you can hold a heavier weight. A barbell will be easier to balance so your muscles can focus on the strength needed to move the weight, as opposed to moving the weight and balancing each dumbbell individually.
If you use a dumbbell, you can also experiment with different grips such as holding the dumbbell in a match wider position, which will put more emphasis on the lats.
Banded Decline Pullover
Popular in mobility drills and some physiotherapy exercises, the banded decline pullover will change how resistance is applied to the muscles. As opposed to using a dumbbell, where the most force is needed to lift the dumbbell back to an upright position, if using a band that is attached from behind your head, the most resistance will be when you’re holding the band in an upright position above your chest.
This is similar to banded lat pulldowns but from a different angle.
Decline Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives
The dumbbell pullover will largely work all the same muscles as the decline variation. As discussed previously, the main difference is the range of motion being larger during the decline dumbbell pullover.
As a result, we would tend to say the decline version offers more benefits… however, the body position may feel less comfortable for some (including the blood rushing to your head).
It’s perhaps worth trying the flat pullover first and once you feel comfortable with the movement and weight, try it on a decline.
Decline Dumbbell Press
The decline dumbbell press is a great exercise to work the lower pecs. The decline puts more emphasis on the lower part of the chest muscles, helping to develop these further.
The use of dumbbells instead of a barbell also makes getting into the exercise easier, if you don’t have a training buddy.
This primarily targets the chest, but if you want to engage the lats, bring the dumbbells down into a wider position during the lift.
Decline Dumbbell Fly
The decline dumbbell fly is another effective way to engage the lower pecs, compared to the flat variation of the exercise.
This involves bringing the dumbbells flat whilst keeping your elbows fixed, so you’re hinging at the shoulders.
Bent Over Row
The bent over row is an effective exercise to strengthen your back, including your lats.
You can use a barbell or dumbbells (as well as other equipment like resistance bands or kettlebells) to perform bent over rows. The movement involves hinging at your hips to lean forward with a straight back, and pull the weight towards your stomach and back down.