You don't need to fill your workout with endless pull-ups in order to build a stronger back. A pair of dumbbells and the right exercises can work just as well.
The key is to focus on eccentric and isometric movements, which are an excellent way to make traditional exercises more challenging, says New-York based personal trainer Carolina Araujo, CPT. Isometric and eccentric movements involve holding the contracted position and slowing the lengthening portion of an exercise, respectively, she says.
For example, during a dumbbell row, you'd pause at the top of the movement and hold (isometric), then very slowly lower back down (eccentric). These two types of contractions challenge your muscle in a new way, helping stimulate growth and strength gain.
So if you want to challenge your back, try these five dumbbell exercises to target your lats (mid-back), rhomboids (near your shoulder blades), trapezius (upper back) and rear deltoids (shoulders), Araujo suggests. Pro tip: If you really want to test your strength, perform all these moves back-to-back.
Move 1: Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
- Begin by adjusting an exercise bench to about a 45-degree angle.
- Lean against the bench, facing the back with a dumbbell in each hand. With legs extended, root your heels into the ground and put your weight into your torso against the bench.
- Extend your arms straight down toward the ground along the sides of the bench.
- On an exhale, row the weights up toward your chest.
- Pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Lower the weights for a 3- or 4-second count toward the ground.
Move 2: Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- 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 slightly, back flat.
- Row your right arm up, keeping your elbow close to your side, and bring the weight up to your chest.
- Pause here for a 3-second count, squeezing your lat.
- Reverse the motion and lower the weight with control.
- Finish all your reps on your right arm before switching sides.
Move 3: Alternating Dumbbell Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Lean your torso forward slightly.
- On an exhale, brace your core and row the right dumbbell up toward your torso, squeezing the right shoulder blade.
- Lower the weight with control.
- Raise the left dumbbell, rowing the weight toward your torso, squeezing the left shoulder blade.
- Lower the weight with control.
- Continue alternating arms, making sure you do the same number of reps on each side.
To make this exercise as challenging and effective as possible, avoid using momentum to lower and raise the weights. Keep the motion as controlled as possible and maintain a flat back.
Move 4: Dumbbell Rear Deltoid Raise
- Stand with feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Shoot your hips back and bend your knees slightly as you lean your torso forward with a flat back. Maintain this hip-hinge position throughout the exercise.
- Let the weights hang down toward the ground.
- Keeping your neck long and with a slight bend in your elbows, lift the weights out to your sides until they're in line with your shoulders.
- Lower the dumbbells with control for a 4-second count.
This exercise is harder than you may think, as it targets the smaller muscles in the back and shoulders. Start with a lighter pair of dumbbells and prioritize good form.