Best Dumbbell Back Exercises

There is nothing dumb about dumbbells. In fact, the humble dumbbell is one of the most versatile training tools around. Using dumbbells, you can train for muscle size, strength, or endurance, and they’re great for things like circuit training and high-intensity interval training too. Plus, if you work out at home, they don’t take up a lot of space – when you’re using them or for or storage.

So, why are they called dumbbells?

It turns out that dumbbells were invented by 16thcentury English bell ringers who needed a silent way to practice their art. They removed the clackers from their bells to render them dumb – meaning silent.

Modern dumbbells don’t look a whole like the original silenced bells, but they’re a whole lot more useful. The advantages of training with dumbbells include:

  • Identify and fix left to right strength imbalances
  • Improved coordination and balance
  • Increased range of motion
  • Often more joint-friendly than barbells
  • Increased joint stability
  • Can be used individually or in pairs
  • Compact and easy to store

Related: Barbells vs. Dumbbells: Which is Best?

You can use dumbbells to train virtually every muscle in your body but, for this article, we’re going to reveal the 15 best dumbbell exercises for back building.

Back Anatomy

Back Anatomy

Back is a bit of an oversimplification of the muscles on the rear of your body. Your back is made up of several important muscles and muscle groups and, if you want to look your best from the rear, you need to train all of them.

The primary muscles that make up your back are:

Latissimus dorsi – known as the lats for short, this is the largest muscle in your back. It’s located on the side of your torso, and its primary functions are adduction and extension of the shoulder joint. When well-developed, it’s your lats that give your back its width and V-shaped taper.

Rhomboids and mid-traps – the rhomboids and mid traps are located between and across your scapulae or shoulder blades. They give your upper back its thickness and also play an important role in posture and shoulder stability

Upper traps – the upper traps are heavily involved in many upper back exercises. The upper traps are responsible for the elevation of your shoulder girdle. Shrugging movements are usually the best way to train your upper traps.

Posterior deltoids – it’s hard to train your back without hitting your rear deltoids too. That’s good news because, for a lot of lifters, the posterior deltoids are woefully underdeveloped and would benefit from some extra training.

Erector spinae – the collective name for the group of muscles that stabilize and extend your spine. You can use dumbbells to specifically target your lower back, but they’re often used indirectly, such as when you lean forward to do bent-over rows.

The 15 Best Back Exercises with Dumbbells

Bench presses and biceps curls are probably the most popular dumbbell exercises, but dumbbells are awesome for back building too.

Here are 15 of the best dumbbell exercises you can do for your upper, lower, and mid-back.

1. Dumbbell bent-over row

Bent Over Dumbbells Row

Two-handed rows are usually done with a barbell. While that exercise certainly works, there is a disadvantage; you can only pull the bar back until it touches your body.

Using dumbbells means you can row with a larger range of motion, which may increase muscle activation. Also, using dumbbells ensures that you work both arms equally.

Learn how to do dumbbell bent-over rows here.

2. Dumbbell Yates row

Most lifters tend to do the Yates row with a barbell, but it works just as well with dumbbells. Named after 6x Mr. Olympia Doran Yates, this bent-over row exercise involves a more conservative back angle, making it a little more back-friendly than regular bent-over rows.

Dorian Yates had one of the best backs in bodybuilding; this exercise worked for him, and it’ll work for you too!

Find out more about Yates rows in our in-depth guide.

3. Dumbbell single-arm row

One Arm Dumbbell Rows

Single-arm dumbbell rows are a classic back builder. Using one arm to support your upper body, you are free to focus on working your back in relative comfort and safety. As an added advantage, you only need one dumbbell for this exercise.

Learn how to do this classic back builder here.

4. Kroc row

Kroc Row

Kroc rows are an extreme version of single-arm dumbbell rows. With this variation, you use a VERY heavy weight and your legs and lower back to help you crank out your reps. While this is a form of cheating, it’s a powerful back size and strength exercise.

Named after powerlifter and bodybuilder Janae Marie Kroc, this is an advanced exercise so make sure you have mastered regular single arm rows before you try it.

Read more about Kroc rows in this article.

5. Dumbbell Pendlay row

Pendlay rows, also known as dead-stop rows, are named after powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting coach Glen Pendlay. With this dumbbell back exercise, you rest the weight on the floor between reps, which gives your grip and lower back a short rest.

This should allow you to lift heavier weights or do more reps than with regular bent-over rows. You can do dumbbell Pendlay rows using two dumbbells or working one arm at a time.

Learn how to do dumbbell Pendlay rows here.

6. Dumbbell plank row

Dumbbell Plank Row

This unusual exercise works your back, biceps, and core all at the same time. It’s pretty challenging, so don’t go too heavy too soon. You only need one dumbbell and something like a strong chair, bench, or step to lean on, so it’s a great at-home back exercise.

How to do it:

  1. With a dumbbell in one hand, place your other hand on your bench. Walk your feet out and back until your legs and body are straight. Let the weight hang straight down. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Without twisting your hips or shoulders, pull the dumbbell up and into your ribs. Lead with your elbows and keep your upper arm close to your side.
  3. Extend your arm and repeat.
  4. Do the same number of reps on each side.

