Dumbbell back exercises are some of the most versatile pieces of equipment at the gym. With dumbbells, you can target different muscles with a variety of different hand positions.

However, when they are our sole means of resistance, we can find it difficult to build a program around them.

Over my career as a therapist and personal trainer, I have witnessed many of my clients fall off the wagon due to a lack of knowledge about dumbbell training. 

So, in this article, I am going to share with you my top 15 awesome dumbbell back exercises. I’m confident they’ll help you build a strong back, improve posture, and reduce the occurrence of injury.

Let’s jump in. 

Table of Contents

  • Let’s Break Down Back Anatomy
  • Benefits to Training your Back
  • 15 Dumbbell Back Exercises and Workout Plan
    • Bench Single-Arm Row
    • Renegade Row
    • Incline Bench Narrow Row
    • Incline Bench Rear Delt Row
    • Pendlay Row
    • Bent Over Row
    • Deadlift
    • Stiff Leg Deadlifts
    • Shrugs
    • Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts
    • Upright Row
    • Reverse Fly
    • Incline Bench Front Raises
    • High Pulls
    • Farmers Carry
  • Awesome Dumbbell Back Workout
    • Beginner
    • Advanced
  • Avoid These Mistakes with Back Exercises
  • How to warm up your back for best results
  • What are the types of grip positioning to perform back exercises?
  • How do you train different parts of your back?

Let’s Break Down Back Muscle Anatomy

Large Muscles

  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Trapezius (Traps)
  • Erector Spinae

Small – Medium Muscles

  • Quadratus Lumborum (QL, Lower back)
  • Rhomboids (between shoulder blades)
  • Teres Minor
Anatomy of the Back Muscles
Anatomy of the Back Muscles

Related: 11 Top Long Head Bicep Exercises For Massive Peak

5 Benefits to Training Your Back

The back contains some of the largest and strongest muscles in the entire body

The muscles of our back are required not only for pull-based movements but for a solid postural foundation.  

It only stands to reason that we must train this group of muscles as it will help to improve our overall strength and posture.  

Here, I will give you five benefits of dumbbell back exercises and why they should be included in your workout program. 

Improves Posture

Our back muscles have the responsibility of surrounding, supporting, and controlling our spines. When it comes to posture, having strong and responsive muscle tissue is a must.

Over my years treating my clients, often poor posture could be attributed to two things – poor daily habits and weak muscles. For many of them, this resulted in regular occurrences of pain and dysfunction.

By strengthening your back muscles, you’re providing your body with a solid foundation that it can draw on to ensure correct posture throughout your day. 

Increases Overall Strength

The back itself is made up of a variety of muscle fibers, large and small, with many of the larger fibers spanning the length of the entire spine.

By strengthening your back, you will greatly improve your ability to move a considerable amount of weight in the gym. Most demanding lifts (deadlifts, rows) are centered around your back muscles.

When it comes to daily life, having a strong back can be invaluable. You will be able to easily lift and move objects, as well as maintain good posture throughout the day.  

Reduce Injury

Injury prevention is one of the major reasons for strengthening your body, especially for your back. 

The lower back in particular is susceptible to injury due to our daily living activities. There’s an incredible demand on the muscles and joints to maintain correct posture, form, and upper body mechanics.

Often, when we sustain back-related injuries, it is due to poor performance of daily tasks stemming from lack of back strength and control, both over time and through duress. 

Training and strengthening your back gives the muscles, joints, and ligaments the opportunity to become stronger and train for movements that can help reduce muscular strains and disc-related injuries. 

Improve Body Mechanics

Dumbbell Back Exercise Mobility
Improve Body Mechanics For Moms

Training your back in the gym goes far beyond just looking bigger and being stronger, it’s great for improving correct lifting mechanics.

An improvement to biomechanical function makes lifting a child easier for a busy mom and preserves more mobility for the elderly. 

In short, everyone could benefit.

When training in a controlled environment such as a gym, we allow ourselves to perform movements correctly and safely. That allows our body to gradually adapt to stimulus and technique.

A good example of this for training your back is the deadlift. 

