Pullover exercise is one of the old-school exercises which many elite bodybuilders use to do to build an amazing physique. Even today, it is a popular exercise and you can find many people in the gym doing this exercise on the bench with a dumbbell. However, many people have shoulder pain when they perform pullovers.
A dumbbell pullover is a great exercise not only to give a shape to your chest but also to strengthen the lat muscles. But if you feel discomfort or pain in your shoulder joints, then it’s not good for you as it can increase your pain.
So today I wil share with you some of the best pullover alternatives which are as effective as pullovers and are also safer for your shoulder joints. However, before looking at the alternatives you should know more about pullovers as they can be used for both chest and back exercises.
Muscles Worked During Pullover
Dumbbell pullover exercise can be used to target two different muscles
- Chest ( pectoralis major and minor)
- Back ( latissimus dorsi)
Chest and lat muscles are the major muscles that are targeted during pullovers. Along with that, some secondary muscles like teres major, anterior deltoids, and serratus anterior are also involved to assist you during the exercise.
One of the studies has shown that during pullover exercise, the pectoralis major, i.e. the chest muscle activates the most. The latisimus dorsi which is the back muscle also gets activated, but at a lower proportion compared to the chest.
So here you will find both chest and back alternative exercises. First I have shared with you the pullover alternatives specifically for the chest and then you will find back alternative exercises. So let’s start with the chest now!
Pullover Alternatives ( For Chest )
1. Dumbbell Close Grip Incline Press
Close grip incline press is an awesome exercise to target the upper and the inner chest. You will not have any shoulder pain or any discomfort during this exercise compared to dumbbell pullovers where many people get pain during the movement.
How to do
1. Lay on an incline bench set up at about 45° angle. Hold both dumbbells together at the top while keeping your arms straight.
2. Keep your chest up and shoulders pinched back to engage your chest more. This will be your starting position.
3. Start the exercise by lowering the dumbbells, bringing the dumbbells towards your mid-chest. Keep your elbows in as you move.
4. Stop at the bottom where the dumbbells are just above the chest. From there start pressing the weights and then bring the dumbbells up.
This exercise also hits the tricep muscles. However, if you want your chest to dominate in this exercise, then make sure that you keep your chest up always and bring the dumbbells slightly back rather than pressing the weights in a straight line. This will put most of the tension on your chest.
2. Swend Press
Swend press is a great inner chest exercise you can do with plates. You can do this exercise at home or anywhere as you only need plates to perform the movement. This exercise can be easily be added in place of pullovers as both hit the inner chest.
How to do
1. Stand straight with both feet at about hip-width apart. Hold the plates by placing both hands in between the plates. Look straight with your chest up, this will be your starting position.
2. Start the exercise by bringing the plates towards the mid-chest. Keep your elbows in and then move your arms slightly upward while keeping the tension on the chest.
3. Again bring the plates down towards the chest and then repeat the movement.
Make sure that when you do this exercise, you should almost crush the plates as you move your arms. Also, keep your chest up always to keep most of the tension on the chest.
3. Reverse Grip Rotational Dumbbell Press
The reverse grip floor press is a great exercise to target the upper chest. This exercise can be done on the bench with a dumbbell or by holding a barbell.
However, it also activates a lot of triceps so you have to make sure that you have a proper mind and muscle connection when performing these exercises. So always concentrate on the upper chest during the movement.
How to do
1. hold both the dumbbells and lay down on the floor. Keep your hands straight up at a reverse grip position.
2. Start the exercise by bringing your arms down and bringing the dumbbells down toward the lower chest. Rotate at the bottom half of the movement. Your hand grip will be neutral at the bottom position.
3. Pause at the bottom position and then push your arms up while rotating your arm during the movement.
You can also do this exercise without rotating your hands at the bottom. Just keep it in a reverse position and move your arms down and up. This might be uncomfortable for some as it requires good wrist mobility.
4. Dive Bomber Pushup
If you are looking for a bodyweight alternative option, then this exercise is for you. This exercise will not only targets the chest and triceps but will engage a lot of core muscles.
This exercise is more challenging than the regular push up however you should make exercises difficult for continuous results. It will target the whole chest and will make your chest look 3 dimensional.
