How To Perform Dumbbell Straight-Arm Pullback Correctly (4 Steps)

By Walter Oconner | Fitness & Exercises


Dumbbell straight arm pullback is not a very popular exercise, and there is a good possibility that you have never seen it, or heard for it before. However, that does not mean it is a bad exercise, on the contrary. This exercise targets your back muscles, mainly lats, and is a good supplement movement to add to your back routine. It is always good to incorporate new moves into your workout regime, to keep things more interesting, but also to surprise your muscles and central nervous system.

Our body is smart, and if you do the same exercises over and over again, it adjusts to them, resulting in plateaus. Adding a few new moves now and then to jolt everything up is a good strategy. Dumbbell straight arm pullback is undoubtedly an excellent choice, an exercise you should add to your back day routine.

What is it?

This is a quite simple to do exercise that is perfect for home gyms that are lacking equipment. Dumbbell straight arm pullback is quite a simple movement, but that does not mean the exercise is easy; actually, it is quite tough, and you will not need much weight to feel the burn. You will only need a pair of (lightweight) dumbbells, and you are set. This exercise can also be performed with bands or on a pulley machine.

You must be wondering why you have not seen it before? Well, the main reason is explained above - this exercise is a supplement movement, and you can build a broad and thick back without ever doing it. Also, people choose other exercises when working out in the gyms. This is reasonable; they are paying the gym membership to use that fancy equipment - doing some strange exercises with light dumbells is not exactly what a typical "bro" wants to do in the Church of Iron.

Main Muscles Engaged

Straight arm pullback is primarily a back movement, that targets lats. Lats are big muscles on the sides of your back and are most often worked by doing lat pulldowns, pull-ups and chin-ups. Developed lats look very pleasing, since they give your body that desirable V-shape.

Straight arm pullback also works your triceps and the teres major muscle that is found just above your lats. It also works your shoulders a little bit, further helping you develop that V-Taper. Sorry bros, unfortunately not much biceps is involved, you will have to stick to those curls. 🙂


Any Exercises Similar To Straight Arm Pullback?

The closest cousin of straight arm pullback is straight arm pulldown, done on the cable pulley, or lat pulldown machine, usually while standing. This exercise also targets the lats. However, pulldown gives you a better stretch on the start of the movement, since your muscles are under tension as soon as you start pulling down. However, the movement is limited - you can only go until the bar touches your thigs.

Dumbbell straight arm pullback, on the other hand, has a weaker stretch on the start of the movement, but since you are using the dumbbells, your hands will move behind you (that is why it is called pullback), allowing you to reach the full range of motion in that direction. Ideally, you should find a place for both of these great exercises - not necessarily in a single day, but instead rotating between the two.

Lat pulldowns sound similar and also engage your lats, but since you bend your elbows and flex biceps, they work your muscles in a different way than straight arm pullbacks, and pulldowns do. Straight arm pullbacks and pulldowns are isolation lat exercises, while the lat-pulldown is a substitute for pull-ups/chin-ups, one of the essential compound movements for building broad back.

How To Do The Dumbbell Straight Arm Pullback?

Here are the steps:

Stand with dumbbells hanging in both hands. The "default" version of this movement is performed with an overhand grip, but you can experiment with other grip variations later.

Remember, this is not an easy exercise, so start with lighter weights, until you get the hang of it.

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Step 1

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  • Flex from the hips, lowering your chest towards the floor, until your back is (almost) parallel to the floor. The dumbbells should hang in line with your shoulders, with your arms fully stretched.
  • Your lower back should be neutral, naturally arched.
  • You should slightly flex your knees, keeping them in the same position throughout the movement
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    As with almost every exercise, keep your core braced like you are about to take a hit to the belly. This will activate your abs, providing more stability to your back, which will further reduce the injury risk.
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    Your torso should not move through the whole movement - the only moving part should be your hand(s), no momentum, no cheating.
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    While keeping them straight throughout the entire movement, start pulling your arms back, towards your hips.
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    Try to move the weights in a slow, controlled manner.
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    Pause at the top, and then reverse the movement, doing the same the opposite way. Try to resist the gravity, and concentrate on your muscles.
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    The eccentric part of every exercise is equally important, so don't just let your hands drop back down.
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    Once your hands are back in the starting position, pause to kill any momentum, and repeat the whole thing the prescribed number of repetitions.

We can not stress the importance of performing this exercises as slowly as possible, while intensely focusing on activating the lats. If you do it fast while using momentum (cheating!) this exercise is utterly useless.

This exercise can be done with one or both hands at the same time. Doing it with only one dumbbell will activate your core even more. You can put your free hand on your knee for more stability while performing the one-arm version.

Different Variation (Easier to perform)


The dumbbell straight arm pullback is an excellent lat isolation exercise. You should definitely consider including it into your workout regime, alongside some compound movements such as pull-ups and deadlifts. Still, it is a good exercise even on its own, particularly for home gyms who are lacking equipment. It is quite tough to do, and you will not need much weight to feel that burn.

 This exercise should definitely be more popular than it is since it is quite easy to perform but hits your muscles hard. It is always great to add something new to your regime- after all, you are supposed to exercise at least three times each week, forever, and doing the same exercises, again and again, will get boring. Add the dumbbell straight arm pullback from time to time, rotating it with the straight arm pulldown, to keep things fun, and muscles growing. Stay strong!


  • About the Author

    Hi everyone, I am Walter, Main Editor of and a Fitness Trainer with over 4 years of experience. I’ve also been promoting clean eating, a healthy lifestyle, and Organic products.