Take your back workouts to the next level with these killer dumbbell back exercises, plus benefits of using DBs and a sample 20-minute back workout you can do with dumbbells.
Dumbbells are a gym-goer’s best friend!
Barbells may get all the attention, and don’t get me wrong, they are overall the most free weight effective training tool in the gym.
But dumbbells are the perfect companion, the versatile approach to training your muscles in ways barbells just can’t.
Because dumbbells are one-handed, you can mix-and-match the exercises, move with greater agility than barbells, even train one side at a time to max out core engagement.
Truthfully, if you want the most effective workout possible, you’ll combine both barbell and dumbbell exercises into your training sessions.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of the best dumbbell exercises to help you build a stronger, broader, more powerful back.
Not only will you get that studly V-shaped torso you want, but you’ll have more upper body pull power all around.
Let’s jump right in.
Benefits of Using Dumbbells for Building a Stronger Back
Why do I recommend dumbbell training so highly?
There are a lot of benefits to using dumbbells:
⭐ Increased joint strength and stability. They encourage stability in your joints by training your muscles to support your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. With a barbell, the two-handed grip makes for naturally greater stability, but with the one-handed dumbbell, you have to work extra-hard to keep the weight stable and controlled through the full range of motion. This leads to better overall joint strength and stability.
⭐ They increase coordination. Because you have to move the dumbbells independently of each other yet still together (in exercises where they are both moving at the same time), you train the two halves of your body to move in synchronization. This develops better coordination and cohesion between your limbs.
⭐ They can do anything barbells can. Literally! You can switch a barbell out and do dumbbell bench press all day long, ditch the cable machine and instead do dumbbell rows, even use dumbbells to train your legs doing dumbbell squats rather than leg extensions.
⭐ They’re compact and portable. You can set up a rack of dumbbells in the corner of your home gym or garage, or even keep a set of the best adjustable dumbbells in the trunk of your car to take with you on your business trips. Because they’re small, they take up a minimal amount of space but still let you get in an excellent free weight workout.
All great reasons to mix dumbbells into your training session, both at a regular gym and your home gym!
The Best Dumbbell Exercises for a Bigger Back
Whether you’re working out at home or hitting the gym on the daily, you’re probably working hard to train your back muscles to not only build strength, but also size and shape.
It turns out that training with dumbbells lets you target your back muscles with even greater efficiency than many barbell-based exercises.
That’s why I love dumbbell exercises for a huge back!
Here are some of my absolute favorite/the most effective to incorporate into your routines:
💪 Exercise #1: Dumbbell Bent Over Row
This exercise targets your upper back, placing all the emphasis on your traps, rhomboids, lats, and posterior delts.
However, it also engages your lower back muscles to help develop a stronger, more stable spine. It’s doubly effective for your lower back if you do unilateral (one-handed) dumbbell rows!
Changing up your grip also changes the way it engages your muscles. An underhand grip, for example, will place more emphasis on your lats, while an overhand grip focuses more on your upper back (including traps, rhomboids, teres major, and delts).
Even your pull angle (to your chest or your abs) will vary the way your muscles engage, leading to better overall back strength.
💪 Exercise #2: Dead Stop Row
I love the standard kneeling-on-a-bench single arm dumbbell row, but the Dead Stop row takes it to an amazing new level!
With the Dead Stop row, you’re still kneeling on the bench, but instead of letting the weight hang down at the full extension of your arm, you actually lower completely until the weight is resting on the floor.
You pause at the bottom to led the weight come to a “dead stop”, and only then do you row the weight up to your chest.
This momentary pause decreases any chance of swinging/jerking, takes away the stretch reflex, and makes each row more difficult.
The result: greater increase in strength and accelerated hypertrophy.
💪 Exercise #3: Incline Row
This variation on the row uses an incline bench to change up the angle of muscle engagement. Because your upper body is elevated (rather than flat/parallel to the ground like with regular rows), your lower lats (which often receive less focus than our upper back) are recruited more effectively throughout the movement.
And thanks to the fact that your chest is resting on the bench, there’s no chance of A) jerking or swinging, and B) straining your lower back.
