Are you looking to develop total-body strength, expedite weight loss and build maximum muscle mass? Consider doing dumbbell pull exercises.
Unlike push exercises, these exercises utilize a pulling movement/motion which engages your upper and lower back, shoulders, posterior chain, forearms, and biceps. The workouts activate the pull muscle groups, which are extremely important for your posture and mobility. Therefore, they not only help you build lean muscle but also improve your everyday functional movements, like lifting grocery bags.
What’s even better? You don’t need a gym worthy equipment to execute these exercises. All you need is a set of dumbbells and enough room to move your hands and body.
In this comprehensive guide, we will break down the best dumbbell pull workouts you need to promote muscle growth, build strength, and improve performance. These exercises are tried and tested by the best athletes and strongest lifters.
Let’s check them out!
Dumbbell High Pull
The first dumbbell pull exercise on our list is the dumbbell high pull. It’s a compound exercise that targets the posterior chain muscles and the upper body. It’s an essential muscle-building exercise for lifters who desire to develop and strengthen their backs and shoulder without doing endless press ups and pull ups. Besides building your posterior chain, this pull workout will condition your body for other explosive moves, such as snatch and clean.
How to Do Dumbbell High Pull
- Grab two dumbbells, one in each hand, using an overhand grip.
- Stand while maintaining your feet at shoulder-width
- Start by bending your lower body straight forward, letting the dumbbells hang a little below your knee height.
- Explosively raise the dumbbells upwards to your shoulder, simultaneously straightening both your hips and knees.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat these steps.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Dumbbell bent over rows is perhaps one of the best pull exercises. It helps lifters and athletes strengthen multiple parts of their bodies at once. This pull workout strengthens the muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms while building your core stability. Some muscles targeted include the trapezius, teres major, the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, infraspinatus, and more. The dumbbell bent over row is a great alternative to pull ups and dead hang exercises.
How to Do Dumbbell Bent Over Rows
- Stand up with your feet hip width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder width apart. Ensure your palms are facing each other.
- Next, push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it forms a 45-degree angle or is parallel with the floor. You must take a deep breath at this point of the exercise.
- Tighten your core and keep your back as flat as possible.
- Start the movement by driving the elbows behind the body while retracting your shoulder blades. Slowly lift the dumbbells to the point where they reach the side of your chest area and pause for a little while.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position while keeping your core and spine stable.
- Repeat the steps for the desired number of repetitions.
Dumbbell Reverse Fly
The dumbbell reverse fly exercise is an upper body pull workout that engages the posterior deltoids and major upper back muscles. Like using a pull up bar, this exercise is ideal for achieving greater balance in your muscles. It also helps improve poor posture, especially if you spend lots of time slouching over a laptop or smartphone. Besides that, it improves balance and promotes an upright stance.
How to Do a Dumbbell Reverse Fly
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab a pair of dumbbells.
- Assume a seated position, bending forward at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the ground.
- Let the weights hang straight down from your shoulders. Ensure your palms are facing each other and maintain a braced core. Keep knees slightly bent and straight back.
- As you exhale, bring your arms up slowly out to the sides, until they are in a straight line with your body. Also, ensure that your elbows reach your shoulder height.
- Pause, then lower the dumbbells slowly to the starting position as you inhale. Avoid hunching your shoulders throughout the process.
Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug
If your 9-5 job involves sitting behind a desk, chances are you experience neck and back pain due to poor posture. Luckily, Dumbbell shoulder shrugs can help you address these issues and attain proper form. Shoulder shrug is one of the best pull exercises for strengthening shoulder muscles and upper arm. This upper body pull exercise can also relieve muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
The exercise primarily targets the upper trapezius muscles that extend from the side of your neck to the start of your shoulder. However, it also develops and strengthens the Middle Trapezius, Levator Scapulae, and Erector Spinae muscles.
How to Do Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug
- Stand upright, holding a pair of dumbbells, palms facing your torso.
- Your arms should be extended to the sides, and you should place your feet shoulder width apart.
- Exhale and elevate your shoulders as high as possible while keeping your arms straight. Also, avoid using your biceps to raise the dumbbells.
- Hold the top contracted position and inhale as you slowly lower your shoulder back to a neutral standing position.
- Repeat the process again until you finish your desired reps.