Deadlifts are an excellent full-body exercise that requires the major joints of the body to work together and move large amounts of weight. 

An exercise that I will share with you that I have found particularly helpful to my clients is the deadlift. 

The deadlift is a fantastic exercise that covers both aspects of strength and function and is great for improving an individual’s quality of life.

Correct deadlift techniques learned in the gym can be applied to any lift in daily life.  

Improves Physique

Now, with all the functional benefits out of the way, let’s talk about the look. 

Aesthetically, the muscles of the back are some of the largest and most impressive in the body.

Training the muscles of the back allows us to pack on size, both in thickness and in width, which can greatly alter our bodies’ composition.

By widening and thickening our back, our waist will appear smaller, leading to a much more aesthetically fit physique.

Dumbbells vs. Machines

Dumbbell Back Exercises
Dumbbell Back Exercises

Dumbbells and machines are gym essentials. Both are highly beneficial to challenging your muscles and keeping your workout fresh.

But what are some of the differences between the two, and how do they compare when it comes to our training?

Here I will break down the pros and cons to both, and tell you why they are both important aspects of your routine.

Dumbbells

Dumbbells are extremely versatile piece of equipment that allows the user to perform a variety of different movements.

Pros

  • Versatile, can be used for many different exercises and muscle groups
  • Help to build unilateral strength
  • Requires balance and recruits joint stabiliser

Cons

  • Safety for certain lifts. May require a spotter for pressing movements
  • Require an entire set to change weight

Machines

Machines are a great tool for beginners as they guide you safely through the movement. The pin-based weight system is also a bonus as it allows the users to easily adjust the resistance without the hassle of changing and returning weights back to the rack.

Pros:

  • Great for beginners (those unfamiliar with weight training)
  • Easy to change weights, often using a pin-based system
  • Machine guides through correct technique

Cons

  • Doesn’t train joint stability
  • Not versatile (One machine per body part)

When it comes to comparing dumbbells and machines it is important to note that both have their place in a gym setting.

With pros to both versatility, safety, and application such as targeting muscles, making use of both pieces of equipment is a great way to challenge your body and keep your workouts fresh.

Follow These Simple Back Workout Tips to Maximize Growth

Repetitions

For maximum growth during your dumbbell back exercises, we should aim between the repetition ranges of 6-12. 

Working within this range promotes hypertrophy, which is the key to growing muscle size.

Recommended Volume

The ideal number of sets when training for growth can vary depending on experience level and resistance. 

  • Beginners: 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
  • Intermediate: 3-4 sets of 6-12 repetitions.
  • Advanced: 4+ sets of 6-12 repetitions.

Beginners’ repetition ranges may be higher as resistance tends to be lower, while intermediate and advanced lifters may focus on lifting more weight while decreasing their repetitions.

Best Tempo

Research indicates that training with a slow speed is better for hypertrophy

While going slow isn’t always favorable to your regular gym workout, working in the range of 2-4 seconds is highly effective for muscle growth. 

This means that for the concentric (lifting) phase you should aim for 1-2 seconds and the eccentric (lowering) phase 1-2 seconds. 

Rest Period

To maximize growth when building muscle, research indicates rest times between 30 seconds – 45 seconds are ideal to accurately challenge and fatigue the muscle. 

When it comes to building mass, the body’s required energy source requires a smaller window to replenish. This means that frequent and short sets are great to promote growth. 

Related: 13 Effective Dumbbell Tricep Exercises (Pictures) To Maximize Muscle Growth

15 Dumbbell Back Exercises and Workout Plan

Bench Single-Arm Row

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids (Muscle between shoulder blades)
  • Biceps
  • Rear Deltoid (shoulder)
  • Trapezius (traps)

Benefit

  • Build single-sided strength 
  • Great for core activation

How to Perform Bench Single Arm Row

  • Standing on one side of the bench, place your knee and same-side hand on the bench.
  • Place your other foot on the floor, creating a tripod.
  • Pick the dumbbell up with the remaining hand, making sure that shoulders are in line with one another, with the elbow tucked to your side at 90 degrees.
  • To perform the row, pull the shoulder blade back. 
  • Continue row by the elbow in a bent position of 90 degrees, tucked to the side. 
  • Gradually lower the dumbbell down until your arm is at full length beneath your shoulder. Repeat.