How to do
1. Place both hands on the floor at about shoulder width and keep both feet together with your knees extended.
2. Now move your hips up such that your body looks like an inverted V. This will be your starting position.
3. Start the exercise by lowering the chest and moving your body like a dive bomber.
4. Bring the chest in front of the arms as you move and extend your elbows at the end. Look straight and feel the stretch on you your abs.
5. Slowly move your body back and drive your hips up to bring your body back to the starting position.
You can also do this exercise by placing your feet on the bench or chair. That will be more challenging so you can do it if you find regular dive-bombers easy.
5. Low Cable Flyes
Another awesome exercise for your upper chest. You can perform this as a finisher or can superset it with cable crossovers which will be an awesome finisher at the end.
Low cable fly is a great alternative to pullover because it targets the upper chest. Also, you can bring your hands close together or take them across which also engages the inner chest more.
How to do
1. Attach the pulleys at the bottom end of the cable machine. Hold two handles of the cables and stand in between the machine. Stand with one leg forward while maintaining a proper balance.
2. Roll your shoulders back and maintain a neutral spine. Your hands should be down on the sides and this will be your starting position.
3. From the downward position, take your arms up and stop at chest height. Pause for a second and squeeze your chest at the top.
4. Return to the starting position slowly while breathing in and repeat the rep.
Your elbows should be in so that you can stimulate your chest more. Also, it will put your shoulders in a safe position.
Mistakes To Avoid
- Don’t take your hands too far behind the body. Your chest should be stretched and not your shoulders so don’t go too far back.
- Shoulders should not move or come forward during the exercise
- Don’t go too heavy on this!
6. Landmine Chest Press
Another great exercise you can replace with a dumbbell pullover. This trains your upper chest at a different angle. It is one of the best alternatives to a dumbbell pullover as it hits the same muscles and does not create any shoulder pain or discomfort.
This is a functional way of training your chest. Here, you are in an athletic position that will engage your core and other stabilizer muscles. It’s a good way to improve your pushing strength, particularly for athletes.
How to do
1. Place one end of the bar at the corner of the wall and stand straight with slightly leaning forward.
2. Hold the bar from both hands and then pull it up towards the level of your chest and this will be your starting position.
3. With your back straight and abs tight, start pushing the bar up and extend your elbows at the top. Your body should not come forward
4. Slowly bring the bar back towards the starting position and then repeat the movement.
Make sure that you are squeezing your upper chest while pushing the barbell up. Also, don’t bend your lower back too much and keep your core tight during the entire movement.
7. Decline Cable Chest Pullover
This is a great cable version of pullovers where you can create a perfect mind and muscle connection. You can feel an amazing pump after this exercise, so try it out!
How to do
1. Place a bench fixed at a decline angle at about 2 feet apart from the cable machine and attach a rope at a lower pulley of the cable machine.
2. Hold both ends of the rope and lay down on a bench and this will be your starting position.
3. While keeping your elbows slightly bent, take your hands behind the body and stretch your chest at the bottom.
4. Stop until your chest is fully stretched and then bring your hands up toward the starting position and then repeat the movement.
While performing this exercise make sure that you are squeezing your chest harder during the concentric phase and keep your elbows in on the way up.
8. Dumbbell Pullover On Floor
If you struggle in doing dumbbell pullovers on the bench, then you can do this alternative. Here, rather than on a bench, you will perform this exercise on the floor.
Here, the floor will stop you from going further down and will restrict your range of motion, which is good if you have shoulder pain or injury. You don’t need to stretch your muscles to a point where there is more stress on the joints. So this will be a safer alternative to a regular dumbbell pullover on the bench.
How to do
1. Hold a dumbbell by placing your palm under the upper plate of the dumbbell and lay flat on the floor. Bend your knees and place your foot on the floor.
2. Bring the dumbbell up above the chest while keeping your hands straight and elbows bent. This will be your starting position.
3. Start the exercise by taking your hands back and stretching your chest at the bottom.
4. Stop until your chest is fully stretched and then bring your hands up by squeezing your chest tight and bring your arms back towards the starting position.
Make sure that you push your elbows in and squeeze those chest muscles when you bring the dumbbell up from the stretched position. This will activate your chest more.
Pullover Alternatives For Back
9. Sliding Pull Ups
This exercise is similar to a pull-up. The only difference is that you are doing it on the floor. If you don’t have to pull up bars or can’t do pull-ups, then give this a try.