💪 Exercise #4: Dumbbell Pull-Overs
This is an old-school classic for a reason: it absolutely works! It’s one of the best exercises to engage not only your upper back muscles, but also your shoulders, chest, and triceps.
You’ll also find it helps to increase stability in your shoulders by strengthening the muscles that support the joint, leading to a more resistant shoulder less prone to injuries.
However, fair warning: there is a risk that over-extending your shoulders could lead to injuries. You’ve got to maintain proper control through the full range of motion and avoid over-extension when in the overhead position.
Focus on keeping your back and chest muscles engaged and controlling your movement at all times.
💪 Exercise #5: Batwing Row
I love this exercise! It takes the standard row to a whole new level, maximizing recruitment of all the muscles in your upper back.
Plus, because you’re resting entirely on the inclined bench, your back ends up doing the majority of the work, reducing the strain on your biceps.
With this variation on the incline dumbbell row, your elbows move straight backward, and the weight is pulled toward your abs rather than your chest.
Because it’s so much more difficult than regular rows or incline rows, you can train with less weight and still feel the burn, while also keeping your shoulder joints safe and your movements controlled.
It’s one of the best dumbbell shoulder exercises to train out some of your bad habits of jerking/swinging when performing standard rows.
💪 Exercise #6: Incline Pause Row
This is one of the absolute best exercises to build isometric strength, and I guarantee you’ll hit muscle fatigue far faster and with far fewer sets thanks to the “pause” portion of this exercise.
In this variation on the incline row, you pause at the top of the row (with the weight pulled close to your chest), and hold the left-hand dumbbell in that “top” position while rowing the right-handed dumbbell five times.
After those five reps, lower both hands, do a full row with both hands together, then hold the right-handed dumbbell in the “top” position while rowing the left-handed dumbbell five times.
This isometric-hold exercise is absolutely game-changing for building strength and endurance. Just 2 sets of this variation are all you need to finish off your workout in style!
💪 Exercise #7: Renegade Row
I’m a huge fan of any exercise that works multiple muscle groups at once, and few are quite as effective and far-reaching as the renegade row.
With this exercise, you hold a Plank position while rowing the weights up to your chest, which shreds your back muscles while also engaging your abs, lower back, and glutes. After the row, you target your chest, triceps, and shoulders in the push-up phase of the exercise, then repeat it all over again with the row portion.
Trust me, after 2-3 sets of this exercise, your entire body will be quaking and shaking!
20-Minute Dumbbell Back Workout for MAX Hypertrophy
Go through this workout routine, taking 60 to 90 seconds for each exercise with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between.
Focus on controlling each movement rather than speeding through the set, and you can look forward to real results.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Incline Row: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Dumbbell Pull-Overs: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Dead Stop Rows: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Batwing Row: 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Incline Pause Row: 2 sets of 20 reps (5 per hand x 2)
Renegade Rows: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
You’ll sweat through your shirt and walk away from this workout exhausted and feeling like a million bucks.
Dumbbell Back Exercises — FAQs
How do I target the upper back with dumbbells?
Easy: it’s all about the pulling! Your chest muscles do the work of pushing, but your upper back (including traps, lats, delts, rhomboids, and teres major) engage to pull objects toward you.
Any exercise that involves pulling (such as pull-ups, chin-ups, and dumbbell rows) will work your upper back very effectively.
Can you train lats with dumbbells?
Absolutely! There are so many variations on the most effective dumbbell lat exercise (rows) to choose from.
To specifically target your lats (both upper and lower), you simply change your grip from regular to underhand, and pull lower toward your abs than straight up toward your chest.
That will maximize lat engagement and help to build that broad, powerful back you’ve always wanted.
The Bottom Line
Training your upper back using dumbbells is an amazing way to max out hypertrophy and build real back power!
Thanks to the versatility of dumbbells, you can hit all of your back muscles—from your shoulders to your traps to your lats to your spinal supporter muscles—very effectively from a number of angles.
As a result, you’ll develop greater pulling power that will translate into quite literally every other aspect of your training.
You’ll be a more well-rounded and agile resistance trainee overall because of it.
Now that’s a benefit of dumbbell back exercises you can love!