2 Upper-Back, Dumbbell Exercises — Pullover and Shrug - dummies

2 Upper-Back, Dumbbell Exercises — Pullover and Shrug

By LaReine Chabut

When you do a pullover, your arms move up and down in an arc, similar to when you pull an ax overhead to chop wood. Pullovers rely mainly on your lats, but they also call upon your chest, shoulders, and abdominal muscles.

Like the other upper-back exercises, pullovers help with posture. A pullover is an ideal transition exercise from a back workout to a chest workout. In other words, use a pullover as the last exercise of your back workout and as a prelude to your chest exercises because your chest will be warmed up.

Dumbbell pullover

The dumbbell pullover is mainly a back exercise, but it also works your chest, shoulders, triceps, and abdominals.

If you have shoulder or lower-back problems, you may want to skip this exercise because the dumbbell pullover requires raising your arms overhead, while stabilizing your spine.

Getting set

Holding a single dumbbell with both hands, lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your arms directly over your shoulders. Turn your palms up so one end of the dumbbell is resting in the gap between your palms and the other end is hanging down over your face. Pull your abdominals in, but make sure that your back is relaxed and arched naturally.

The exercise

Keeping your elbows slightly bent, lower the weight behind your head until the bottom end of the dumbbell is directly behind your head. Pull the dumbbell back up overhead, keeping the same slight bend in your elbows throughout the motion.

Do’s and don’ts

  • DO make sure that you grip the dumbbell securely.

  • DO concentrate on initiating the movement from the outer wings of your upper back rather than simply bending and straightening your arms.

  • DON’T arch your back up off the bench, especially as you lower the weight.

  • DON’T lower the weight too far behind you.

Other options

Barbell pullover: Do this same exercise with a bar, holding the bar in the center with your palms facing up. Another variation on the same theme: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in.

[Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne]
Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne

Machine pullover: Many gyms have a machine that mimics the action of a dumbbell pullover while you’re in a seated position.

Dumbbell shrug

The dumbbell shrug is a small movement with a big payoff: It strengthens your shoulders and the trapezius muscles of your upper back.

Be careful if you’re prone to neck problems.

Getting set

Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight down, palms in front of your thighs and facing in. Pull your abdominals in, tuck your chin toward your chest, and keep your knees relaxed.

[Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne]
Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne

The exercise

Shrug your shoulders straight up toward your ears the same way you do if you don’t know the answer to the $500 geography question on Jeopardy!. Slowly lower your shoulders to the starting position.

Do’s and don’ts

  • DO keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.

  • DON’T roll your shoulders in a complete circle — a common exercise mistake that places too much stress on your shoulder joints.

  • DON’T move body parts other than your shoulders.

Other options

Barbell shrug: Hold a bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and in front of your thighs, palms facing in. Do the exact same movement as in the basic version.

Shrug roll (harder): Shrug your shoulders upward as in the basic version, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and then lower them back down. This version brings the trapezius and rhomboids (two back muscles) into the mix.