Dumbbell Exercises: High Pulls

Dumbbell Exercises: High Pulls

High pulls with dumbbells exercise your upper and lower body, qualifying it as a total-body exercise. Total-body exercises do not exercise every muscle group in your body, but they do challenge your coordination and burn more calories because the heart has to pump blood to two parts of your body not near each other. The high pulls have several variations using dumbbells, kettlebells and a barbell.

How It Works

The dumbbell high pull exercise requires coordination. It combines a mini squat, standing calf raise, shoulder shrug and upright row. All these movements come together into one, smooth exercise. To perform a dumbbell high pull, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms straight against the front of your torso with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly. Next, straighten your knees and rise onto the balls of your feet as you shrug your shoulders toward your ears. Then, pull the weights up toward your armpits and flair your elbows out toward your shoulders. When you lower the weights, drop your heels back to the floor.

Target Muscles

The high pull targets the trapezoid muscles in the upper back. Both shoulder shrugs and upright rows work the upper back, so doing these movements together hits the entire length of the trap muscles. The quadriceps and glutes also work to straighten your legs out of the mini squat.

Sports Benefits

The dumbbell high pull helps basketball players to improve their sports performance. The movement of standing and rising onto the toes is similar to a basketball player bringing a basketball up to make a shot. Holding onto the dumbbells also increases grip strength for better ball control.


Dumbbell high pulls work the traps just like the barbell and kettlebell versions, but the exact movement you use differs. If you like the high pulls and want to try to do them a different way for a new challenge, variety or because dumbbells are not available, you need to know how the proper form differs so you don't get hurt trying to mimic dumbbell high pulls with different equipment.

To perform a barbell high pull, stand in front of a barbell on the floor. Do a deep squat to grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Quickly stand up and raise the bar up to your neck, then drop it onto the floor. The elbows bend as you lift the bar just like with the dumbbell version. You also briefly rise onto the balls of your feet when the bar comes up.

To perform a kettlebell high pull, hold the handle of one kettlebell with both hands with your body in a low squat and the weight on the floor. You can turn your toes out to make it a sumo high pull and activate the inner thighs too. Then, pull the kettlebell up to your chest as you stand up, but skip the shoulder shrug that you do for the dumbbell high pull.