8 Best Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives (With Pictures)

Best Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives

Dumbbell pullovers are one of the most common lat isolation exercises performed by most gym-goers. As simple and accessible as it is for beginners and beyond, other exercises target the lats more effectively.

Here are the 8 best dumbbell pullover alternatives:

  1. Machine Pullover
  2. Barbell Pullover
  3. Standing Cable Pullover
  4. Standing Banded Pullover
  5. Lying Cable Pullover
  6. Lying Banded Pullover
  7. High Pulley Lateral Adduction
  8. Front Lever

In this article, I will discuss what makes a suitable dumbbell pullover alternative, explain how these alternatives are better, and how to best perform them in our training.

I will include exercises that use machines, barbells, cable machines, resistance bands, and pull-up bars so you can find an alternative that you can do at home, outdoors, or in your home gym.

What Makes A Good Dumbbell Pullover Alternative?

Dumbbell Pullover

A suitable dumbbell pullover alternative will be able to do the following:

  • Isolate the lat muscles
  • Train the muscles bilaterally (both sides simultaneously)
  • Move through a range of motion of 90 degrees or more at the shoulders

Isolate the Lat Muscles

The primary muscle group activated in the dumbbell pullover exercise is the latissimus dorsi, or the lats for short. These are a big part of your mid to lower back muscles that connect your upper arm to your ribcage, spine, and pelvis at the back. They move your upper arm from an overhead position down towards the side of your torso.

The key feature of the dumbbell pullover is that it isolates this big muscle group.

The secondary muscle groups that also help to assist the dumbbell pullover movement are the pectoral muscles (chest) and the serratus anterior (a muscle that covers the side of the ribcage). These muscle groups connect your upper arm bone and shoulder blades to your ribcage.

Learn why training the back is especially important for powerlifters in How Do Powerlifters Train Back? (3 Must-Do Workouts).

Train the Muscles Bilaterally (Both Sides Simultaneously)

Dumbbell Pullover

Another key feature of the dumbbell pullover is that you train both sides of your lats simultaneously, or bilaterally. 

Bilateral exercises are generally more time-efficient. However, the downsides are that your stronger side can have the tendency to take over.

Move Through a Range of Motion of 90 Degrees or More at the Shoulders

The dumbbell pullover, when performed properly with good posture, can give you about 90 degrees of range of motion in each repetition. Some exercises give you less, but a better exercise may be able to give you more range of motion than this. 

A good alternative will be able to replicate this range of motion or have more, which will make it superior. This is because training a muscle through more range of motion in a muscle group is more beneficial for developing strength and hypertrophy.

However, another key point to remember is that in the dumbbell pullover, the highest point of tension is when your arms are in the lowered position or by your ears. When the dumbbell is above your chest, there is the least amount of tension in your lats.

8 Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives

1. Machine Pullover

The machine pullover or Nautilus pullover machine is a particularly popular exercise in the bodybuilding scene, with famous bodybuilders such as Dorian Yates seen performing them in his training.

This machine pullover is one of the very few machine exercises that exclusively exist to isolate the lats.

How To Do It

  • Adjust the machine’s seat height so that the shoulder is in line with the pivot of the arm pad. Select your desired load on the machine.
  • Sit on the seat and place your elbows on the elbow pads.
  • Keep your back flat against the back pad and take a deep breath in.
  • Exhale and drive your elbows into the pad until they are by the side of your torso. Make sure you do not crunch forward or lift your upper back away from the back pad.
  • Inhale as you slowly allow your arms to lift back up to above your head.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Nautilus pullover machine

Pro Tip

If your biceps fatigue quickly when you do rowing or pulling movements, you might not be able to train your lats as much as you want.

You may find it useful to pre-exhaust the lats by isolating them with the machine pullover and supersetting the movement with another rowing or pulling exercise. Supersetting means completing all reps in a set for one movement, then moving into another movement with little to no rest.

Pre-exhausting muscles and/or supersetting exercises will be useful if you find that the machine pullover is not fatiguing the lats enough because another muscle group is a limiting factor.

