15 Best Back Workouts with Dumbbells

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Even though you might not notice, your back is essential to just about every movement you do.

Your back is made out of several muscles, all of which support the spine, posture, and activity important to daily life and sport. Latissimus dorsi includes the large muscles that start below the armpits and run down the back of the ribcage. They are responsible for shoulder movement. Rhomboids are muscles that are located in the mid-upper back and they are responsible for the retraction of your scapula, or shoulder blades. Trapezius runs from the neck to the middle of your back and it is responsible for the movement of your shoulder blades. Erector spinae are muscles that run along your spine and they control extension and lateral movement.

Your back muscles will need extra attention if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. This type of lifestyle can lead to fat accumulation and atrophy of the back muscles. They can grow stiff and fatigue more easily which will only cause the pain to be worse.

Working out your back muscles has a lot of benefits, one of which is improved posture. You will experience less fatigue.

Having a strong back can help you become better at any sport you like playing.

Best Back Workouts with Dumbbells

You might notice that as your back gets stronger, your breathing gets better. This is not only because of your strong back but also because of your improved posture. When you can sit and stand upright, you can get more oxygen into the body.

Another benefit of back exercises is improving back dysfunction. It has been shown that spine-strengthening exercises and posture training for six months reduced kyphosis in adults older than 60.

You can also alleviate pain in the lower back and neck with back exercises. Research conducted in 2014 showed that strengthening the lumbar and cervical extensor muscles may significantly reduce chronic back and neck pain.

Here are the 15 best exercises for your back.

1. One-arm dumbbell row

Rows are a go-to exercise when you want to build a strong back. Doing rows one arm at a time allows you to focus your efforts on the lats, traps, and other back muscles that are targeted by the exercise. You will need a bench or sturdy thigh-high platform to lean on when doing the exercise. Place a dumbbell next to it.

To start this exercise put your left leg on the bench and grab the far side with your left hand, then bend over until your upper body is parallel with the ground. Pick up the dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip and extend your arm. Make sure you keep your back straight. You will then bring the dumbbell up to your chest. Concentrate on lifting it with your back and shoulder muscles rather than your arms. Make sure you are keeping your chest muscles still as you lift. Squeeze your shoulder and back muscles at the top of the movement. Slowly lower the dumbbell until your arm is extended. Do all the reps on one side before moving on to the other side.

If you find dumbbell rows to be too easy, you can do the exercise by standing square-on to the bench. You won’t have your leg and hand to support yourself with, you’ll only have one hand on it while you row with the other.

2. Incline row

Dumbbell incline row is one of the safest and most effective exercises for the middle of your back. Your lower back is in a safe position which allows you to fully focus on the muscles that are directly involved in the pulling motion, which are the middle back, lats, and biceps.

Set up an incline bench at 45 degrees. Lean on it and push your feet to the floor. Grab your dumbbells with an overhand grip and with your palms facing your torso. To row, keep the dumbbells to your side, retract the shoulder blades, and flex the elbows. Make sure you keep your elbows close to your torso and wrists in the same position with no rotation. Exhale as you go up and inhale as you go down. Make sure you are keeping your torso straight all throughout the exercise.

3. Elevated plank row hold

This exercise will activate both your back and your core. You can do this exercise regardless of whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter because it is very scalable.

To do this exercise, get in a plank position. Shift your weight on one forearm on a bench. Squeeze your core and glutes to help you keep your spine straight. Take your dumbbell with one arm. To row up, squeeze your back muscles until the weight touches your ribcage, then hold it there for about 30 seconds. Keep squeezing your back, core, and glutes so you don’t fall out of balance. Repeat on the other side.

4. Half-iso incline row countup series

This is a great exercise if you feel like incline rows are too easy for you. The half-iso incline row countup series will teach your back muscles how to continue producing force even when they’ve pulled your arms back as far as they can.

To do a half-iso incline row countup series, get on the incline bench and rest your chest on the bench. Brace your glutes and core. Take a dumbbell in each hand.  Squeeze your arms to do a row rep, pulling both dumbbells. With one arm in the top position, hold the squeeze. Do a single-arm row rep using the other arm. Lower both dumbbells to your starting position and repeat one more time. Then, row up with both arms and hold the row squeeze with one arm while performing 2-row reps with the opposite. To even out the sets, do 2-reps on the other side after lowering and re-rowing both dumbbells.

