7 Best Back Exercises With Dumbbells

Most people who work out mainly focus on body parts visible from the front, specifically the chest, shoulders, biceps, and abs, yet place little emphasis on working their back muscles as they’re not considered “sexy.”

Here’s the truth: the muscles in your back, such as the rhomboids, traps, and lats, perhaps need more attention than all the rest.

Why?

  • Exercising your back muscles achieves the V-taper look that so many seek.
  • You are at less risk of getting injured or suffering a strain.
  • You see an improvement in posture and balance.

Remember that most people (a stupidly high amount) are sedentary for over 8 hours a day, five days per week, as our jobs involve lots of sitting at a desk or driving for hours on end.

Then the same people go home and repeat the process, only this time sitting on the sofa watching television.

And on top of that, then what happens?

They sleep all night, which means their body is again sedentary, laid in similar positions for hours.

The following day they wake up feeling much older than they are because of stiff joints.

And the cycle repeats for years, in some cases, decades.

Is this a healthy lifestyle to lead?

Do I need to ask that question?

Eventually, these people suffer an injury like lower back pain (best case) due to their lifestyle.

The CDC states a study revealed that 25% of American adults reported lower back pain, with 14% of insured patients prescribed opioids to help manage their pain.

Scary.

The reality is, I am positive a high percentage of those people would reduce or eliminate their pain from performing back exercises with dumbbells and being more active overall.

Later in the article, I will be sharing 10 of the best back exercises with dumbbells that will help you develop a strong, muscular back and improve your posture.

Back Anatomy

The back muscles that need the most attention are:

Erector Spinae – This muscle group extends and stabilizes your spine. Many exercises can work the lower back specifically, including dumbbells.

Latissimus dorsi – Commonly referred to as lats and located on the side of your torso, it is the largest muscle in your back. A well-trained back with wide lats creates the V-shape taper many seek. However, its primary function is to extend and adduct the shoulder joint.

Posterior deltoids – The posterior deltoids – otherwise referred to as rear delts – are muscles located on the back of the shoulder. Many people have underdeveloped posterior deltoids as their attention is on working the front and side deltoids only. The reason is that they immediately stand out when looking directly at a physique. The good news is that working the back muscles involves using the rear deltoids, so back exercises with dumbbells are beneficial.

Rhomboids and mid-traps – The rhomboids and mid-traps play a crucial role in shoulder stability, posture, and they add thickness to your upper back. They sit between and across your scapulae, also referred to as the shoulder blades.

Upper traps – There aren’t many upper back exercises that don’t involve the upper traps. Any movement that requires shrugging tends to be the best way to work the traps. The traps help elevate your shoulder girdle.

The Benefits of Doing Back Exercises With Dumbbells

Although you can lift more weight with a barbell, back exercises with dumbbells are helpful in their own right.

Here are some of the reasons why:

Less Difficult To Use – Dumbbells are easier to use because there’s no big setup like there is with a barbell. They live on a weight rack, are much smaller than a barbell or a machine, and offer variety. A barbell can be exhausting as you have to put on and take off the weight plates on top of performing the exercise, whereas this isn’t an issue with dumbbells.

Kinder on the Joints – Dumbbells allow you to use a neutral grip when you lift, which causes less tension on your shoulder joints, elbows, and wrists. Freedom of movement is also a big plus for dumbbells, whereas you’re locked in a specific range of motion with a barbell.

Improved Muscular Development – A significant benefit when lifting with two dumbbells is that your weaker side has a chance to catch up to your stronger side, which helps build muscle on the weaker side. Also, many people forget that the range of motion a person can achieve with dumbbells allows for greater muscle contraction, which is necessary for building muscle mass and increasing strength.

Improve Strength Imbalances – Doing back exercises with dumbbells helps strengthen imbalances between sides. The way to do this is to train unilaterally, doing alternating dumbbell shrugs, as an example. Each time you use a barbell, you simultaneously engage both sides of your body, hence why many trainers have a more dominant side.

7 Best Back Exercises With Dumbbells

Try these 10 best dumbbell back exercises to work the lower, mid, and upper back muscles.

Dumbbell Chest Supported Row

Dumbbell chest-supported rows are kinder on the lower back than most other rowing exercises. This exercise is good for working the upper back, traps, and biceps.

  1. The first thing to do is set an exercise bench between 30-45 degrees. Lie face down with a dumbbell in each hand and the top of your head positioned over the top of the bench. Allow your arms to hang down from your shoulders, palms facing inwards.
  2. Pull the weights up by bending your arms as if you were tucking them into your ribs, and pull your shoulders back.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

One-arm Dumbbell Row

This exercise helps strengthen the upper posterior muscles. You only use one dumbbell, which isolates each side, ideal for correcting any strength imbalances.

