While it's not an exercise commonly seen in the weight room, the dumbbell pullover is actually an excellent move for working the pectorals, lats and arm muscles. If you've been doing a lot of chest flys, bench presses and other chest-building movements, you may find that this one works your muscles in a totally new way. As with every weight-bearing exercise, it's important to select the right amount of weight to prevent injury and help you get the most out of your workout.
The movement involves lying on a bench press with your feet resting flat on the floor. It's up to you whether you want to lie down with your entire back on the bench or want to lie down in a perpendicular fashion so that only your upper back is resting on the bench. If you choose the latter, you'll have to engage your core muscles more to stay upright, though you won't run as much risk of over-arching your back. Do the movement by gripping a dumbbell in both of your hands, typically with one hand on each "bell," starting with the dumbbell directly above your head and then extending your arms so they're directly away from the crown of your head. Allow your lower arms to move down toward the floor as you keep your upper arms parallel with your torso. To complete the movement, pull your arms back to the starting position with the dumbbell over your head.
When you're just starting out with this movement, it's important to focus more on form than on lifting a lot of weight. As such, choose a weight that seems quite light to you at first. If you're currently lifting 10 pounds for bicep curls, that may be a good place to start. Have a friend or trainer help you as you try the movement for the first time. She should make sure you are not arching your back and that you can lift and lower the weight with a smooth and controlled motion.
Once you can do the exercise in a smooth fashion, it may be time to increase your dumbbell weight. Since your muscles won't gain strength and grow without putting strain on them, it's important to lift enough weight so you feel challenged. You can figure out how much weight to lift during the dumbbell pullover using one of two methods: trial and error or the one-rep maximum test.
Trial and Error
The trial-and-error method involves selecting a weight that you think you can handle. If you started out with 10 pounds, for example, pick up a 20-pound dumbbell. Then do a set of 8 to 12 repetitions of the dumbbell pullover. If you feel like it's really tough to finish the last two reps, you're adequately challenging your muscles and you're probably using the right amount of weight. If you can't finish the set, use a slightly lighter weight the next time until you feel challenged but can still finish the entire set.
The other option for weight selection is to do the "one rep" test by choosing a weight that you think you can lift one time. Get a spotter to help you do this. Select a heavy weight, for example, a 30-pound dumbbell if you've already been lifting 10 pounds. Have your spotter stand by as you try to do one repetition of the dumbbell pullover. If you can complete one rep with ease, try a 35-pound dumbbell. The idea here is to find the weight that you can lift once, and not more than that. When you find that weight, multiply the weight by .7. The resulting number is the amount of weight you should try to lift during your sets. If you've found that 35 pounds is your one-rep max, for example, your ideal weight would be about 25 pounds.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.