5. Renegade row

Renegade row is a compound exercise that strengthens almost every part of the upper body. It also highlights any imbalances in the strength of your upper body. You will be able to notice if the move is harder on one side than the other. This exercise is best done with light weights because if you go too hard, you can quickly lose your form.

Start by grabbing a pair of light weights and getting into a press-up position, keeping a dumbbell in each hand. Brace your body and raise one of the dumbbells, while supporting yourself on the other arm. Then, row the weight upward until your upper arm is slightly higher than your torso, then lower it slowly back down to the ground.

If you find the exercise too hard, you can try it with your knees on the ground. The rest of the exercise will be the same, the only difference will be that the challenge to your core and upper body is reduced.

Once you advance in renegade rows and want to do something more challenging, you can try kettlebell renegade rows. Kettlebells will provide a less stable base which will increase the challenge of staying in the plank position. It’s advisable that you use a lighter pair of kettlebells until you get used to them.

6. Towel grip dumbbell row

This back exercise will challenge your grip. Your grip is very important because you won’t be able to lift a lot of weight if your grip isn’t strong. Your grip strength can play a big role in your overall strength. You will need a hand towel, a bench, and a dumbbell.

Start this exercise by wrapping the towel around the handle of the dumbbell. Then, grab the towel with an overhand grip. Get into a position to row, hinged at the waist with your free arm leaning against the top of the bench. Next, squeeze your back to row the dumbbell straight up. Make sure you keep a tight grip on the towel to keep the weight parallel to the ground. Avoid using your shoulder or shifting your position to get the load up, it is better to just switch to a lighter dumbbell. Maintain your position while you control the weight back down.

This exercise provides two challenges. The first one is a challenge on your forearm and grip strength. You have to keep your grip tight and constant during this exercise. This will accumulate forearm-building time-under-tension. The second challenge is keeping the dumbbell fully parallel to the ground. You will have to focus on your tempo and slow it down. This will light up your rhomboids more than usual and help force you to keep a flat back and active core.

7. V – Taper Dumbbell Row Series

This exercise will help you get a V-shaped torso. It will give you a strong, muscled back and shoulders.

To do this exercise, adjust the bench so that you are able to hinge at the hips and lean one arm on the headrest. Hold a dumbbell in your other arm. Keep your feet squared, with your knees slightly bent. You should squeeze your core to keep your spine straight while you lean over the bench. Squeeze your back muscles to do 2-row reps, flaring your elbow out. Make sure that the hand holding the weight should be facing behind you. After you’ve done the flared reps, do 1 traditional row rep with your elbow close to your body and your hand facing inward. Pause at the top of the rep for 1 second. During the pause, squeeze your shoulders together. Lowering back to the starting position.

Rowing with your elbows flared will catch your rear delts and your rhomboids, which are responsible for having a wide back. Traditional rows will hit the wide part of your lats. The pause will engage your glutes and your core.

8. Farmer’s carry

This exercise is great for working your whole body, especially, your back. It is so popular because of its simplicity.

Start by getting a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to create resistance, yet light enough that you can keep your form strict and posture upright throughout the exercise. You will hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand with a firm grip. Stand tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart and arms resting at your sides. Engage your core muscles, pull your shoulder blades down and back, and make sure your posture is upright. Start walking while carrying a kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand. Keep your head up, shoulders back, and core muscles contracted the whole time. If you want to make this exercise more cardiovascular, increase your pace. Increase the number of steps based on your fitness level.

If you want to challenge yourself more, you can add more weight, but make sure you don’t compromise form. You can also walk for a longer time or add to the distance. You can try to work on your balance by walking in a straight line.

9. TRX Plank Pause Row

This exercise is very effective thanks to its use of positioning, which throws in more challenges as you try to row with perfect form.

Start this exercise on the ground, holding one TRX handle in your right hand and the dumbbell in your left. Keep your legs straight with a wide base and brace your core and glutes to get into a single-arm plank position. Keep your right arm straight and squeeze your back to row the dumbbell in your left hand. Pause for a few seconds at the top of the row then lower the weight back down in a controlled motion. After you do all reps on one arm, switch to the other.

10. Bent-over row

Bent over row targets many muscles in the upper and middle back, including the trapezius, infraspinatus, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, teres major, teres minor, and posterior deltoid. This is a functional compound exercise, and you probably do the same movement to pick up things without even realizing it.

