Every muscle group in the body has a specific function. The chest muscles, for example, are responsible for pushing movements and forward shoulder shrugging movements. The back muscles are responsible for pulling movements and flexing of the trunk. The best back exercises with dumbbells involve these motions and they require perfect execution of form. The slightest wrong move can lead to a muscle or spinal injury.
Dumbbell Straight-back Straight-leg Deadlift
Stiff leg deadlifts are commonly performed to work the hamstrings and butt. They also involve trunk flexion so the lower back muscles get worked as well. These are known anatomically as the erector spinae or spinal erectors. To do the exercise, stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart while holding the dumbbells in front of your thighs. Slowly bend forward and lower the weights toward the ground. Bend back to an upright position and repeat.
Bent-over rows primarily work the middle section of the latissimus dorsi ("lats") and the rhomboids major and minor. The lats are the large, triangular shaped muscles in the back and the rhomboids are found between the shoulder blades. To do bent-over rows, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend forward until your back is approximately 45 degrees to the floor and let the weights hang straight down. Steadily lift and lower the weights to and from your stomach. When raising the dumbbells, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a second.
For a variation, perform the bent-over row with one dumbbell at a time. To do these, place one knee and hand on a bench while you do rows with your opposite side, or bend over and place your forearm on your thigh while you row with the opposite arm. In both cases, place the foot of your working side behind your body so your legs are in a split position.
Upright Rows and Shrugs
The trapezius muscle forms the upper back and there are several dumbbell exercises that can work this area. Upright rows for example, work the traps and also the deltoids on the sides of the shoulders. While standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the dumbbells held in front of your thighs, pull them straight up in front of you until they reach your neck. Slowly lower the weights and repeat.
Shrugs and overhead shrugs both work the traps and rhomboids. To do regular shrugs, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the weights at your sides. Steadily shrug your shoulders straight up, hold for a second, lower your shoulders and repeat. To do overhead shrugs, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the dumbbells above your head with your arms straight and slightly angled out to your sides and shrug your shoulders up and down.
Reverse flys target the rhomboids and rear delts which are on the back of the shoulders. To do reverse flys from a standing position, bend forward until your back is approximately parallel to the floor and hold the weights straight down in front of you with your palms facing each other. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weights up to your sides until your arms parallel the floor and squeeze your shoulder blades together forcefully. Slowly lower your arms and repeat. To do these from a seated position, sit on the end of a bench, fold your body forward so your chest is right above your thighs and let the weights hang straight down by your feet. Perform the same motion as with standing reverse flys.