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December 23, 2021

Top 13 Back Dumbbell Exercises For Men & Women

When it comes to training the back, most people tend to think of machines and barbells; the lat pulldown machine, the seated row machine, the t-bar row machine and, of course, the barbell row. But what if you haven’t got access to those machines and barbells.? Then this article is for you – I’m about to lay out 13 extremely effective back exercises that require the use of just a pair of dumbbells.

Dumbbell Benefits

There are a number of benefits of dumbbells over barbells. These include …

 

  • Dumbbells require your muscles to work harder to stabilize the body.
  • Dumbbells allow you to work the back muscles unilaterally, so you can focus on each side of the latissimus dorsi individually. That allows you to balance out your muscle and strength levels and achieve greater muscle isolation.
  • Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion in comparison to barbells.

13 Top Dumbbell Exercises For the Back

Single Arm Row

 

  1. Start with the left knee and left palm on a weight bench. Your right leg should be slightly bent and your back flat.
  2. Hang your right arm down in front of you at full extension.
  3. Pull the weight up to your chest.
  4. When the weight is in the top position, pause and squeeze your lats.
  5. Slowly lower under control to the start position – do not let the weight pull you down.

Three Point Stance Single Arm Row

  1. Place one hand on a weight bench. Your back should be flat and your feet about hip width apart.
  2. Grip the weight in the other hand and hang your arm down in front of your body to full extension.
  3. Pull the weight up to your chest. Hold the top position, squeezing your lats in the top position.
  4. Lower under control as you resist the downward pull of gravity.

Dual Bent Over Row

 

  1. Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand and feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Hinge your hips as you descend into a position where your knees are bent and your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  3. Drop your shoulders and activate your lats. Now pull both dumbbells up to your ribcage, squeezing the lays in the process. Keep your torso in the same position throughout the movement.
  4. Lower under control to the start position.

Single Arm Bent Over Row

 

This exercise is performed much like a dual dumbbell bent over row, except that you only do one arm at a time. However, by working one arm at a time, you are able to benefit from unilateral training, which allows you to better focus on each side of the lats. You will also be slightly stronger when you work with one dumbbell at a time.

  1. Stand tall with a dumbbell in your right and feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Hinge your hips as you descend into a position where your knees are bent and your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  3. Drop your shoulders and activate your lats. Now pull your right hand up to your ribcage, squeezing the lays in the process. Keep your torso in the same position throughout the movement.
  4. Lower under control to the start position.
  5. Do the same number of reps with each arm.

Dumbbell Pullover

 

The dumbbell pullover is a latissimus dorsi dominant movement, but because of the positioning of the body, the triceps and core are involved. When lowering the weight behind your head, be aware that your lower body wants to come off the bench. It’s ok if it raises off the bench a bit, but try to keep it down and only allow your arms to go back as far as your lower back and core stay strong.

  1. While sitting on a weight bench, grab the very bottom of a dumbbell with your hands in a triangle shape.
  2. Lie back on the bench and lift your hands straight above your chest, keeping your arms straight.
  3. Slowly lower the weight directly behind your head without bending the elbows, as if you were going to set it on the floor behind you. Only go as far as you feel your shoulders can handle.
  4. Slowly reverse the movement to bring the weight back to the start position.

 

Note: It may be more comfortable to keep a slight bend in the elbows. Just be sure not to excessively bend them or you will transfer the focus to the biceps.

Farmer’s Carry

The Farmer’s Carry is one of the simplest yet most efficient ways to get stronger, especially through the back muscles. But it works more than that – your core, legs and entire upper body are forced to work when doing any variation of a farmer’s carry.

 

The Farmer’s Carry involves simply picking up a weight and carrying it from one place to another. It is very similar to when you go to the grocery store and have two heavy bags to get home.

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor in front of you.
  2. Hinge at the hips to drop down to a position when you can grab the dumbbells. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your core tight.
  3. Now stand up tall, open your chest and pull your shoulders away from your ears.
  4. Take several steps forward then bend your knees and hinge your hips to set the weights back down.
  5. That is one set.

 

Notes

 

What tends to happen when walking with weight is that the chest wants to fall because the weight pulls the body down. You need to resist this, maintain a tight core and stand up straight, not allowing the chest to drop.

 

Use your body when you are doing this exercise; think about the core, the back, and the chest all staying strong and working together.  When you are walking with weights in your hand, momentum tends to take over; the weights may start to swing; one of your jobs while doing the Farmer’s Carry is to prevent the weights from moving around.

 

Remember that the Farmer’s Carry is an anti-rotation exercise. When you walk there is rotation of the hips. This is natural and should happen, but, ideally, you should be working to keep the core still and strong and not let the weights determine what the body does.

Front Rack Farmer’s Carry

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor in front of you.
  2. Hinge at the hips to drop down to a position when you can grab the dumbbells. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your core tight.
  3. Now stand up tall, open your chest and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Bring the weights up to a front rack position, where they are at shoulder level with your elbows forward
  4. Take several steps forward then bend your knees and hinge your hips to set the weights back down.
  5. That is one set.

Dumbbell Pull Ups

 

 

The pull up is one of the most effective overall back development exercises that you can do. As well as directly working the lats, it also hits the rhomboids and upper traps as well as the biceps. This is a great exercise to develop upper body strength. In this version of the pull up you add extra resistance by strapping a dumbbell to your waist. This is an advanced version of the pull up. Do not try it until you can do 15 solid reps with no added weight.

  1. Place a weight belt around your waist and attach a dumbbell to it with the aid of a chain.
  2. Hang from a pull up bar at a dead hand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart in an overhand grip.
  3. Depress your shoulder and flare out your scapulae as you open your chest.
  4. Pull through the lats as you come up to the bar – aim for your chest to reach the bar as you arch slightly backwards.
  5. Hold the top position as you squeeze your lats.
  6. Lower under control, resisting the force of gravity.

Dumbbell Shrug

 

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and a pair of dumbbells on your hands, held in front of your body with palms facing in toward your body.
  2. With your body completely upright and maintaining a neutral spine, pull the dumbbells directly up your body to the level of your chin.
  3. Hold for a second then lower under control to the start position.

Renegade Row

  1. Get down on the floor with a pair of dumbbells in your hands and assume the top position of a push up.
  2. With your body in a straight line and your core tight, row the right hand dumbbell up to your rib cage. Lower and repeat on the opposite side.
  3. Alternate your reps from side to side to complete your rep count.

Incline Dumbbell Row

 

The incline dumbbell row is a stricter version of the standard barbell bent over row that prevents you from using momentum to cheat the weight up. Because your upper body is supported by the bench, you are forced to rely solely on the muscles of your back to do the work.

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells at the end of an incline bench. Set the bench angle to 30-degrees.
  2. Lie on the bench face down so that your hands are hanging down towards the dumbbells. Plant your feet firmly on the floor.
  3. Reach down and grab the dumbbells, holding them in a neutral grip.
  4. Pull the dumbbells up to the level of your ribcage, pausing in the top position as you squeeze tight to engage the lats.
  5. Resist the pull of gravity as you lower the weight back to the start position.

Towel Grip Dumbbell Row

 

The towel grip dumbbell row is a variation that allows you to really work the forearms as well as the lats and biceps. You have to really squeeze the towel to keep your control over the weight and you need to recruit stabilizer muscles to stop the dumbbell from moving around.

  1. Position yourself with the left knee and left palm on a weight bench and place a dumbbell on the floor underneath you. Your right leg should be slightly bent and your back flat.
  2. Hang your right arm down in front of you at full extension with a towel on your hand. Wrap the towel around the handle of the dumbbell and grab the ends of the towel in a fist grip.
  3. Pull the weight up to your chest.
  4. When the weight is in the top position, pause and squeeze your lats.
  5. Slowly lower under control to the start position – do not let the weight pull you down.

Three Way Elevated Plank Row

 

  1. Stand side on to a weight bench and place a dumbbell on the bench.
  2. Position yourself so that your feet are about four feet from the bench and lean down onto the bench so that your left elbow is resting on it. Your body should now be at a 30-degree angle.
  3. Grab the weight in your right hand and let it hang down in front of the bench.
  4. Row the weight up to your ribcage and hold the top position. Squeeze for a two count.
  5. Lower under control as you resist the force of gravity.

What if your a Beginner

We suggest starting with the following dumbbell back workouts until you are comfortable to to try the others

  • Single Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Dumbbell Shrug
  • Incline Dumbbell Row

Conclusion

You have now got a stable of 13 great dumbbell exercises that you can draw on to create your ideal back workout. I recommend choosing 4 exercises and performing 4 sets of each, for a total of 16 exercises in total. Keep your rep ranges between 6 and 15. Start with the higher number and reduce a few reps while increasing the weight every set.

 

You should train your back every 5 days days to provide your body with the ideal amount of rest and recuperation time while also building maximum muscle and strength.

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Steve


Steve Theunissen is from New Zealand and is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over 30 years experience. Read more about Steve in the 'about us' page.

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