2. Barbell Pullover

The barbell pullover is another great alternative to the dumbbell pullover. It is performed in a similar manner to the dumbbell pullover but with slightly bent elbows.

The hardest point in the range of motion is when the lats are most stretched out and the barbell is at the lowest point closest to the floor.

How To Do It

  • First set up a flat free weight bench and load a barbell (straight bar or EZ barbell) with the desired load.
  • Lie on your back on the free-weight bench and hold onto the barbell above your shoulders.
  • Tuck and keep a mild bend in your elbows slightly but maintain a straight wrist.
  • Inhale as you lower your barbell towards the ground until your upper arm reaches your maximum range of motion or until your upper arm is parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale as you drive your elbows up until your upper arm is vertical.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

Barbell Pullover

If you want to make the barbell pullover more difficult, you can use a decline bench. Doing a barbell pullover with a decline bench increases your range of motion from about 90 degrees that you get from a flat free weight bench to about 100 to 120 degrees, depending on how much of a decline you have.

Increasing the range of motion is beneficial for increasing muscle mass and muscular strength. Also, changing the exercise range of motion like this can change where the most difficult point is on the exercise. This can help you break through plateaus you have with the original set up.

Check out my complete guide of over 55 barbell exercises by muscle group that includes even more barbell exercises that target the lats.

3. Standing Cable Pullover

The standing cable pullover is an alternative to the dumbbell pullover that uses either a lat pulldown machine or an adjustable cable machine.

You will need to use a short bar handle or a lat pulldown bar handle. The standing cable pullover offers an even amount of tension on the lats throughout the range of motion.

How To Do It

  • First set up a cable machine with a straight bar handle stemming from the top of the cable column.
  • Stand about 2 to 3 feet away from the cable column while facing it and hold onto the straight bar handle with an overhand grip. You want to be far away enough that the weight stack is lifting off.
  • Start with a bend in your hips and knees with your torso angle set at roughly 45 degrees so your arms are above or nearly above your head.
  • Take a deep breath in and keep your back flat.
  • Exhale as you bring the cable handle down towards your hips. Make sure you keep your posture and body position as still as possible.
  • Inhale as you slowly allow the cable to return back towards the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

You can use a rope cable handle to allow your arms to rotate through the execution to add more range of motion in the lats. As you pull the cable down with a rope handle, turn your hands inward so that your thumbs go from pointing upward to towards each other. When you allow the rope cable handle to elevate, rotate your arms upward so that your thumbs point upward again.

4. Standing Banded Pullover

The standing banded pullover exercise is an accessible alternative to the dumbbell pullover. You can do it in any location where you can attach a resistance band to a high point. You can perform it in a similar posture to a standing cable pullover.

How To Do It

  • First attach a resistance band to a high position, roughly face level when standing upright.
  • Stand about 2 to 3 feet away from where the resistance band is attached while facing it or until you are far away enough that there is no longer slack in the resistance band. 
  • Start with a bend in your hips and knees with your torso at a 45-degree angle so that your arms are above or nearly above your head.
  • Take a deep breath in and keep your back flat while keeping your arm straight throughout.
  • Exhale as you drag the resistance band down towards your hips. Make sure you keep your posture and body position as still as possible.
  • Inhale as you slowly allow the resistance band to return back towards the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

The highest level of tension in a repetition is when the band is pulled to the lowest position. To progress your repetitions, you can add a static hold at the bottom of each repetition with a count of 2 or 3 before finishing off the repetition.

5. Lying Cable Pullover

The lying cable pullover is an alternative to the dumbbell pullover that uses an adjustable cable machine and replicates the posture you are in with the dumbbell pullover.

How To Do It

  • First set up a flat free weight bench in front of a cable column and set a cable handle to about 4 to 6 inches above the free weight bench.
  • Attach a straight bar handle attachment to the cable column.
  • Lie down on the free weight bench while facing up towards the sky and hold onto the cable handle attachment with your arms by the side of your ears.
  • Tuck and keep a mild bend in your elbows but maintain a straight wrist.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you pull the cable handle all the way down towards your lower torso while keeping your elbow fixed.
  • Inhale as you allow your arms to return to above your head.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

If you want to improve your mid-back muscles more, you can elevate where the cable handle stems from to the top of the cable column. This changes the direction of the resistance to more of a backward direction rather than a downward direction relative to your torso.

This can take the emphasis off from the lats and target the rear delts (the back of the shoulders), traps (the muscles in your upper back at the base of the spine), and rhomboids (a pair of muscles in the middle of the upper back) more.

Check out 10 Best Cable Back Workouts And Exercises For Muscle Mass for more cable exercises that target the lats and back.

6. Lying Banded Pullover

The lying banded pullover is an accessible alternative to the dumbbell pullover with the use of a resistance band. You can perform this alternative at home, in the park, or in the gym. You need to attach the resistance band in a low position, which may be easier than in a high position for the standing banded pullover.

How To Do It

  • First set up a flat free weight bench in front of a cable column and attach a resistance band about 4 to 6 inches above the free weight bench.
  • Alternatively, attach a resistance band to just above ground level if you do not have a free weight bench.
  • Lie down on the free weight bench or on the ground while facing up towards the sky and hold onto the resistance band with your arms by the side of your ears.
  • Make sure you are far away enough from the resistance band that there is no slack in the band.
  • Tuck and keep a mild bend in your elbows slightly but maintain a straight wrist.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you pull the resistance band all the way down towards your lower torso while keeping your elbow fixed.
  • Inhale as you allow your arms to return to above your head.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

If you are someone who has a dominant arm, you may want to attach two resistance bands so the resistance felt on each arm is independent of each other. This stops your dominant arm from taking over during the repetitions, which exacerbates the asymmetry.

7. High Pulley Lateral Adduction

The high pulley lateral adduction is an alternative to the dumbbell pullover that uses a dual adjustable pulley or cable crossover station. In this variation, both arms are loaded independently from each other, which may be useful for people who have muscular imbalances between each side.

How To Do It

  • Set up a dual adjustable pulley machine so that you have single arm handles attached to the cable columns at roughly shoulder height.
  • Stand between the cable columns but with one step back, and hold onto the single arm handles with your palms facing the floor.
  • Make sure you stand back enough that your arms are taut.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you drag the cables with straight arms towards the side of your torso.
  • Inhale as you allow your arms to return to a horizontal position.
  • Repeat for a desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

To progress this exercise, you can increase the range of motion by adjusting your body’s position during execution. Create a soft bend in your knees and push your hips back until your torso is roughly bent over 30 degrees from vertical. Your range of motion can increase from 90 degrees to about 100 to 120 degrees.

This can help increase the stimulus for increasing muscular strength and muscle mass. Also, it can help replicate the range of motion you may get when you perform exercise such as pull-ups. If your lats are the limiting factor in pull-ups, performing the high pulley lateral adduction in this new posture can have good carryover.

8. Front Lever

The front lever is a popular calisthenics movement and an advanced alternative to the dumbbell pullover. The front lever requires the use of your own body weight and a sturdy pull-up bar.

Before you attempt this, you will need to have very strong core muscles and easily be able to perform at least 15 to 20 pull-ups.

How To Do It

  • Hold onto a pull-up bar with a shoulder-width grip and hang below the bar.
  • Make sure your arms and legs are straight and that your abs are braced.
  • Exhale as you drag your arms towards your legs and lean back while simultaneously lifting your torso and legs towards a horizontal position.
  • Inhale as you slowly return your whole body towards the start position in a dead hang.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

front lever

The front lever is an advanced exercise and most exercisers will find this exercise very difficult or not possible. You can change your posture by tucking your hips and knees upward, which reduces the demand on your lats.

For exercises that target the lats but only require a pair of dumbbells, check out 9 Best Lat Exercises With Dumbbells (With Pictures).

Other Back Exercise Alternatives


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com