9 Best Dumbbell Back Workouts- Full Details

Let’s talk about dumbbell back workouts. Dumbbells, rowing machines and cable machines are fantastic tools for building a strong and muscular back, which is why they get a lot of attention from gym goers. But what about dumbbells? Back exercises with dumbbells are often neglected and forgotten in the search for a tapered V shape. And that’s a real shame, because if you’re not using dumbbells for your back, you’re missing out on the following benefits:

  • Wide range of training variables such as grip position and body position, great for both developing your back and avoiding potential joint overuse issues.
  • Greater selection of exercises.
  • Removing power imbalances.
  • Greater range of motion for both contraction and stretch tension.
  • Grip strength.

We’ll look at the anatomy and function of the dumbbell back workouts in this article, as well as the benefits of using dumbbells for your back and 9 extremely effective dumbbell back workouts to build a strong and muscular back.

Let’s get cracking.


The back muscles are out of sight and therefore usually out of mind (especially for beginners). They do, however, play a major role in shoulder health, posture, and performance.

Understanding the back muscles and the role they play will help you understand the importance of strengthening them.

Here are the main muscles and movements of the back.

  • The erector spinae muscles: The erector spinae consists of three muscles – Spinalis, Longissimus and Iliocostalis – that run alongside the spine from the lower back to the neck. Head movements, lateral flexion and spinal extension help. But their most important function is to keep the spine in a neutral position under load (antiflexion and antilateral flexion – stability of the spine).
  • Rhombuses: The rhomboids originate from the cervical (cervical) vertebra and run diagonally down the back and abut the inside of the shoulder blades. Their main movements are scapular adduction (joining) and elevation (overhead presses) and internal rotation (when you bring the arm back to the trunk).
  • Trapezius: This is a single muscle divided into three parts, the upper, middle and lower traps. It is a large flat triangular muscle that originates from the cervical spine and all 12 thoracic vertebrae. Their main movements include scapular adduction, elevation, depression, and external rotation.
  • Latissimus Dorsi: Or lats for short are the widest muscle in the human body and cover almost all back muscles except the traps. They originate from the scapula and spinous processes of the vertebrae of the thoracic spine down to the lumbar spine. The lat inserts onto the humerus and everyone tells the lat to join five different points that include the spine, ribs, scapula, and pelvis Shoulder extension and adduction, horizontal abduction and adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder are some of its primary movements.

Note: Your back also includes your teres major and rear delts are often part of back training as well.


You won’t be able to lift more weight with dumbbells compared to barbells, trap bars, and machines, but there are several important benefits to using dumbbells for back training.

  • More joint-friendly: Dumbbells lock you into a certain range of motion and grip, but not with dumbbells. There is more freedom of movement, plus you can lift with a neutral grip, and both are easier on the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.
  • Strength Imbalance: Training unilaterally as with one-arm rows will help strengthen the imbalance between the sides, if any. Because with dumbbells and trap bars, you engage both sides of the body at the same time, and one side can dominate the other.
  • Better muscle development: Even if you’re lifting two dumbbells, each side of your body is still working independently to stabilize each dumbbell. When you lift consistently with two barbells, the weaker side can catch up with your dominant side, resulting in better muscle development on your weaker side. PLUS, with dumbbells you typically achieve a large range of motion that allows you to create maximum muscle contraction and stretch tension. Another very important aspect of building muscle and strength.
  • Easier to use: Dumbbells require plates to be put on and taken off and often require additional equipment such as a bench press to perform the exercises. Dumbbells are easier to use, require less setup and are easier to pack.

But one of the best advantages of dumbbells is the ability to change the training variables, which leads to a greater choice of exercises. Let’s explain…


The main training variables you can easily change with dumbbells are:

  • Body positioning
  • Adhesion

Here are some prime examples…

Body positioning:

First, by changing your body position, you can change how your muscles are focused and emphasized. You’re basically changing angles, which helps with full back development.

With dumbbells, you can position yourself in a bent over position, prone position (lying face down on a bench), prone prone position, bent over sitting and so on.

Dumbbell back workouts will usually be complementary exercises, so it’s important to mix things up for hypertrophy purposes.

Grip Positioning:

Grip is another huge one. With dumbbells, you can play with your grip position more effectively than with any other tool.

You have an underhand grip, an overhand grip, a neutral grip, and you can even do a flip grip. For example, moving from overhand to neutral to underhand while performing a row.

With each grip you will have a different effect.

Take the bent line for example:

With the OVERHAND GRIP you emphasize the upper part of the back (pasts, rhomboids, rear delts, teres major):

With the UNDERHAND GRIP, you will emphasize your lats more:

With a NEUTRAL GRIP, you will target the back muscles fairly evenly and have a greater range of motion:

Then of course you have the UNILATERAL options, of which you can use any grip:

To top it all off, you have the angle where you pull, i.e. you can pull at chest, belly or hip level. All of these variables have an effect and should be implemented into your back training over time for the best development of your muscles. And that’s what makes dumbbells so special. It’s easy to implement important training variables!


Here are nine great back exercises with dumbbells. It is a mix of bilateral and unilateral exercises to strengthen imbalances for better muscle development and injury prevention.


The bent-over barbell row is very similar to its barbell counterpart. You can use any grip for this, and we recommend doing all of them (remember the point about variable training above).

In view of the other exercises below, however, we have chosen an overhand grip here. The overhand grip db bent over row targets the upper back, shoulders, biceps and grip.

And since you’re in a hinge position, this variation of the row improves lower back endurance through isometric contraction. This makes it a great supplemental exercise to improve your deadlift as you hold the hip hinge underweight for a period of time.

Here’s how to perform the Bent Over Dumbbell Row:

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, hang from your hips until the dumbbells are below your knees.
  2. With your shoulders down and chest up, press your shoulder blades together and row the dumbbells to the front of your hips.
  3. You want your elbows to be at about a 45 degree angle from your torso throughout the movement.
  4. Pause at the top position for a second, then slowly lower the dumbbells down and reset and repeat.

Best rep range: 8-15

Difficulty: Difficult to difficult

Progression: Slow down the eccentric, pick up the pace, or perform unilaterally

Regression: Deadstop line (see below)


Batwing rows correct a common mistake with barbell rows. Lifters often go too heavy and use momentum and body English to row with the barbells. This results in more biceps action and less upper back involvement. But with your chest glued to the bench and limited range of motion, you’ll have an upper back like never before.

Here’s how to do the Batwing Row with Dumbbells:

  1. Lie face down on a weight bench with your chest on the bench and your legs straight. You can also use the incline bench position.
  2. Grasp the dumbbells with a neutral grip and retract your shoulders and pull the dumbbells to the outside of the bench.
  3. Your body remains glued to the bench the entire time.
  4. Pause for a second and slowly descend and rest and repeat.

Best rep range: 6-12

Difficulty: Medium to hard

Procedure: Series of seals (see below)

Regression: Any variation of a series of one-arm dumbbells.

Note: A variant of the bat row that will require less weight is to also perform a fly-like motion after performing the row. You can see a demo of it on Youtube.


Carrying a dumbbell on one side may not seem like a great back exercise, but it is. These are performed with the arm at the side, a stand, or overhead, with the overhead position being the most difficult. When carried unilaterally, great demands are placed on the core to maintain stability and a neutral spine. These carry variations will stretch the lower and upper back to maintain proper posture, which will help develop muscles.

Here’s how to perform a one-sided dumbbell carry

  1. Choose a barbell that is between 25-50% of your body weight (choose a weight that allows you to reach the recommended distance below).
  2. Either hold the barbell at your side (trunk) rack (in front of your shoulder) or overhead.
  3. Make sure your body doesn’t lean to one side or the other.
  4. Walk 40 yards slowly, maintaining proper posture.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.

Best Repeat Range: 40-100 yards

Difficulty: Easy to medium

Procedure: Trap bar carries (allows for heavier loads)

Regression: Regular bilateral farm carry (takes some attention away from core/spine)


Note: The image above shows general form, but for a deadlift row, you must bring the barbell to the floor on each rep and repeat from a “dead” stop. This is what separates it from the Kroc Row and the Dumbbell series.

The deadlift series has several advantages over other variations of the single arm dumbbell series. The first is the increased range of motion that comes from touching the floor. Additionally, pausing on the floor removes the stretch reflex, making it harder to row. The deadstop row is great for balancing strength imbalances between the sides, you also get more core work and the ability to go heavier than other single arm row variations.

Here’s how to perform a one-sided Deadstop Row with a barbell:

  1. Face a horizontal weight bench with a barbell in front of your feet.
  2. Get into a good hinge position and feel the tension in your hamstrings, not your lower back, and place one hand on the bench.
  3. Grab a barbell and row toward your hips, keeping your shoulders down and your chest up.
  4. Pause for a second and lower it with control until it reaches the floor. Pause, reset and repeat.

Best rep range: 8-12 reps

Difficulty: Easy to medium

Procedure: Bent Row with Dumbbells

Regression: Row with chest support (see below)


The dumbbell seal row is a variation of the row where you lie face down on an elevated weight bench. Similar to the dumbbell version, you hold two dumbbells in each hand so they don’t touch the floor. This position takes a lot of momentum out of the lift, so the upper back does most of the heavy lifting and not the biceps. Some exercisers go too heavy on the rows and use more biceps and less upper back, leaving the trapezoids and mid traps neglected. The barbell seal range solves both problems.

Note: Feel free to swap grips with this as you see fit.

Here’s how to perform a Dumbbell Seal Row:

  • The key to the seal row is to stand on the bench so that you can fully extend your arms without the dumbbells touching the ground.
  • Do this by supporting the bench with either two low boxes or a stack of weights.
  • Then lie on a bench with dumbbells on either side and squeeze your glutes and tighten your abs.
  • Think about bringing your hands to your sides as you row the dumbbells up until you feel your upper back engaging.
  • Straighten lower arms and reset and repeat.

Best rep range: 8-15

Difficulty: Medium to difficult

Procedure: Bent Row with Dumbbells

Regression: Chest supported line


The barbell chest row is like a seated version of the machine, your chest stays on the mat as you pull. Limited assistance from the lower body facilitates this lower back variation and places more emphasis on the upper back muscles for greater size and strength. In addition, with an adjustable bench, you can exercise your back from different angles for better muscle development.

Note: A seal row is simply a chest support type of row where your feet are off the ground and you are lying completely flat (on your stomach). The chest supported barbell row can be done from a flat or incline bench (or even a preacher’s bench) and with your feet on the floor.

Here’s how to perform a barbell chest row:

  1. Adjust the incline of the bench to 45 degrees.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and place your chest on the bench and lean into it.
  3. Lock your feet and let your arms hang down, holding each barbell with a neutral grip.
  4. Retract your shoulder blades and row the dumbbells toward the outside of the bench, keeping your chest on the bench.
  5. Slowly lower down until arms are straight, reset and repeat.

Best rep range: 8-15

Difficulty: Medium to difficult

Procedure: Bent Row with Dumbbells

Regression: A one-sided deadlock series


The RDL series is a full body movement with lower and upper body benefits. Due to fewer contact points, you will receive feedback if your rowing form is turned off. Plus, you’ll be training your glutes, hamstrings, and balance on one leg when you’re in the one-leg position. And if you struggle with single leg RDLs, this variation of the row will make it better because you’ll spend more time there.

Here’s how to perform the RDL Row with Dumbbells

  1. Start with about 60% of your usual rowing weight until you dial in your form.
  2. Stand in front of the weight bench, lift your left leg off the ground and hinge back, placing your left hand on the bench.
  3. Grab a barbell with your right hand and with your shoulders down, row the barbell until you feel a stretch in your upper back.
  4. Slowly straighten your right arm and reset and repeat.
  5. Then repeat this sequence on the other side.

Best rep range: 8-15

Difficulty: Difficult

Procedure: None. This is as hard as it gets

Regression: A one-sided deadlock series


The arched rear delt raise is also known as the reverse fly. Primarily used to bulk up the rear deltoid, it’s a great isolation exercise for the rhomboids and mid-traps. But holding a squat rack or the top of an incline bench with one hand reinforces the imbalance between the sides, and the increased stability means you’ll be using more weight. That’s a win for your shoulders and upper back.

Here’s how to perform the Stability Bent Over Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise:

  1. Stand sideways on a squat rack or something sturdy, holding a dumbbell in the opposite hand.
  2. Hold the squat rack and hanger at your hips, keep your shoulders down and your chest up.
  3. With a slight bend in the working elbow, perform a rear delt lift until you feel a contraction in the upper back and shoulders.
  4. Return to starting position and repeat.
  5. Perform the same sequence on the other side.

Best rep range: 12-20

Difficulty: Easy to medium

Procedure: Perform with both hands without stability.

Regression: Chest supported row.


The dumbbell hip row is like any other row except for a slight tweak. Rowing to the outside of the hip helps target the hard-to-reach lower lats. When you start the exercise, think about pulling back to your backside instead of rowing. This adjustment will result in an arched range of motion that really targets the lower lats. Rowing this way prevents the upper traps from cramping when performing one-arm rows, which is a common form error.

Here’s how to do the Dumbbell Row to Hip:

  1. Support your non-working arm and knee on a bench and hold one dumbbell with your back leg straight.
  2. With a firm grip on the barbell (overhand, underhand, or neutral are all acceptable), move the barbell in front of the working arm and row the barbell to the outside of the hip. That’s the key difference, you row low, to the sides, not the midsection.
  3. Keep your shoulders down and chest up throughout the exercise.
  4. Pause for a second and slowly lower to the starting position and repeat for reps.
  5. Repeat the sequence on the other side.

Best rep range: 12-15

Difficulty: Medium to difficult

Procedure: RDL line

Regression: Deadstop line


The purpose of the warm-up is to get the blood flowing from the abdomen to the back and shoulder muscles. Your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints are thus ready for action. Doing a few foam rolling exercises on your back with your arms overhead and your shoulder blade extended will help circulation and help ease your body into the workout.

Then by doing some low intensity back exercises like TRX IYT, face tucks and belt stretches for 8-15 reps, it will mobilize the back and shoulders and get them ready to roll.

Source: https://www.setforset.com/blogs/news/dumbbell-back-exercises

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