7. Dumbbell Wrestler’s row

The best thing about the dumbbell wrestler’s row is that it makes light weights feel a whole lot heavier, so it’s ideal for home workouts when you’ve only got small dumbbells to train with. This is an excellent postural exercise that will also help strengthen your mind/muscle connection.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly. Without rounding your lower back, lean forward until your torso is inclined to about 45 degrees. Row both dumbbells up and into your ribs. This is your starting position.
  2. Keeping one arm stationary, extend one arm, and then row the weight back up.
  3. Lower the other weight and pull it back in.
  4. Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.
  5. Make sure you keep your non-working arm pulled in tight – really flex that back!

8. Dumbbell shrug

Dumbbell shrugs work your upper traps. While some people train their traps with their shoulders, they’re actually more of a back muscle. You can do shrugs using a barbell, but dumbbells can be every bit as effective.

There is no need to roll your shoulders when doing shrugs; just focus on moving up and down. Rolling your shoulders just increases joint wear and tear and doesn’t make this exercise any more effective.

Find out how to do dumbbell shrugs here.

9. Dumbbell renegade row

Renegade Rows

Dumbbell renegade rows are a more advanced version of the plank row (#6). Like plank rows, it works your back and your core at the same time. Toss in a push-up between rows to turn it into a chest AND back exercise.

Check out our in-depth guide to discover how to do this awesome, functional back exercise.

10. Dumbbell farmer’s walk

People often think of the farmer’s walk as a core or conditioning exercise or do it for increased grip strength. While this exercise is good for all those things, it also provides your traps with a great workout. It’s a simple move – just grab some heavy dumbbells and go for a walk – but sometimes, simple exercises are the best way to build muscle.

Learn all about farmer’s walks in our detailed workout guide.

11. Dumbbell high pull

Dumbbell high pulls are a cross between Romanian deadlifts (#12) and upright rows, which makes them a great lower back dumbbell exercise that also works your upper traps. As an added benefit, this exercise is good for increasing explosive power, making it a useful move for athletes.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Your palms should be facing your legs.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and, without rounding your lower back, lower the weights down to just above your knees.
  3. Stand up explosively and use this momentum to help you pull the weights up the front of your body to around chest height. Keep your elbows above the level of your hands.
  4. Lower the weights, reset your core, and repeat.

12. Dumbbell Romanian deadlift

Most people do Romanian deadlifts to work their glutes and hamstrings. However, this exercise is an equally useful lower back exercise too. You can do it with a barbell, but dumbbells are often more comfortable.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Your palms should be facing your legs.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and, without rounding your lower back, push your hips backward and lean forward. Lower the weights as far down the front of your legs as your flexibility allows.
  3. Stand back up and repeat, taking care NOT to lean back at the top.

13. Dumbbell good morning

Good mornings are so-called because, when you do them, it looks a bit like you are bowing to greet someone. This exercise is more often done with a barbell but is considerably more comfortable and every bit as effective when you do it with a single dumbbell. Good mornings work your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a single dumbbell in front of your chest. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Brace your abs.
  2. Without rounding your lower back, push your hips back and lean forward as far as your flexibility allows.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

14. Dumbbell reverse fly

Reverse flyes are a great exercise for better posture. Working your posterior deltoids, middle traps, and rhomboids, it can help pull your shoulders back and undo some of the effects of hunching forward over a computer keyboard all day. It’s also good for your general shoulder health.

Check out our guide and learn to do dumbbell reverse flyes correctly.  

15. Dumbbell chest supported row

Most dumbbell rowing exercises put a lot of pressure on your lower back. That can be a good thing as it will help strengthen this all-important area. However, if your lower back is tired or sore, you might appreciate a more lower-back friendly exercise.

Chest-supported dumbbell rows take your lower back out of your workout, leaving you free to focus on training your upper back and biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Set an exercise bench to around 30-45 degrees. With a dumbbell in each hand, lie face down on your bench with your head uppermost. Let your arms hang down from your shoulders, palms turned inward.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the weights up and into the side of your ribs. Pull your shoulders back.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

Back Exercises with Dumbbells Workout

Not sure where to start doing back exercises at home with dumbbells? Need a dumbbell workout for your back the next time you hit the gym?

No problem; we’ve got you covered!

Do the following training program 1-2 times per week. If you do it twice, make sure you allow a few days for recovery and muscle growth, e.g., Monday and Thursday. Before you start, remember to warm up. A thorough warm-up will reduce your risk of injury and increase the effectiveness of your workout.

Jog or jump rope for 5-10 minutes and then do a few joint mobility and dynamic flexibility exercises for the body parts you are about to train.

Pay extra attention to your lower back. Finish your warm-up with a few light sets of the first 1-2 exercises of the workout.

  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Dumbbell bent-over row 2-4 6-12 60-90 seconds
2 Dumbbell single-arm row 2-4 6-12 per arm 60-90 seconds
3 Dumbbell plank row 2-4 6-12 per arm 60-90 seconds
4 Dumbbell chest support row 2-4 6-12 60-90 seconds
5 Dumbbell shrug 2-4 6-12 60-90 seconds
6 Dumbbell good morning 2-4 6-12 60-90 seconds

 

Read also:

Dumbbell Back Exercises – Wrapping Up

Whether you train at home or in a gym, dumbbells are a valuable and versatile training tool. You can use them to build muscle size or strength, or just improve your fitness and control your weight. There really is nothing dumb about dumbbells!

A lot of exercisers find that training with dumbbells causes fewer joint aches and pains, and they’re especially shoulder-friendly. Plus, they’re good for improving your balance, stability, and coordination too.

Use these 15 dumbbell exercises to build your ultimate back. From top to bottom and side to side, these dumbbell back exercises are tough to beat!