Renegade row is an advanced row variation that helps to keep the core engaged. Like most full body exercises, renegade row engages back muscles like the rhomboids, arm muscles like the triceps, and core muscles like the obliques. With proper form, this particular exercise can improve your upper body strength and boost your balance.
How to Do Renegade Row
- Start by getting into a push-up position with a dumbbell in each hand. Ensure your hands are directly under your shoulders and about a width apart. Also, your toes should be flexed and in contact with the ground.
- Widen your feet, brace your body, and raise one dumbbell while supporting yourself with the other arm.
- With your left hand, push hard into the floor and row the weight upward until your arm is slightly higher than your rib cage or waist area.
- Lower the weight back to the ground slowly and in a controlled fashion. You can do one side first (like 10 reps) or alternate the sides.
Are you looking to build your chest and lats simultaneously? Then your answer is a dumbbell pullover exercise. This pull exercise is a stable in many bodybuilding push pull workouts and split routines since it targets several muscles at once, including the pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, and triceps. It’s perhaps the best lats exercise with dumbbells.
How to Do the Dumbbell Pullover
- For this particular exercise, you will need a weight bench and a dumbbell.
- Begin by laying down on the bench with your head, neck, and upper body support, then plant your feet on the ground, slightly wider than the weight lifting bench.
- Hold the far end of the weight with both your hands above your chest. Slightly bend your elbows, palms facing each other.
- Now inhale and keep your core engaged. Extend your arms and weight behind your head but not below it, then maintain the slightly bent elbow throughout the motion.
- Exhales slowly and bring the dumbbell until it is at the same level as your head, then return your arms to the starting position.
Upright Dumbbell Row
Most people avoid this pull day workout because it has a reputation for destroying shoulders. But if done with proper form upright row with dumbbells is quite effective. It can help build and strengthen your shoulder. The movement of the dumbbell row focuses on the triceps, deltoids, and trapezius. It is an ideal workout for individuals who wish to progress to compound exercises like push up and deadlifts.
How to Do Upright Dumbbell Row
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hinge forward a little by slightly bending your knees
- Keep your arms straight with a slight bend in your elbow. Hold the dumbbells in front of your body with your palms facing toward you.
- While keeping the weights as close to your body as possible, lift the dumbbells vertically towards your lower chest until your elbows reach shoulder height. Let your shoulder blades move naturally and concurrently with your shoulder joint.
- Pause at the top, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
If you wish to build bigger arms, add Zottman curl to your workout routine. At heart, Zottman Curls are still bicep curls and target the same muscles: biceps and triceps. The movement will help increase the size and strength of your forearms and biceps, making them effective. But experts advise you use other exercises like shoulder press to build your forearm strength first before pushing the limits with Zottman Curl.
How to Do Zottman Curl
- In a standing position, hold one dumbbell in each hand, positioning your hands at the sides of your body.
- Turn your wrist into a supinated position (underhand grip/ palms facing upwards) and arms fully extended.
- Inhale and tighten your core, glutes, and grip.
- Brace your biceps and curl (don’t swing) the weights upwards as you bend your elbows. When they reach chest height, pause for a second, then rotate the weight to a pronated position.
- Lower the dumbbells slowly until your arms are extended once more and exhale. Next, twist the weights back to the starting position.
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
If there is one pull exercise that will never go out of style is the single arm dumbbell row or single-arm bent over dumbbell row. It’s a perfect workout to include in your list of pulling exercises since it targets the upper back, lower back, biceps, triceps, and hips. Also, it promotes core stabilization and is an excellent alternative to cable pulls for back exercises. If you are a beginner, consider using light weights since they help build strength.
How to Do Single Arm Dumbbell Row
- Start with feet hip distance apart while holding a dumbbell in one hand. Assume a lunge position by taking one step back. Maintain a slight bend in your left leg with the knee aligning with your ankle. Lean forward and rest your left hand on your front thigh while maintaining a straight back.
- Alternatively, you can grab a dumbbell using your right hand and bent over to position your left knee and left hand on a weight bench for support.
- Whether or not you use a bench, you need to tighten your core muscle to stabilize your spine. Next, lower the dumbbell slowly towards the ground until your elbow is extended fully. Don’t arch your lumbar spine; you need to maintain proper form through your shoulder, hips, and lower back.
