How To Do The Incline Dumbbell Pullover – Benefits and Muscles Worked

Want to know what exercise bodybuilders, powerlifters, and fitness competitors all swear by to build an impressive chest and powerful back? Read on to find out.

When it comes to lifting weights some exercises are essential and as a result, they’re performed universally by everyone in the fitness industry.

Some of these moves are pretty common and you won’t be surprised to hear they’re so popular, exercises like
the squat, bench press, or row.

But some are more niche and only performed by the professionals.

Incline Dumbbell Pullover Pic 1

One such exercise, the incline dumbbell pullover, is not only used by elite fitness professionals, but it’s so powerful that many say this move is essential for their training, yet for some reason, it isn’t as well known by the general public.

Well, if you’re not sure what the exercise is all about, don’t worry, because in this article we’re going to break down exactly what the incline dumbbell pullover is and how it can be used to change tour body, we’ll also explain why it should become part of your regular training routine immediately and what the benefits are.   

So if you’re interested in knowing how you can implement this incredible exercise into your routine, read on to find out more.

Incline Dumbbell Pullover

The Incline Dumbbell Pullover is a unique exercise that targets multiple muscles at once (in the chest and the back) and as a result, it’s used by fitness competitors at the highest level as people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman, and more have sworn by it.

In fact, Arnold credits this one move with helping him to build his iconic chest and at one point it was even referred to as ‘The upper body squat’ because of just how effective it is.

Performed on a bench, and with a dumbbell (there are some machines available) this movement is surprisingly easy to do and has huge benefits, but before we touch on that, let’s take a look at how you perform the move. 

How To Do The Incline Dumbbell Pullover

The Incline Dumbbell Pullover isn’t that difficult to perform, just follow the simple steps below.

1. Set up your bench into an incline position and lay down

Flat and Incline Bench Positions

2. Hold a dumbbell (with both hands) directly above your chest, with your arms straight up

Incline Dumbbell Starting Position

3. Bring the arms back and extend the dumbbell over your head - Hold for 2 seconds

Incline Dumbbell Stretched Position

4. Then slowly bring the dumbbell back to the starting position

Incline Dumbbell Starting Position

The hardest part will be controlling the weight, which is why it’s so important for you to select the right weight. Our advice is to start with a light dumbbell and adjust when you feel more confident.

When you perform this exercise you will be aiming for 3 sets of 10-12 reps, so you need a weight that’s going to challenge the muscle, but not be too difficult to hold as you extend back over your head.

Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Pullover

The Dumbbell Pullover is a great exercise that can be beneficial for every type of lifter, whether you’re a casual gym-goer that just wants to get in better shape or a fitness model that wants to create a ripped physique this is a great exercise.

Here are some of the biggest benefits you will get from doing this exercise.

Great for building muscle

The dumbbell pullover successfully targets your chest, back, and some of the smaller muscles in your upper body that are harder to reach, making it a great way to improve your strength and build muscle.

Better shoulder mobility

Weak or underdeveloped lats and triceps are two of the most common causes of limited overhead mobility. With the dumbbell pullover, you can address that.

It stretches out the lats and triceps and helps you to increase your mobility and range of motion while also helping you to have better stability and control around your shoulders which is a great way of improving your shoulder strength and mobility.

Support other lifts

The incline dumbbell pullover targets the bigger muscles in your upper body but it also works the stabilizing muscles throughout your body including the muscles in your abs and glutes.

This is vital for developing a strong body that can handle the strains of exercise and for developing the muscles that can support you in your bigger, heavier lifts.

Great For Core Strength and Stability

The dumbbell pullover is a great way of working on your core strength without doing sit-ups or crunches.

As you extend the dumbbell over your head your entire body will work to help you stay balanced and stable on the bench. Your glutes and core in particular will be tested as they work hard to support your body.  

Exercises like this are important for developing total-body strength and stability and will help you to develop great core strength, which will benefit all other forms of exercise.

What Muscles Does the Incline Dumbbell Pullover Work?

The incline dumbbell pullover is unique in that it trains opposite muscles at once. You can train your chest, and back, both at the same time in addition to some other muscles.

Let’s take a closer look at the primary muscles that are worked with this exercise.


The pullover targets your chest (pecs) in a big way as both the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor are both big players here. It contributes to a major chest workout and it’s easy to see why so many people include the incline dumbbell pullover on their chest day routine.