Another major plus of the one-arm dumbbell row is that it works the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis muscles, which may help increase muscle mass in your arms.

  1. Start by holding a dumbbell and placing your lower leg toward the end of the bench. While bent over, ensure your back is straight and your core is tight before picking up the dumbbell.
  2. Grip one dumbbell with one arm and pull it upwards to just past your lats and squeeze your back muscles.
  3. Lower the dumbbell to starting position and repeat with the other arm.

Dumbbell Good Mornings

Typically performed using a barbell, good mornings are equally as good – if not better – while using a single dumbbell. Good mornings hit the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

  1. Start by holding a single dumbbell at the back of your neck with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. Push your hips back and lean forward without the need to round your back as you do so. Focus on that stretch leaning forward.
  3. Stand back up to the starting position and repeat.

Dumbbell Bent-over Row

The barbell row is a trendy two-handed row and has its benefits. However, using dumbbells allows you to have a greater range of motion.

  1. Start by holding dumbbells in a stance slightly wider than shoulder-width. Bend the knees and simultaneously lower your torso to just above parallel while ensuring your back is straight and your core is engaged.
  2. Elbows should be kept at a 45-degree angle to your body.
  3. Pull the dumbbells up past your lats, contract the back muscles, and lower them slowly back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the necessary amount of reps.

Dumbbell Renegade Row

These are a little like the plank exercise, only more challenging as it works the back and core simultaneously.

  1. Start in the push-up position, ensuring your feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hands are positioned directly underneath your shoulders. Your core should be engaged and remain conscious of keeping your body in a straight line.
  2. Perform a push-up, and once you have completed the rep, row your left elbow up to the side of your hip without jerking the weight.
  3. Return the dumbbell to the floor where you started from and perform another push-up.
  4. Next, perform the row with your other arm.
  5. Alternate each arm for the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell Shrug

Contrary to popular belief, many people incorporate training their traps during a shoulder workout, but upper traps are more of a back muscle. Barbell shrugs are also a great exercise to work the traps, which lots of gym trainers do, but dumbbells allow more flexibility and range of motion, so they are worth doing.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells and stand straight, allowing them to hang by your sides.
  2. Shrug your shoulders up and slightly back, and pull your elbows up to contract the trapezius muscles.
  3. Release your shoulders slowly until both arms are down by your sides and repeat.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Predominantly viewed as a glute and hamstring exercise, this exercise hits the lower back too.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in both hands in front of your thighs, ensuring palms face your legs.
  2. Form a slight bend in the knee, push the hips backward, and lean forward while lowering the weights as far down in front of your legs as they will go without causing discomfort.
  3. Stand back up straight, making sure you don’t arch your back at the top.

Back Exercises With Dumbbells Workout

A dumbbell-only back workout doesn’t have to be complicated to put together, but I’m here for you if you’re struggling.

Try this workout routine 1-2 times per week. If your back is a weaker body part and you’d like to add some muscle mass, I would train it twice per week, but ensure you leave at least two days between each workout, so you don’t tap into recovery stores.

I’d encourage you to warm up properly by doing some joint mobility around the muscles you will be using.

  1. One-arm dumbbell row, 2-4 sets, 10-12 reps.
  2. Dumbbell bent-over row, 2-4 sets, 10-12 reps.
  3. Dumbbell chest supported row, 2-3 sets, 8-10 reps.
  4. Dumbbell renegade row, 2-3 sets, 10-12 reps.
  5. Dumbbell Romanian deadlift, 2 sets, 8-10 reps.
  6. Dumbbell shrugs, 3 sets, 12-15 reps.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many exercises should I do for my back?

It all depends if you’re training another body part during the same workout, like biceps, for example. If you’re training only your back, I would suggest doing between 4-6 exercises, starting with compound movements first – as they are more taxing and stressful on the body overall – followed by some isolation exercises. If you’re training back plus another body part, my advice would be to do 3-4 exercises, absolute maximum.

2. How can I tone my back quickly?

I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that, as frustrating as it may be. You cannot tone a muscle. Above and beyond anything else, our genetics dictates how our muscles look. So, if you want to be toned, reduce your body fat, and any muscle you have underneath it will be prominent and give the “toned” look you seek. However, losing body fat should never be rushed as you may lose muscle in the process, which will reduce the chance of being toned.

3. Can I get big with just dumbbells?

You absolutely can! The key to gaining muscle mass has very little to do with the type of exercise you do; instead, ensuring you work the targeted muscle using a full range of motion and focus on progressive overload. Progressive overload is when you gradually increase your strength training routine’s weight, frequency, or repetitions to improve continually. Or course, it goes without saying that your nutrition must be of high importance to see gains, too.

About the author

Chris Jones

I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).

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