As a runner, I’m guilty of neglecting my upper body. On my trips to the gym, I’ll opt for leg strengthening workouts that’ll help me run stronger and ward off injury, and core workouts that’ll help my posture as I run. With that in mind, when I accepted this weird and wonderful challenge of doing 50 dumbbell pullovers a day for a week, I was nervous.
When done with the correct form, dumbbell pullovers target the muscles in the chest — the pectoralis major, as well as the wing-shaped muscles in the back, the latissimus dorsi. It’ll also target your core and your triceps. But how effective is the move, and would doing 50 reps a day make any difference to my body? Read on to find out what happened.
Of course, it goes without saying that working on the same muscle group every single day for a week isn’t recommended. Plus, what works for me might not work for you and your body. If you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise after an injury, it’s worth checking your form with a personal trainer before increasing your reps or adding weight to the exercise.
How to do a dumbbell pullover
To do a dumbbell pullover start by lying on your back on an exercise bench, with your feet flat on the floor, slightly wider than the bench. If your feet don’t reach the floor, put them on some plates so they are supported, or put them flat on the bench, but make sure that your head is still supported on the bench. Hold a dumbbell with both hands, or a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms to the ceiling, holding the dumbbell over your chest, with your palms facing one another and your elbows slightly bent.
Engage your core, and lower the weight back over your head. Pause when your arms are extended behind your head, then lift the dumbbell back to your starting position.
Make sure that you keep your back pressed into the bench for the entire exercise — if you are arching your back, chances are you’re not engaging your core as you lower the weight behind your head.
I did 50 dumbbell pullovers a day for a week — here’s what happened
To find out more, I grabbed a dumbbell (check out the best adjustable dumbbells if you’re weightlifting at home), and added 50 dumbbell pullovers daily to my routine. Here’s what happened.
I had to lower the weight to make sure my form was correct
On day one of this challenge, I grabbed a 20-pound dumbbell and got to work. I realized after ten reps I needed to get my ego in check and lower my weight — my back was arching as I lowered the dumbbell behind my head, and my palms were facing up toward the ceiling at the bottom of the move. For the rest of the reps, I used a ten-pound dumbbell and moved slowly, with control for the rest of the reps. I’d pause at the bottom of the movement, and by the end of day one, I felt like I could feel a slight twinge in my triceps.
I definitely felt my abs working
For days two and three, I continued moving with the lighter weight, opting to do three sets of 15 reps, with a break in between each to re-set. On one of these days, there weren’t enough weight plates in the gym to stack next to the bench, (I was too small to lie on the bench and keep my feet flat on the floor), so I bent my knees and placed my feet flat on the bench, being sure my head was still supported.
For the final set on both days, I increased the weight, grabbing a 15-pound dumbbell. I could feel my abs working throughout the move, and tried to think about keeping my belly button sucked into my spine throughout.
I got more confident with the move
Going from not working my triceps, to doing dumbbell pullovers every day meant that by days four and five, my arms were aching. I also felt this move in my chest — dumbbell pullovers can help improve flexibility in the upper body, something that can easily become tight if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, like me.
By the final days in this challenge, I felt more confident in the move and opted for a slight variation, doing 50 dumbbell pullovers with leg extensions. For this exercise, instead of keeping my feet flat against the bench, I raised them up into a tabletop position as if I was doing a dead bug (here’s what happened when I did 100 dead bugs a day for a week). At the bottom of the dumbbell pullover, with my arms holding the dumbbell extended behind my head, I extended my legs out, before bringing them back in and completing the dumbbell pullover. These were tough and definitely forced me to work my core hard.
I did 50 dumbbell pullovers a day for a week — My verdict
This was definitely one of my more difficult challenges, but by the end of the week, I felt a lot more confident in the exercise. Of course, a week isn’t long enough to build muscle or notice huge changes in the body, but I did feel like I’d worked my arms and chest, and it made me realize how I need to focus on these areas in the future.
Will I be adding dumbbell pullovers to my weekly strength training? Yes. But I’m relieved I don’t have to do 50 of them tomorrow morning!
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Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.