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The Ultimate Dumbbell Back Workout for Strength and Ripped Muscles

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Why use dumbbells for back workouts?

Though we can’t see the back like we can our biceps or quads, the back is every bit as important. Home to a range of small and large muscle groups, the back is essential for many things (1). Most notably, the back allows us to: 

  • Maintain an upright posture
  • Keep our shoulders and spine healthy 
  • Produce lots of power with the upper body
  • Do various movements

In other words, having a solid back improves our lives on multiple levels. For one – this applies to everyone – a strong back makes us more stable and less likely to get injured. It also allows us to maintain good posture, look better, and prevent upper back and neck aches. Beyond that, a strong back makes us more functional and better able to carry out everyday tasks easily: moving furniture, carrying groceries, playing with our kids, and much more. Create your own routines with Hevy.

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Dumbbells are a fantastic choice for back training because:

  • We can use them for almost any back exercise you can think of
  • They offer a fantastic range of motion
  • The overload potential is excellent, given that dumbbells can weigh 100 pounds or more
  • We can emphasize both sides of the back better

2 Effective Back Dumbbell Workouts

Workout 1: At Home

As you’ll see from our exercise list below, you can pick from many dumbbell exercises to train your back. The issue is, many of them ask for special adjustments. For example, to do renegade rows, you need hexagonal dumbbells. To do incline rows, you will need an adjustable gym bench. The below three movements work great because all you need are the dumbbells. Plus, they work together because they offer complete back development with particular emphasis on your lower back, abs, lats, and rear delts (shoulders). Depending on what you have available, you can also do all three movements with heavier or lighter dumbbells.

The first movement emphasizes your lats, you can use heavier dumbbells, and the range of motion is excellent. The second exercise puts greater emphasis on your rear deltoids but still trains your back well and promotes core stability.  And the final movement introduces an element of instability and allows you to train your back through an even more extended range of motion.

  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row – 3-4 sets of 8 to 20 reps (per side) 
  • Bent-Over Wide Row – 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps
  • Towel-Grip Dumbbell Row – 2-3 sets of 12 to 20 reps 

Workout 2: At the Gym

Unlike the previous workout, we don’t have to compromise here because the gym is our playground. We can choose weights to use much more freely and take advantage of other equipment like a gym bench. Also, unlike the previous workout, this one features four exercises, which means doing slightly more work.

The movements we’ve chosen for this particular gym workout work great together because each brings something to the table. For example, the first exercise forces your entire back to work hard, trains your lats through a significant range of motion, and prevents you from using momentum. The second emphasizes core stability while allowing you to train your lats well. The third movement is different from the other ones because it isn’t a familiar row. And the final movement serves to finish off your back and build up significant metabolic stress, hopefully resulting in superior growth (2).

  • Seal Dumbbell Rows – 3-4 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Renegade Rows – 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps (per side) 
  • Lat Pullovers – 2-3 sets of 12 to 20 reps
  • Incline Bench Rows – 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps

10 Dumbbell Back Exercises

Exercise 1: Single-Arm Row

The single-arm row is fantastic because the overload potential is excellent, you can use a more extended range of motion, and you get to focus on one side at a time.

Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, Abs, and Transverse Abdominis
Equipment: Dumbbell

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Take a dumbbell and walk up to a bench.
  • Grab the dumbbell with one hand, bend forward, and place your free hand flat on the bench for balance.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, take a breath, and raise the dumbbell off the floor.
  • Row the dumbbell up until your elbow is at torso level. Hold the top position for a second.
  • Release and exhale.
  • Once finished on one side, grab the dumbbell with your other hand and repeat.

Exercise 2: Bent-Over Wide Rows

The bent-over wide row is excellent for training the lats, improving core stability, and emphasizing the rear deltoids.

Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, Abs, Transverse Abdominis, Glutes, and Hamstrings
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and bend forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor.
  • With your arms hanging down, bring your shoulders back and ensure that your spine is neutral.
  • Twist your wrists in until your knuckles point forward.
  • Take a breath and row the dumbbells wide, having your elbows somewhat flared out instead of remaining close to your torso.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the starting position as you exhale.

Exercise 3: Lat Pullover

Unlike rowing exercises, the lat pullover is excellent because it mainly emphasizes your lats and causes a significant stretch as you extend your arms.

Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Trapezius, Triceps, Biceps, Abs, and Transverse Abdominis
Equipment: Bench and a Dumbbell

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a dumbbell, walk over to a bench, and sit down.
  • With the dumbbell resting on one thigh, hold it with both hands, and lie back.
  • Carefully raise the dumbbell over your chest and hold the top side with both hands. The dumbbell should be vertical.
  • With your feet flat on the floor, back slightly arched, and shoulder blades on the bench, take a breath.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell back and down while maintaining a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Lower the weight until you feel a significant stretch in your lats.
  • Pull the dumbbell over to the starting position as you squeeze your lats and exhale.

Exercise 4: Renegade Rows

The renegade row is an excellent movement for strengthening your core while also working on your upper back and biceps.

Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Abs, Transverse Abdominis, Internal and External Obliques, Chest, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, and Glutes
Equipment: Pair of Hexagonal Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Place both dumbbells on the floor. They should be parallel to one another and roughly shoulder-distance apart.
  • Get down and grab both dumbbells.
  • Position your body into a push-up position with your back neutral and limbs straight. Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should be in a straight line.
  • Engage your abs, squeeze your glutes, and shift your weight slightly to the left.
  • Row the dumbbell in your right hand up until your elbow is at torso level. At this time, balance yourself on your left arm.
  • Lower the dumbbell, exhale and repeat.
  • Once finished, do the same number of repetitions by shifting to the right and rowing with your left side.

Exercise 5: Incline Bench Row

The incline bench row is a tremendous chest-supported back exercise you can do to keep your technique in check.

Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Shoulders, Biceps, and Forearms
Equipment: Adjustable Bench and Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Set a bench at an incline of around 45 degrees.
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, sit on the bench with your torso pointing toward the back support.
  • Carefully lie forward, rest your chest on the back support, plant your feet into the floor, and let your arms hang down.
  • Engage your abs, bring your shoulder blades back, and take a breath.
  • Row both dumbbells up until your elbows are at torso level.
  • Extend your arms, allowing the dumbbells to return to the starting position, and exhale.

Exercise 6: Towel-Grip Dumbbell Row

While a bit unusual, the towel-grip dumbbell row is fantastic because it increases the range of motion and introduces an element of instability, hopefully resulting in better muscle activation.

Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, Abs, and Transverse Abdominis 
Equipment: Dumbbell and Towel

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Wrap a towel over the dumbbell’s handle, leaving just enough length for you to grab it securely.
  • Grab the towel firmly and bend forward, similar to how you would for a bent-over row.
  • Place your free hand on an elevated surface (such as a chair or gym bench) for balance.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Row the dumbbell up as high as you can, allowing your elbow to travel above your torso.
  • Hold the contraction for a moment and release the weight to the starting position.
  • Exhale near the bottom.
  • Once finished, grab the towel with your other hand and repeat for the same number of reps.

Exercise 7: Seal Rows

Like the incline bench version, seal rows are an excellent chest-supporting movement that prevents you from using momentum and forces your back to work extra hard.

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Muscle groups: Lats, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, and Glutes
Equipment: Elevated Bench and Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Elevate a gym bench to create an incline, so when you lie face down and bring your arms down, they don’t reach the floor.
  • Place a pair of lighter dumbbells at the base of the bench and position yourself on top with your hands facing down.
  • Shift to the left and extend your left arm to grasp the first dumbbell. Then, shift to the right and extend your right arm to get the second one. 
  • Center yourself on the bench, bring your shoulders back, squeeze your glutes, and take a breath.
  • Row both dumbbells up until your elbows are at torso level.
  • Slowly release the weights down as you exhale.

Exercise 8: Upright Row

The upright row shifts the emphasis away from your lats and primarily works your upper back area – traps, shoulders, and rhomboids.

Muscle groups: Trapezius, Shoulders, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Biceps, and Abs
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, stand tall, and place the weights in front of your thighs with palms facing your body.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, squeeze your glutes, and take a breath.
  • Simultaneously row both dumbbells up as you keep them close to your torso.
  • Raise them until your wrists are at chest level, hold for a moment, and release as you exhale.

Exercise 9: Standing Dumbbell Shrugs

While not a traditional back exercise, the shrug is excellent because it emphasizes the upper back, builds your shoulders, and forces your core to work hard.

Muscle groups: Trapezius, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Abs, Transverse Abdominis, and Glutes
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall. You can have the dumbbells at your sides or in front of your body, whichever you prefer.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, squeeze your glutes, and take a breath.
  • In one motion, shrug both dumbbells up and in while keeping your arms straight. Imagine that you’re trying to touch your ears with your traps (While impossible, this cue can help you shrug higher).
  • Shrug as high as you can and hold the top position for a moment.
  • Release the weights and exhale.

Exercise 10: Conventional Deadlift

Nothing beats the barbell deadlift, but doing it with dumbbells is also great, especially if you have no other weight available (3).

Muscle groups: Upper and Lower Back, Shoulders, Biceps, Forearms, Chest, Abs, Transverse Abdominis, Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads, and Adductors
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor, parallel to one another. The weights should be apart for you to stand between them.
  • With your feet at a hip-width level and toes pointed slightly out, get down by bending at your knees and keeping your chest out.
  • Grab the dumbbells firmly, and take a breath.
  • Lift both dumbbells by pressing through your heels as you simultaneously use your back muscles to assist.
  • As you lift the dumbbells off the floor, begin to straighten your knees and extend your hips forward. Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Once you’re upright, squeeze your glutes and make sure that your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are in a straight line.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the starting position while keeping your back in a neutral position and exhale.

Best Back Stretches 

Stretching our back muscles is important because it allows us to keep them loose, maintain shoulder health, and prevent muscle spasms. Stretching is also beneficial for good alignment, preventing aches, and doing every exercise correctly. 

Stretch 1: Cat-Cow Pose

How to do it: 

  1. Get down on all fours. Your elbows should be underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.
  2. Begin the cat pose by rounding your upper back and dipping your head down. Hold for a few seconds.
  3. Gradually straighten your upper back and transition into the next pose.
  4. Initiate the cow pose by arching your lower back as much as possible and allowing your head to follow naturally. Your eyes should look forward. 
  5. Hold this pose for a few seconds and transition into another cat pose.

Stretch 2: Thoracic Stretch

How to do it: 

  1. Stand in front of a chair and get on your knees.
  2. Place your elbows on the edge of the seat at roughly shoulder-width distance.
  3. While doing your best to keep your forearms upright, bring your body back, having your glutes get closer to your heels. You should feel an intense stretch in your upper back and lats.
  4. Hold for a few seconds and release.
  5. Do several of these stretches one after the other.

Conclusion

The back is a large area that consists of many large and small muscle groups. Each muscle has its unique functions, and together, they allow us to carry out many activities. For instance, grabbing a weight and pulling it in is possible because of your back. Standing upright and walking around is also, in large part, likely because different back muscles keep your torso upright. If you want to track your workouts and progress, try using Hevy.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own dumbbell back workout with Hevy, and track your progress – for free

The great news is that training the back is much easier than understanding it is. And the best part is that even if you have nothing more than a pair of dumbbells, you can still pick from numerous fantastic exercises that train a range of back muscles through unique angles. For example, the single-arm dumbbell row and lat pullover are two movements that take advantage of unique movement patterns and in two distinctive planes of motion. Stretching the back is also incredibly beneficial because it allows us to maintain good mobility, keep our shoulders healthy, train productively, and avoid painful spasms.

These back workouts can be added to any workout plan, such as the pull day of a push-pull split or into a 3-day split.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between regular dumbbells and adjustable dumbbells? 

Regular dumbbells have a fixed weight amount. In contrast, you can add or remove weight plates on adjustable dumbbells as you see fit. In essence, a single pair of adjustable dumbbells provides greater flexibility for training loads.

How to make dumbbells at home? 

The simplest way is to look around your home and find small enough objects to hold with one hand but heavy enough to challenge you—for example, water or milk jugs. Alternatively, you can grab an old bag or suitcase and fill it up with heavy objects like canned goods, bags of rice, books, and similar.

What is the best back dumbbell exercise?

There is no single best dumbbell exercise for your back. Each movement offers its unique benefits, and it’s a good idea to do at least two to three. Variety would allow you to train your back more thoroughly and cause a more significant growth stimulus.

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