The dumbbell pullover has long been a staple exercise for those who want to build muscle in both the chest and back. 

If you don’t have the equipment to do this exercise or want to try something different, there are plenty of dumbbell pullover alternatives.  

In this article, I'm bringing you the 10 best dumbbell pullover alternatives for your chest and lat development plus how to do them. 

The dumbbell pullover is a great exercise that predominately targets the chest, and also works the lats, teres major and triceps.

A good dumbbell pullover substitute should work your chest and back muscles effectively, promoting strength and muscle gains in your upper body.  

Let's dive straight into the 10 best dumbbell pullover alternatives. 

1. Decline Chest Fly 

man doing decline dumbbell fly exercise

The decline chest fly is a brilliant dumbbell pullover alternative that isolates your chest muscles, especially your lower pecs.

This alternative to dumbbell pullovers is easy to set up and requires minimal equipment. A set of dumbbells and a decline bench press is all you need.

If you don’t have a bench, you can place yourself in a decline position by performing a glute bridge on the floor and holding the position until you’ve completed your set.


  • Good for all fitness levels and doesn't require a spotter.
  • Builds strength and size in the chest muscles.
  • Works your core muscles. 

How to do A decline Chest Fly:

  1. Set a bench in a decline position. 
  2. Grab a set of dumbbells and lie on the bench with your head at the lowest point. 
  3. Press the dumbbells vertically and keep a slight bend in your elbows. 
  4. Turn your palms to face each other. 
  5. Slowly open your arms, moving the weight from your shoulder joint (elbow remains fixed and doesn’t move). 
  6. When you reach parallel to the floor, return to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

My pro tip for the decline chest fly is prioritizing mind-muscle connection. Consciously think about activating your pecs and contracting them at the top of the movement.  

2. Cable Crossover 

Man Working On A Cable Crossover Machine

If you want a chest exercise that’ll cause a deep burn across your entire chest, then the cable crossover is the dumbbell pullover alternative for you.

The cable machine provides constant tension throughout the movement, increasing chest activation and promoting muscle hypertrophy.

During this substitute for dumbbell pullovers, your core muscles need to work extra hard to stabilize your body. It’s suitable for most people, so long as good form is used.

If you don't have access to the cable machine, or you can't perform this exercise, I suggest you take a look at cable crossover alternative exercises that have similar effects.


  • More time under tension and improved muscle size.
  • Increases range of motion.
  • Creates a more stable shoulder joint. 

How To Do A Cable Crossover:

  1. Set a cable machine to shoulder height and attach a single handle to each cable. 
  2. Grab one handle in each hand and walk forward a few feet to create tension in the cable. 
  3. Offset your stance by placing one foot slightly behind the other. 
  4. Stabilize your body, keeping your shoulders square. 
  5. Make a slight bend in the elbow and lock them in that position. 
  6. Bring the handles together in front of you, stopping before each handle touches. 
  7. Squeeze your chest. 
  8. Repeat the movement for desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Your shoulder joint should be the only part of your body moving. Keep your elbows fixed.  

3. Decline Bench Press 

Man Doing Decline Bench Press Exercise At The Gym

This popular compound chest exercise is one of the best dumbbell pullover alternative exercises around. It allows you to lift a substantial weight to overload your the muscles and increase chest activation.

The decline bench press has a shorter range of motion than a flat bench press, and it doesn’t place as much stress on the shoulder joints. You'll also be able to lift heavier weight, which helps increase the stimulus on the muscle fibers.

However, if you don't have necessary equipment to perform this exercise, you can try out decline bench press alternatives.


  • One of the best exercises to strengthen the lower pecs and increase muscle mass.
  • Using a barbell allows you to load more weight than dumbbells. 
  • Reduces stress on your back.

How To Do A decline Bench Press:

  1. Load a barbell with adequate weight. 
  2. Secure your feet on the decline bench. 
  3. Lie back and hold the barbell with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart. 
  4. Lift the barbell off the rack and slowly lower it toward your chest. 
  5. Press the barbell up to the starting position and repeat for desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Because of the awkward position of the decline bench it is always best to have a spotter to help you re-rack the barbell. 

Related Article - Chest Press Vs Bench Press

4. Straight Arm Pulldown 

Man Doing Straight Arm Pulldown Exercise

The straight arm pulldown is almost a like-for-like movement compared to the dumbbell pullover as it engages your latissimus dorsi (lats) through a vast range of motion.

The main difference is you’re standing up rather than lying down on a bench.  

As you keep your arms straight, the stress from the weight is placed on your lats and scapula. 

This is a fantastic dumbbell pullover substitute I love to perform at the beginning of a back session as it warms my back up and helps activate my scapula.


  • Good exercise and low risk for all abilities and fitness levels. 
  • Enhances mind-muscle connection.
  • Helps create more stability in the lats which directly improves compound movement such as the deadlift.

How To Do A Straight Arm Pulldown:

  1. Place a straight bar and attach it to the cable. 
  2. Hold the handle using an overhand grip. 
  3. Step back a few feet to create tension in the cable. 
  4. Lean forward to around 30-45 degrees. 
  5. Slightly bend the elbow (locking it in position) and pull the bar toward your hips in an arch-like motion. 
  6. Squeeze the scapula together. 
  7. Reverse the movement and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you feel your back muscles are taking over and you don't feel your lats working then try reducing the load you're using or try it with a resistance band. 

5. Incline Push-up 

Man Doing Incline Push-Ups At Home

Push-ups are a fantastic bodyweight compound exercise many gym-goers perform to develop their chest muscles.

By adjusting the angle of your push-up, you can move the focus to certain areas of the chest. Elevating your hands so you’re in an incline push-up position gives the exercise a lower chest focus.


  • Perfect variation for beginners who need to build strength for a full push up. 
  • Builds great upper body strength.
  • Engages the core.

How To Do An Incline Push Up:

  1. Kneel on the floor in front of an elevated platform. 
  2. Place your hands on the platform roughly shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Move your feet backwards until your body is straight. 
  4. Bend at the elbow and move your chest closer to the platform. 
  5. Stop just before your chest touches the platform. 
  6. Push yourself back to the starting position. 
  7. Repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

The higher the incline the easier this exercise is. As your strength starts to improve, lower the height of the incline. 

6. Pull-Ups 

Woman Doing Regular Pull-Ups

Pull ups are a bodyweight compound exercise and are a good dumbbell pullover alternative to develop your lats.

Unlike the dumbbell pullover, pull ups work many other muscles in your upper body, such as your rhomboids, biceps, core, and deltoids.  

It’s easy to perform, all you need is a bar to hang from, and you’re good to go. You can even purchase a pull-up bar for most door frames now, or make your own DIY freestanding pull up bar, so there’s no excuse not to do them.

If you don't have access to a pull-up bar, try out pull up alternatives that will activate your back muscles the same way a pull-up bar does.


  • One of the best exercises for building upper body strength.
  • Strengthens your grip.
  • Highly rewarding exercise.

How To Do A Pull Up:

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar or frame using a shoulder-width overhand grip. 
  2. Draw your shoulder blades back and lift yourself until your chin is over the bar. 
  3. Lower yourself in a controlled manner until your arms are straight and repeat for desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Pull ups are an advanced exercise but don't shy away from this if you're a beginner. If you are still building your upper body strength and you can't do a pull up yet, try eccentric reps, use a resistance band for assistance or the assisted pull up machine if you have access to one.  

Related Article - Best Ceiling Pull Up Bars

7. Chest supported row

Chest supported DB row

If you’re looking to isolate your latissimus dorsi, the chest supported row is an excellent choice of exercise.

You can perform the movement with minimal equipment, making it ideal for your home gym. All you need is an incline bench press and dumbbells.  

This dumbbell pullover substitute shifts the focus onto your lats similarly to the traditional dumbbell pullover.


  • Effectively increases strength in the upper body by minimising momentum.
  • Great for those with back injuries.
  • Improves posture.

How To Do A Chest Supported Row:

  1. Set your bench to 45-degrees and grab two dumbbells. 
  2. Lie on your front so your torso is supported by the bench while holding both dumbbells. 
  3. Let the dumbbells hang vertically and create a slight bend in the elbow. 
  4. Next, draw your shoulder blades back and row the dumbbells up to the height of the bench.
  5. Slowly lower to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired number of reps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

If you don’t have an incline bench, you can perform this exercise in the bent-over position. This version engages more core muscles but is a brilliant workaround.  

8. Chest Dip 

Man Doing Chest Dips

The chest dip is one of my favorite chest exercises to perform. Not only does it engage your pecs, but your triceps, shoulders, lats, rhomboids, and other smaller muscles for stability. 

It’s similar to the tricep dip; however, you lean forward more to increase your chest activation.

Compared to the dumbbell pullover, it’s more of a challenge and maybe too difficult for beginners. If you’re struggling, try another movement or use a resistance band to assist your chest dip. 


  • One of the best exercises to build upper body strength.
  • Can be progressed by adding a weight belt.
  • Directly effects and will improve bench press. 

How To Do A Chest Dip:

  1. Stand on a dipping frame or next to parallel bars. 
  2. Place your hands in a neutral position on the bar. 
  3. Lift your body weight and lock your arms. 
  4. Lean forward slightly to emphasize the chest. 
  5. Bend your arms and lower yourself until your arms are at 90-degrees. 
  6. Push yourself back to the starting position and repeat for desired reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Using a resistance band isn’t only for beginners, and it can help advanced gym-goers achieve extra volume even when the muscles are fully fatigued.   

Related Article - Dips Vs Push Ups

9. Pec Deck Fly 

Man Doing Pec Deck Flys

The pec deck is an old-school chest exercise machine designed to isolate your pecs... and boy, does it work.

It has an incredible range of motion and places tension on your chest throughout the entire movement, making it excellent for your chest development.  

One of the only downsides to this dumbbell pullover substitute is it requires a pec deck machine; luckily, most commercial gyms have them and some home gyms. If you don't have access to it, try out pec deck fly alternatives.


