Your back consists of a multitude of muscles, which are all important to making it look buff and keeping it working as a functional unit. Pull-ups and barbell rows are some classic ways to strengthen these muscles — but they're not always easily accessible, particularly if you don't have a gym membership.
If you find yourself with a set of dumbbells, however, you've got additional opportunities to strengthen your lats, traps and rear delts. Row variations and flyes are your best bets.
Bent-over rows are often done with a barbell, but there's no reason you can't sub in heavy dumbbells. A benefit of the dumbbells is that you can work each side of your back independently, fostering greater symmetry.
All variations of the row use a similar action, but offer different levels, or points, of support. As you become stronger and more comfortable in your workouts, progress to one or two point rows to activate your core along with your back.
Bent-Over Rows: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Hinge forward from your hips at least 45 degrees and as much as 90 degrees. Draw your elbows by your ribs as you pull the weights to the side of your lower abdomen. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together.
Single-Arm Three-Point Rows: Stand as you did for bent-over rows, but hold a dumbbell in just your right hand. Rest your left hand lightly on your left thigh for support. Row the right arm for the desired number of reps. Straighten up, reset and repeat with the left.
Two-Point Rows: Stand with your left side facing a workout bench. Hold a dumbbell in the right hand. Place your left hand and left knee on the bench and bend forward until your back is nearly parallel to the floor. Let the right arm hang toward the floor and then row, drawing the right arm next to your trunk and squeezing your shoulder blade back. Release to a straight arm and repeat for the desired reps.
One-Point Rows: Stand, holding a dumbbell in your left hand. Hinge forward from the hips 45 to 90 degrees and simultaneously raise your left arm so you're balanced on the right leg. Row the left arm up for the desired number of reps; repeat on the right. If you find balance is tough, let your loose hand rest on a workout bench for stability.
Rear Deltoid Flyes
The deltoids are the rear portion of the primary shoulder muscle. This exercise also activates your trapezius and rhomboids, major muscles of the upper back. You may perform the move standing and hinged from the hips, or seated on a workout bench as described below.
Seated Rear Lateral Flyes: Sit on the edge of a workout bench, feet planted hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging toward the floor. Bend over from your hips to rest your chest toward your thighs. Open your arms out to the sides until they are parallel to the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to recruit the rhomboids and traps. Release the arms back down to complete one rep.