How to do
1. Lay down on the floor with your chest facing down while keeping your hands forward on the floor. Make sure the floor is slippery which allows you to slide. You can use a mat if you want.
2. Start the exercise by moving your body forward with the help of your hands and your lat muscles. Keep your core tight and don’t bend your lower back.
3. Stop until your hands are in line with your chest. Then repeat the exercise.
You should not use too much lower back during the movement. You can avoid it by squeezing your glutes while you move.
Keep the tension on your lats all the time and always do the exercise with full focus and concentration.
10. Dual Cable Lat Pulldown
This is a great alternative to a dumbbell pullover. It will target your lats at the best angle. Muscle fibers of the lats run diagonally and to train any muscle effectively, you should follow the muscle fibers. And here, you are hitting your lats exactly how you should.
The prime muscles targeted are your upper lats, rhomboids, lower traps, and also your rotator cuff if you do it with a neutral grip. This will help in giving that wide look to your back.
How to do
1. Grab the handles of cables and sit on your knees or a bench. The cable pulley should be attached on top of a cable machine.
2. Roll your shoulders back and keep your chest up. Don’t bend your neck and back.
3. Now slowly pull the arms down by flexing your elbow. Your shoulder should not raise or go forward during the movement.
4. Pause at the bottom and flex those lats hard. Then slowly return back to the starting position.
Don’t go heavy on this. Try to create a good mind and muscle connection. You will feel a much better contraction on your last from this exercise than the regular lat pulldown exercise.
11. Straight Arm Pulldown
This exercise will improve the stability of your back and shoulder. You should do this exercise quite often. This exercise is similar to dumbbell pullovers and trains hit the same muscles.
How to do
1 Attach a pulley at the top and grab the bar. Bend your torso slightly without rounding your back.
2. Extend your arms forward. If you can’t step back in you can fully extend your arms.
3. Now start moving your hands down toward the body with a slight bend in the elbow. Breath out as you go down.
4. Pause at the bottom and return back slowly.
Keep in mind that your shoulder should be pinged back and down as you move the bar down. You should not round your shoulders forward during the movement.
12. One Arm Row
One arm row is another great alternative exercise you can add in place of a pullover. One arm row is much easier and is an amazing exercise for your back.
This exercise is good to focus on each side of your back separately. This will make your back look symmetrical and will reduce muscular imbalances.
How to do
1. Grab a dumbbell and place one hand on the bench while holding a dumbbell in other hand. Now keep one leg on the bench and the other leg on the floor at a side.
2. Roll your hips up and keep your shoulders retracted. This will make your back neutral. This will be your starting position.
3. Start the exercise by rowing the dumbbells up while keeping your elbows in. Your elbow should be at a 90°angle as you move the dumbbell up.
4. Stop at the top and squeeze your lats. Then slowly return to the starting position and then repeat.
Make sure to fully stretch your back at the bottom. This will increase the range of motion and will be more effective for growth.
You can do this exercise with heavy dumbbells but make sure that you don’t round your back during the movement.
13. Standing Dumbbell Rows
This is another best exercise to train your back. This exercise targets not only the lats but also your traps, rhomboids, and core muscles which stabilizes the body during heavy compound movement. So if you don’t like pullovers, at least don’t skip this exercise.
How to do
1. Hold two dumbbells and stand with both feet at hip-width apart. Bend down by taking your hips back and spine upright. Don’t round your lower back and keep your chest up.
2. Roll your shoulders back and pull the dumbbells up. Your elbows should be tucked in while going up. Don’t bend your neck or back during the movement.
3. Pause when dumbbells are at the side of your stomach. Then return to the starting position steadily.
This exercise can also be done at home. You just need a pair of dumbbells and you can do it anywhere you want.
So these were some of the best possible pullover alternatives. I have covered both chest and back alternatives as a pullover is not just a chest exercise but also a back exercise.
This article is already lengthy so I don’t want to make it bigger! So if you have any doubts or any suggestions, you can mention that in the comment section below.
If you know of any other exercises other than those mentioned above, then do let me know in the comment section below. Also, I will highly appreciate it if you share this article with others as this will give us the confidence to make more content for you.
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Roshan Pillai is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with more than 6 years of experience in lifting weights and guiding people to get fit. He has worked as a personal trainer in gyms and is the owner and editor of fitnessproworkout.com. He is passionate about fitness and helping people to get in shape.