  • Increases muscle size of the pec muscles. 
  • The seated position helps promote good posture.
  • Assists in building more strength for other compound lifts and everyday movements.

How To Do A Pec Deck Fly:

  1. Sit on the machine with your back against the pad. 
  2. Reach backwards and grab one handle, then hold the other. 
  3. Bend the elbows slightly. 
  4. Bring your hands together, arching from your shoulder and squeezing your chest. 
  5. Open your arms and return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure you don't arch your back throughout this movement. Maintain good posture by sitting tall and maintaining contact with the back rest.

10. Cable Rope Straight Pulldown 

Man Doing Cable Rope Straight Pulldown Exercise

Using a rope for the straight pulldown increases the range of motion, allowing your lats to engage more than they would with a bar handle.

More engagement causes more muscle growth, making it an excellent alternative to dumbbell pullover.  

I’ve found the rope feels more natural and really lets you retract your scapula, which is the whole aim of this movement.


  • Good exercise for all fitness levels.
  • Low risk exercise and effectively targets the lats.
  • More time under tension and control by using the cable machine. 

How To Do A Cable Rope Straight Pulldown: 

  1. Attach a rope to the cable machine. 
  2. Hold the rope handle with both hands. 
  3. Step away from the machine to create some tension. 
  4. Tilt your body to 30-45 degrees, keeping your elbows near your ears. 
  5. Pull the rope toward your hips in an arch-like motion, drawing your shoulder blades together. 
  6. Reverse the movement to the starting position and repeat for desired number of reps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

My pro tip would be don't be afraid of going "too light," as this movement is all about the scapula retraction; focus on getting your form right before you increase the weight. You'll be surprised by how much this exercise burns when you do it right.   

Benefits Of Dumbbell Pullover Substitute Exercises

The dumbbell pullover and its substitutes have many fantastic benefits, but the main ones are: 

  1. 1
    Increases Upper Body Muscle
    Even though the pullover is often thought of as an isolation exercise, it’s essentially a compound movement as it works the chest, lats, triceps, and shoulders. By performing these alternatives to dumbbell pullover, you’ll develop a thicker chest and back.
  2. 2
    Strengthens Your Stabilizers
    While performing the dumbbell pullover, your scapula and shoulder joints work hard to stabilize your arm movement. Throughout many of these alternatives, your stabilizers are strengthened, which not only helps prevent injury but also has a carryover effect on your other lifts. Poorly developed stabilizers are a weak link that’ll cause your lifts to plateau.
  3. 3
    Improves Flexibility
    During the dumbbell pullover, your chest and shoulders are stretched under load, which helps to improve your flexibility in those areas. While dumbbell pullovers are not a substitute for stretching, it does help develop your flexibility, and it’s a nice side effect of performing the exercise.

What Muscles Do Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives Work?

  • Pectoralis Major (Pecs)
    Your pec major forms the largest part of your pectoral muscles, and by working them, you end up with a well-defined barrel-like chest.[1]
  • Serratus Anterior
    These small muscles are located on your rib cage; they help stabilize your core and are lightly activated during the dumbbell pullover and many of the alternatives mentioned in this article.[2
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
    The lats are the largest muscles in the back; when they’re developed, they create a V-shape, which not only looks impressive but greatly improves your athleticism.[3]
  • Teres Major & Posterior Deltoid (Delts)
    Both of these muscles are crucial for your shoulder stability.[4] Fail to train these areas effectively, and you’ll not only risk injury, but your other lifts will suffer.
  • Upper Abs
    The upper abs form part of the 6-pack. During the dumbbell pullover, your upper abs are stretched and must remain engaged to create core stability. 
  • Triceps
    Throughout the dumbbell pullover and many of the other alternatives on the list above, your triceps are fired up to help you move whatever weight you’re lifting. 

Dumbbell Pullover FAQs Answered

Are dumbbell pullover substitutes bad for shoulders? 

Dumbbell pullover substitutes are not bad for shoulders. If anything, lack of movement in the upper body causes more shoulder issues than performing the dumbbell pullover substitutes. The dumbbell pullover alternative exercises help strengthen your muscles and joints, promoting increased joint stability, strength, and functionality. 

Are dumbbell pullover alternatives good for your posture? 

As the dumbbell pullover opens your chest and engages your scapula, it helps you avoid the hunched over position plaguing modern society...thanks, desk jobs. The alternative dumbbell pullover exercises aren’t bad for your posture, but some are more beneficial than others. Alternatives like the pull up are fantastic as they retract your scapula and promote improved posture. 

Is dumbbell pullover a compound exercise? 

Yes, the dumbbell pullover is a compound exercise as it primarily works the chest and back muscles. But, your triceps, shoulders, and serratus (side of your rib cage) are also engaged.


If you want to train your upper body to get stronger and grow muscle mass, then the dumbbell pullover is a fantastic exercise to add to your program.  

Sometimes you can't perform this movement due to lack of equipment, injury, or maybe you want to keep things interesting.

Try one of my dumbbell pullover alternatives at your next upper body workout for big strength gains.






Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website