As you extend your arms, over your back, your lats will get a huge stretch. It’s not surprising due to just how big the lats are (entire length of your back) and the role they play in helping your arms to extend. They also help to stabilize you as you complete the movement. All of this means your lats will get a great workout every time you complete this move.

Serratus Anterior

You’ll find this muscle under the armpit, on top of the rib cage, down the side of your chest. It’s difficult to hit this muscle but the incline dumbbell pullover successfully does it. These muscles not only look good, but they’re vital in stabilizing the shoulder during heavy movements, which can help you get stronger in other lifts, such as the overhead press.  


When you extend the arms backward you will slightly bend your elbow which places more load on the triceps. They’re not the main muscle working here, but due to the size of the triceps, and the load of the weight, you’ll feel the impact on your muscles and get a great pump.

Upper Abs

As you extend the arms above your head and support the weight, your core will have to work hard to stabilize your body and help you with your balance.
It’s not uncommon to feel a strong pull in the upper abs and the intercostals muscles as you perform this exercise and for your core to feel the effects after.

Common Mistakes

As with a lot of exercises, you must perform the incline dumbbell pullover carefully, to avoid injury and maximize your gains.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that people make with the incline dumbbell pullover.

Moving too quickly

As with most exercises, you shouldn’t be trying to rush when you perform this movement. You should aim to keep the weight under control so that your muscles get the full benefit of the exercise. In the case of the pullover, moving too quickly can put extra strain on the back which could result in an injury.

Increasing the Weight Too Soon

This applies to every exercise you will perform in the gym. Don’t lift with your ego, lift sensibly. You should pick a manageable weight and focus on technique and form. Only attempt to increase the weight once you’re comfortable with the movement and you’re confident you can safely perform your reps.

Not engaging your core

We’ve already pointed out how this movement stretches your back and pulls your core, well, with that in mind it should come as no surprise to hear how important it is to keep your core tight and engaged through the lift.

Avoid arching your back or moving your body as you extend as this could lead to injury. If you can’t do this, you’re probably lifting more weight than you can handle.

Trying to work around a shoulder injury
Because of the way the arm moves through this exercise you should be very careful if you already have an existing shoulder injury. Trying to perform a pullover while suffering from a shoulder injury could result in more damage and a worse injury.

Incline dumbbell pullover vs flat dumbbell pullover

Flat Bench Dumbbell Pullover

As the name suggests, the incline dumbbell pullover is performed on an incline bench.

It can be done on a flat bench, but you won’t get the same range of motion or level of stretch on the lats meaning it wouldn’t offer as many benefits to your training.

It can be done on a flat bench, but you won’t get the same range of motion or level of stretch on the lats meaning it wouldn’t offer as many benefits to your training.

By performing it as a flat pullover, you would primarily work your chest and triceps which to us, doesn’t make sense. You’d be limiting your progress all for the sake of the angle of your bench and be doing slowing down your progress.

Unless there’s a specific reason, you should always perform the incline pullover instead of the flat one. If you find the angle makes it more difficult to perform the exercise, use a lighter weight and get secure in that movement first before you try to go any heavier.  

This will ensure you have a much bigger impact on your body and your overall results will skyrocket.

Incline Dumbbell pullover vs Incline bench press

Incline Dumbbell Pullover Front View

Over the years regular gym-goers have switched from a pullover to an incline dumbbell bench press and one of the biggest reasons for this is a lack of education around what the benefits of the pullover are.

Many people believe it is just a different way to train the upper chest, not realizing just how impactful it can be.

As we’ve already outlined above, it trains multiple muscles at once and can be a fantastic way to bring about big physique changes.

An incline dumbbell bench press on the other hand doesn’t have the same effect.

It primarily targets the upper chest, the anterior deltoid, and the triceps and while it is a great move in its own right, it doesn’t have the same range that an incline dumbbell pullover does.

The incline bench is a great exercise that deserves a place in your training routine, but we firmly believe that it shouldn’t take the place of the pullover.

Final Thoughts

When elite bodybuilders like Arnold credit their progress to one particular movement, you know it should be taken seriously, and in the case of the incline dumbbell pullover, that’s exactly what should happen.

Whether or not you want to be a bodybuilder, the benefits of this exercise are huge as it targets the big muscles in your upper body and it can transform your physique in a big way, working both your chest, back, and more, at the same time.

It’s an exercise that deserves your full attention, just ensure you focus on your form and technique and don’t make any of the mistakes that we outline above because once you get it right, you’ll love the way it changes your body.

Leave a Comment: