Get ready to enhance your strength, stability, mobility and more with the best dumbbell back exercises…
Grab your dumbbells and get ready to target your back with these recommended exercises from PT Harvey Lawton.
“The best dumbbell back exercises for you will be very individual,” says Lawton. “That’s because certain movements and exercises will suit one person far better than another due to their biomechanics and other structural presentations.
“But in general the best dumbbell moves for a stronger back are those that recruit the full back and kinetic chain into the movement – think larger, compound movements that rely on strength, stability and mobility at various joints and muscles. These include the hinge pattern, anteriorly (front) loaded movements e.g a Zercher or goblet, drags and carries. Additionally, movements that effectively isolate muscle groups within the back – such as the lats or rear delts – can be hit hard with the single-arm row. Subtle positional changes to the row will also help bias different muscles in the back too.
“Training with dumbbells or free weights provides higher levels of learning for the body, with greater integration of the body’s stabilising systems. On the flip side, machine-based exercises also provide high levels of external stability allowing for higher levels of output from the joints or muscles. On a machine less energy is spent trying to stabilise or react to different forces or stimuli. A big athletic back relies on both fields of play – not just one. My advice is therefore to implement a variety of movements that both integrate and isolate, and watch the muscle pack on!”
What are the best dumbbell exercises for back workouts?
The best dumbbell exercises for a stronger back are those that recruit the full back and kinetic chain – especially larger, compound movements that rely on strength, stability and mobility at various joints and muscles. Here are 13 of the most effective:
- Dumbbell bent-over row
- Dumbbell reverse-grip bent-over row
- Single-arm dumbbell row
- Single-arm dumbbell gorilla row
- Single-arm supported dumbbell row
- Dumbbell reverse flye
- Dumbbell renegade row
- Dumbbell deadlift
- Dumbbell pullover
- Dumbbell shrug
- Dumbbell swing
- Single-arm dumbbell clean
- Dumbbell snatch
Keep reading for full instructions on how to perform the best dumbbell exercises for back workouts…
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1. Dumbbell bent-over row
The dumbbell bent-over row is one of the best dumbbell exercises for targeting your entire back, while also working your core, biceps and shoulders.
How to do the dumbbell bent-over row:
- Using dumbbells involves the same target muscles as the barbell variety, while preventing the stronger side of your body doing more than its share of the work.
- Start with your core braced, your back straight and your shoulder blades retracted.
- Bend your knees slightly and lean forwards from the hips.
- Let the weights hang at knee level.
- Pull the dumbbells up to your lower sternum, retracting your shoulder blades to allow the weights to come up to your hips, then lower slowly to the start.
2. Dumbbell reverse-grip bent-over row
This variation puts extra emphasis on your biceps, making it ideal for adding extra arm size while you work your back.
How to do the dumbbell reverse-grip bent-over row:
- Stand with your core braced, your back straight and your shoulder blades retracted, holding a set of dumbbells with your palms facing away from you, then bend your knees slightly and lean forwards from the hips.
- Pull the dumbbells up to just below chest level.
- Pause, then lower under control.
3. Single-arm dumbbell row
The single-arm dumbbell row allows you to go heavy while working both sides of your back and each arm individually for big muscle benefits – one of the best dumbbell back exercises.
How to do the single-arm dumbbell row:
- Place your right knee and right hand flat on a bench (or support your right arm on your right knee, leg slightly bent), with your left leg slightly bent and pushed out behind you
- Hold a dumbbell in your left hand with your arm hanging straight down.
- With a natural arch in your back and core braced, lift the weight towards your hip, leading with the elbow.
- Pause at the top before returning to the start.
- Repeat on the other side.
4. Single-arm dumbbell gorilla row
This exercise builds strength through the middle and upper back, lats and shoulders while enhancing scapular mobility, plus thoracic and abdominal stability. As well as working your upper back, lower back and biceps, this variation also works your oblique or waist muscles.
How to do the single-arm dumbbell gorilla row:
- Place your dumbbell on the floor, standing just behind it and to one side
- Bend your knees slightly, hinge forward from your hips and reach down and grasp the dumbbell.
- Brace your core and make sure your lower back is slightly arched and not rounded.
- Row the weight up and back toward your hip. Lead with your elbow and keep your wrist straight. Make sure your hips and shoulders remain level and don’t twist.
- Lower the weight back to the floor and repeat.
- On completing your set, repeat on the other side.
5. Single-arm supported dumbbell row
One of the best dumbbell back exercises, this isolation move works one side of your body at a time, allowing you to shift more weight as you focus on one arm. Do it with strict form to build muscle, or up the weight and ‘cheat’ the move for high reps to build a grip of steel.
How to do the single-arm supported dumbbell row:
- Set up with one knee resting on a bench and the other foot on the floor, leaning forwards slightly and holding a dumbbell in one hand.
- Row the dumbbell up – focusing on pulling it to your hip, not your side.
- Feel the squeeze, then lower with control.
6. Dumbbell reverse flye
Keeping a slight bend in your elbows as you raise your arms to the sides also works your shoulders as well as upper back and core.
How to do the dumbbell reverse flye:
- Holding a pair of dumbbells, and with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend forward at your hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor.
- Let the dumbbells hang straight down from your shoulders, your palms facing each other, with your arms slightly bent.
- Then, keeping your back flat and your torso still, raise your arms straight out to your sides until they’re in line with your body. Don’t change the bend in your elbows.
- Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
7. Dumbbell renegade row
Renegade rows are full-body exercises that activate core muscles such as the obliques, back muscles like the rhomboids, and arm muscles including the triceps. With proper form, renegade rows are one of the best dumbbell back exercises for developing upper body strength while also improving balance and stabilisation.
How to do the dumbbell renegade row:
- Start in a press-up position with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Brace your core to keep your hips static and do a single-arm row, drawing the weight towards your armpit.
- Alternate sides with each rep.
8. Dumbbell deadlift
Dumbbell deadlifts primarily work the glutes and the lower back. They also activate the quads, hamstrings, adductors, trapezius and forearm flexors.
How to do the dumbbell deadlift:
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Inhale and lightly brace your core.
- Lower the dumbbells close to the floor by leaning forward and bending your knees.
- Reverse the movement and return to a standing position. Exhale on the way up.
9. Dumbbell pullover
One of the best dumbbell back exercises, the dumbbell pullover fully engages your lats from start to finish. As a bonus, your core will also have to work hard to keep your torso stable.
How to do the dumbbell pullover:
- First, place a dumbbell upright on one end of a bench.
- Position your upper back side on to the bench.
- Plant your feet and raise your backside up.
- Now, grab the dumbbell with both hands and press it over your head.
- As you look up to the ceiling, slowly lower the weight behind your head, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows.
- When you feel a nice big stretch, reverse the movement, then repeat.
10. Dumbbell shrug
Build big, strong traps with the dumbbell shrug – the limited range of motion means you can lift heavy as long as you keep to strict form.
How to do the dumbbell shrug:
- You can do barbell shrugs, but using dumbbells allows you to keep your hands by your sides for increased comfort, while also working each side of your upper back individually.
- To start, hold heavy dumbbells by your sides.
- Keeping your core braced, chest up and a natural arch in your back, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, keeping your arms straight.
- Hold at the top briefly then lower the weights back to the start position.
11. Dumbbell swing
Swings work your entire posterior chain (the muscles down the back of your body), building strength while also torching through calories, making them one of the best dumbbell back exercises.
How to do the dumbbell swing:
- Stand tall with a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
- Hinge from the hips and let the dumbbells fall between your legs – keeping your eyes on the weights at all times.
- Now ‘snap’ your hips to explosively drive the dumbbells up to around chest height, before repeating the movement.
12. Single-arm dumbbell clean
The single-arm dumbbell clean is a full-body movement that builds power and coordination, as well as the stabilising strength of your lower back.
How to do the single-arm dumbbell clean:
- Begin holding a dumbbell in one hand.
- Lower it the floor with a slight bend in your legs.
- Press your heels into the floor and extend through your legs to stand.
- As you do so, pull your upper body under the dumbbell and bring your elbow forward.
- You should finish in a quarter squat with the dumbbell on your shoulder, before standing tall.
- Reverse and repeat.
13. Dumbbell snatch
One of the most explosive dumbbell back exercises, the dumbbell snatch works every muscle in your body for the best results. Plus, it’s also more beginner-friendly than the barbell version.
How to do the dumbbell snatch:
- First, begin holding a dumbbell in one hand.
- Then, lower it the floor with a slight bend in your legs.
- Next, drive your heels into the floor and stand explosively.
- As you do so, pull your upper body under the dumbbell, but unlike the clean this time you’re going to allow the weight to continue its upwards momentum all the way overhead. (You need your legs and hips to be doing the work, not your arm.)
- As the dumbbell passes head height, drop under it and ‘catch’ it with a locked arm as you drop into a quarter squat.
- Stand, compose yourself and repeat.