To do this exercise stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart and slightly bent knees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing the body. Hold them shoulder-width apart. Bend over at about a 45-degree angle but make sure you keep your back straight. Brace your core and inhale. Lift the weights straight up while exhaling. Your arms shouldn’t go any higher than parallel with the shoulders when lifting. Make sure you don’t squat down and up after the initial pose. Lower your weights with control while inhaling.

If you are a beginner, you can start with a one-arm bent-over row. Make sure you use light weights until your form is perfect.

You should avoid this exercise if you have back or shoulder problems. If you feel any pain, stop doing the exercise immediately.

11. Single leg row

This exercise makes rows more challenging because one arm works while you’re standing on only one leg. This will also improve proprioception and foot strength.

To do this exercise, stand on one leg and hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand. Then, hinge forward. Let the weight hang directly under your shoulder while you lower your torso and raise your left leg until both your chest and leg are parallel to the floor. Pull the dumbbell to your rib cage and pause. After the pause, slowly lower the dumbbell back to start.

12. Single-arm delt raise

This exercise is great for targeting your posterior deltoids or shoulder muscles, as well as the postural muscles of the upper back.

Start this exercise by grabbing a dumbbell in one hand and bending forward at your hips, resting your other hand on a stable surface. The dumbbell should hang straight down from your shoulder, and your palm should be facing forward. Don’t move your torso, and raise your arm straight back until it’s in line with your body. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

13. Reverse fly

This exercise targets the posterior deltoids and major upper back muscles, and it helps strengthen muscles that are negatively affected by poor posture. Doing reverse flys will improve your posture and balance, reduce the risk of injury, reduce neck and shoulder pain, increase strength and stamina, improve athletic performance and well-being, and improve your muscle imbalance.

To do this exercise, stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding dumbbells at your sides. Press the hips back in a hinge motion and bring your chest forward almost parallel to the floor. Let the weights hang straight down, with your palms facing each other. Make sure your core is tight, your knees are slightly bent, and your back is straight. Exhale and raise both arms out to your side, and squee the shoulder blades together at the same time. Keep your elbows slightly bent while you pull your shoulder blades toward the spine. Inhale while you lower the weight back to the start position.

Make sure you avoid hunching your shoulders up during the movement. You should keep your chin tucked to maintain a neutral spine during the exercise. You should focus on feeling the shoulder blades coming together with proper breathing from start to finish.

If this exercise is too hard for you to do standing, you can do it seated on a bench. You should still keep your spine neutral while sitting. This will help you do the exercise with more stability.

In case you want to challenge yourself more, you can do this exercise in a lunge position. You should still maintain the hip hinge forward and straight back body position.

15. Upright row

This exercise is considered to be one of the best muscle builders for the back and shoulders.

To do this exercise, grab a dumbbell in each hand and let it hang in front of you at the length of your arms. Your palms should face your body. Stand up straight and adjust your grip so that your hands are about in line with the thighs. Inhale and brace your core, keep the back straight, chest up, and eyes focused forward. Lift the dumbbells straight toward the chin, leading with the elbows and keeping the bar close to the body. Make sure that your arms don’t go higher than parallel with the shoulders. Pause at the top. Return the barbells back to the starting position, inhaling as you lower them.

You should keep your elbows above the level of your forearms while lifting. Make sure you don’t raise the arms above parallel to avoid shoulder impingement. This exercise can cause wrist injuries, so only use a wide grip.

Weightlifting is a great way to build muscle strength and endurance if done properly. However, if done improperly, it is very easy to injure yourself.

To prevent back injury, you should properly warm up before doing any exercises. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles which prepares them for working out.

The most important thing when exercising is keeping the right form. This will allow you to isolate specific muscle groups while making sure that you don’t get hurt.

You should hold your form and posture steady without sudden, jerky movements. Make sure you keep your knees slightly bent and not locked when standing, and your hips and shoulders level. Your chin should be up, back straight, and your core engaged. When you are doing exercises while sitting, make sure your spine and shoulders are straight with your core engaged. Don’t be embarrassed to ask someone on staff for assistance if you are not sure that you are doing an exercise properly.

Another thing that can lead to injury is rushing your workout. This will cause you to rely on the momentum to complete the exercise. This is likely to cause injuries to the joints or engage muscles that shouldn’t be involved in an exercise.

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.