The Only 4 Dumbbell Exercises You Need for a Stronger Back

Your back consists of a multitude of muscles, all of which are important for keeping it strong and working as a functional unit. Pull-ups and barbell rows are two popular ways to strengthen these muscles, but they're not always accessible, especially if you don't have a gym membership.

Pick up some dumbbells to train your back.
Image Credit: Eva-Katalin/E+/GettyImages

If you find yourself with a set of dumbbells, however, you have several row variations to strengthen your lats, traps and rear delts. Try these four dumbbell exercises to strengthen your back. Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Bent-Over Row

Body Part Arms and Back
Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Shoot your hips back and hinge forward at least 45 degrees (as much as 90 degrees), keeping your back flat. Start with your arms extended toward the ground, palms facing each other.
  2. Draw your elbows up toward your ribs and pull the weights up alongside your lower abdomen.
  3. As the weights come to your body, focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  4. Lower back down to the start with control.

Tip

"You'll feel this on the front of your core as well," says K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS and author of Fitness Hacks For Over 50. "Focus on keeping a stationary torso. No swinging."

And if you don't have multiple dumbbells available, vary the resistance by adding a pause at the top of each rep or slowing down the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise.

Single-Arm Bent-Over Row

Body Part Back, Arms and Abs
Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Rest your left hand lightly on your left thigh for support. Hinge your hips back and lean your torso forward as with the previous exercise, back flat.
  2. Row the right arm up, keeping the elbow at your side and bring the weight up to your abdomen.
  3. Then, reverse the motion and lower the weight with control.
  4. Once you finish the right arm, switch sides.

Alternating Dumbbell Row

Body Part Back, Arms and Abs
Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Start in the same bent-over position as the previous two exercises with hips back, torso leaning forward. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended toward the ground.
  2. On an exhale, brace your core and row the right dumbbell up toward your torso, squeezing the right shoulder blade.
  3. Lower the weight with control.
  4. Then, raise the left dumbbell, rowing the weight to your torso.
  5. Squeeze the left shoulder blade and lower the weight.
  6. Continue alternating arms, making sure you do the same number of reps on each arm.

Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

Body Part Arms and Back
Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Begin by adjusting an exercise bench to about a 45-degree angle.
  2. Lean against the bench, facing the back with a pair of dumbbells in hand. With legs extended, root your heels into the ground and put your weight into your torso against the bench.
  3. Extend your arms straight down toward the ground along the sides of the bench.
  4. On an exhale, row the weights up toward your chest.
  5. Pause and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
  6. Then, lower the weights with control toward the ground.

Tip

To make this row more challenging, you can either alternate arms or slow down the eccentric portion of the exercise.

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