- Now, exhale and slowly bring the dumbbell up by moving your shoulder blade towards your spine. While maintaining your arm close to the side of your body, lift the weight until you can’t lift it any further.
- Pause for a second, then inhale and lower the weight to the starting position while maintaining a straight spine and retracted shoulder.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The dumbbell lateral raise exercise will help you engage the lateral delts. The movement provides constant tension which you cannot get when doing other push pull workouts like dumbbell bench press, or dumbbells overhead. Besides that, a dumbbell lateral raise is among the best pull day exercises to build stronger and larger shoulders and increase shoulder mobility. It also helps in core stability and building back, arms, and neck muscles.
The dumbbell lateral raise exercises might seem so easy. But the exercise is difficult to execute, even with lighter weights. So, it’s wise to select weights that will allow you to complete all the reps.
How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Stand with your feet on the ground while holding a dumbbell in each hand directly at your sides with a neutral grip. Next, turn the palms to face your body.
- Keep your back straight and brace your core, then raise the dumbbells straight out to the side until they reach shoulder level or just below shoulder level so your elbow looks slightly bent.
- Gently lower the weights back down to the starting position.
Other Dumbbell Pull Exercises Worth Checking Out
Romanian Dumbbell Deadlift
The Romanian dumbbell deadlift is an effective full-body workout that works to strengthen your legs and lower back. It’s a must-do exercise for individuals lifting weights to develop a strong back because it targets the back muscles that others push workouts like floor press don’t always hit. Besides that, the movement activates your glutes and hamstring. Romanian dumbbell deadlift is also an efficient core workout.
Bicep curls are a simple weight training exercise that can take your arm training to greater heights. The exercise activates the muscles in the upper arms and some in the lower hands. As the name suggests, the movement engages the biceps. But keep in mind the bicep muscle works in tandem with the lats, deltoids, traps, and triceps in the shoulder as well as the elbow joint. Therefore, this movement helps to improve your upper body strength.
To do this exercise effectively, you need the right posture and to hold the dumbbells correctly (palms facing forward). Also, you need to use light weights for your training method, especially if you’re a beginner. Otherwise, you will have an elbows locked condition that can lead to some serious pain.
Two-arm Dumbbell Stiffed Legged Deadlift
Although it’s easy to compare the two-arm dumbbell stiffed-legged deadlift to the Romanian dumbbell deadlift, they are slightly different. The former involves less bending of the knees to work the glutes and hamstrings. The movement also activates the erector spinae muscles in your lower back, including the spinalis, iliocostalis, and longissimus. Throughout the exercise, maintain a tight core and straight back.
One-arm Swing Dumbbell
The one-arm swing dumbbell is often an under-used exercise. But it’s quite effective at building different parts in your whole body, including hamstrings, traps, shoulders, chests, abs, and pecs. The motion also maintains the control of the stabilizer muscles: the lower back, middle back, rotator cuff, and forearms.
Besides boosting your strength, speed, power, and endurance, a one-arm swing dumbbell can help you lose fat. Also, it does not put any compression on your spine and joints.
The cross-hammer curl is a pull day workout that activates the biceps, forearm, and brachioradialis muscles. It will help you build stronger and thicker biceps and balance the upper arm and forearm. To do it effectively, grab two dumbbells (each in one arm) and place them by your side. Next, curl each dumbbell towards your opposing shoulder.
What Do Dumbbell Pulls Workout?
Dumbbell pulls primarily work out the muscle group in the upper body: chest, back, and shoulders. However, the secondary motion can also have a significant effect on your lower body. The targeted muscles during weight lifting include:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Serratus anterior
- Pectoralis major
- Lower backs
- Hips flexors
- Tres major and posterior deltoids
- Upper abs
- Lower abs
Dumbbell pull exercises make an excellent addition to your push pull workout routine. These exercises will help you lose fat and build strength, stamina, and explosive power.
As a result, these movements can help you do other full-body workouts with ease.
If you desire to see the best results, do these dumbbell exercises regularly and alternate them with your upper body push exercises to keep yourself challenged. It goes without saying, stick to a proper diet and consult a certified personal trainer if you need help.
That marks the end of our guide! Thank you for stopping by!
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost