How to Do the Bent-Over Dumbbell Row to Sculpt Your Back, Shoulders, Arms and Core

bent-over dumbbell row form
The bent-over dumbbell row is a foundational strength training move that targets your back, shoulders, arms and core.
Image Credit: Carolina Araujo/LIVESTRONG.com

Some exercises are great at multi-tasking, strengthening multiple parts of the body at once. And the bent-over dumbbell row is one of the best at juggling muscle groups.

This move strengthens the muscles in your back, shoulders and arms, all while helping build core stability

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But if you want to get all the muscle-building benefits of this exercise, you need to nail your form first. Watch a full tutorial on how to do bent-over rows with perfect form and technique.

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How to Do Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows

Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

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Skill Level All Levels
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Back", "Abs", "Arms" ]
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other.
  2. Push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it's nearly parallel with the ground and your weight is centered in your heels. Let the weights hang straight down in front of your knees.
  3. Brace your core and think about keeping your back completely flat.
  4. Leading with your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and then pull through your arms to raise the dumbbells up toward your ribcage. Pause at the top of the movement.
  5. Keep your core and spine stable as you reverse the motion, extending your arms to lower the dumbbells so that they hang by your knees.

Watch the Full Dumbbell Row Tutorial

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7 Tips to Perfect Bent-Over Dumbbell Row Form

1. Keep Your Hips Back

While you do a dumbbell bent-over row, you basically hold a dumbbell deadlift position, with your weight back in your heels, according to Carolina Araujo, CPT, a California-based certified personal trainer and founder of Fit With Carolina.

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You want your hips back throughout the entire exercise.

"If you feel your hips start to creep forward, you can do your rows in front of a wall and keep your butt back, touching the wall the entire time," she suggests.

2. Keep a Flat, Still Back

Maintaining a flat back is a big safety precaution while doing this exercise, according to Araujo. Although you should try and make your torso as parallel to the ground as possible, you want to prioritize stability. Only lean forward as far as you can while maintaining a stationary and flat back.

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"A lot of people tend to dip their chest and back down and up with each rep, using momentum instead of muscles to move the dumbbells," she says. "Focus on keeping your back flat and in place and only keep leaning forward as long as you can maintain that."

If holding your back straight and stable feels difficult, you should grab a lighter pair of dumbbells, Araujo says.

3. Squeeze Your Core

A sign you're not quite nailing your form? Your spine starts to round like an upside-down U — and this position can put stress on your lower back, Araujo says. A reason for this mistake may be that you're letting your core loosen up.

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Your transverse abdominis (TA) is a core muscle that functions like a weight belt deep in your abdomen — and it's the main core muscle worked in bent-over dumbbell rows. When you do a dumbbell bent-over row with good form, your TA helps keep your upper-body stable and secure in the bent-over position.

Tighten your abdominal muscles almost like you're bracing your gut for a punch, she suggests. Slightly tilt your hips in to help engage your core and keep your back flat.

4. Lead With Your Shoulder Blades

"Although this exercise does work your arms, they're not a main focus," she says. "When you squeeze your shoulder blades together, you pull with your back instead of your arms, giving the right muscles the attention they need."

With each rep, focus on drawing your shoulder blades down and together. Lead with this movement, Araujo says.

This helps you target the muscles across your middle and upper back, like your lats, rhomboids and lower traps. Leading with your shoulder blades also helps prevent scrunching your muscles around your neck like your upper traps. Drawing your shoulder blades together as you row also helps activate your rear shoulder muscles (your posterior deltoids).

5. Row to Your Waist

Here's another thing that people of all levels often mess up — they row the weights to their armpits rather than to their waists, according to Araujo. Rowing to your armpits prevents your back muscles from engaging properly, so you miss out on the biggest dumbbell row benefits.

Many people also tend to over row — they go too far. Move until the weights are just past your torso.

6. Fully Extend Your Arms

To get full range of motion during your dumbbell bent-over rows (and target more muscles across your back), you want to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the exercise, according to Araujo.

"Your lats are the back muscles that sit right below your armpits and run across your sides," she says. "When you let your arms fully extend during this exercise, you get a larger range of motion and give these muscles a tougher workout. That way, you target both the muscles in the middle back and your sides."

7. Try Different Variations

The best way to get more out of this exercise? Try out different dumbbell row variations, Araujo says. After you nail your form for the original move, trying new variations is a great way to keep building strength.

There are a few modifications she suggests you try if you have trouble keeping good form. Doing your rows with your chest on an incline bench can give you a little extra support, while isolating your back muscles.

And if you want to make the exercise even more challenging, she recommends you try rowing one arm at time to isolate each side of your back. By focusing on one side at a time, you also build even strength across your body, preventing muscle imbalances.

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