Pro Tips

  • To begin your row, make sure you are comfortable in the kneeling position prior to your lifts. 
  • Being comfortable and having the correct spacing will allow you to draw on your foundation for your heavier sets.
  • Focus on working through your shoulder blades, and retract them prior to your lifting phase.
  • This will help you focus on your target muscles (Lats, rhomboids) more effectively. 

Renegade Row

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids (Shoulders)
  • Rotator cuffs
  • Erectors
  • Glutes
  • Abdominals

Benefits

  • Full body exercise
  • Great for improving core and shoulder stability

How to Perform a Renegade Row 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells (hexagon dumbbells are better for stability/beginners) and some space on the floor.
  • In a push-up position, grab dumbbells, with shoulder joints directly overhead, and feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Using one arm at a time, pull the shoulder blade back and row dumbbell, tucking elbow to side until it reaches 45 degrees.
  • From here, lower the dumbbell to starting position. 
  • Alternate rows, repeat movement with the opposite side.

Pro Tips

  • For beginners, start with feet shoulder-width apart. This will allow you to balance and stabilise more effectively
  • Prior to your lift, exhale and brace your core. This will help to stabilise your body throughout the movement, increasing your ability to lift the dumbbell.  

Incline Bench Narrow Row

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  • Rear Deltoids (shoulders)
  • Trapezius (Traps)

Benefits

  • Great for adding thickness to upper back
  • Can be used to lift heavy
  • Change hand and elbow position to target muscles

How To Perform Incline Bench Narrow Row

  • Lie face down on the bench, legs straight with chest positioned off the top of the bench.
  • Pick up both dumbbells, holding with a narrow grip them with straight arms. Shoulder blades are slightly back and engaged. 
  • Begin your row by pulling your shoulders blades back, then pulling your arms back, tucking your elbow close to your sides.
  • Pull arms back until elbow reaches 90 degrees.
  • From here, gradually lower dumbbells and return them to the starting position. Repeat.  

Pro Tips

  • For best contraction and activation through the upper back, focus on pulling shoulder blades back to initiate the movement.
  • For lat activation, slight round shoulder inward, concentrate on squeezing lats.
  • For rhomboids (middle of the back), focus on squeezing shoulder blades together, pulling the shoulders back.

Incline Bench Rear Delt Row

How to Build Your Rear Delts (Not Reverse Flys)

Target Muscles

  • Rhomboids
  • Upper Trapezius
  • Rear Deltoids (Shoulders)

Benefits

  • Takes the shoulder through a great range of motion
  • Excellent for targeting rear deltoids

How To Perform Incline Bench Rear Delt Row

  • Lying face down on the bench, legs straight with chest positioned off the top of the bench.
  • Pick up both dumbbells, holding with a narrow grip them with straight arms. The shoulder blades are slightly back and engaged.
  • Begin the movement by pulling shoulder blades back, followed by pulling elbows back and out toward the sides.
  • As you begin to reach the top of your lift, rotate the shoulders inward. This will allow you to pull back further and increase rear deltoid contraction. 
  • From here, gradually lower dumbbells and return them to the starting position. Repeat. 

Pro Tips 

  • This exercise should be done with a lighter weight, as it is more technical than your average dumbbell row. By using a lighter weight, you will be able to reach the desired range of motion, improving the contraction of the rear delt.
  • For best results, take the exercise slowly, pausing and focusing on the contraction of the rear delt at the top of the movement.

Dumbbell Pendlay Row

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Rear Deltoids (Shoulders)

Benefits

  • Rest weight between sets means you can lift heavier
  • Great for muscle growth and strength

How To Perform Dumbbell Pendlay Row

  • Bend forward and grasp dumbbells with feet shoulder-width apart and shoulders over dumbbells (placed at 45-degree angles). Dumbbells make contact with the floor between repetitions.
  • With a neutral spine (straighten lower back), gently engage upper and lower back.
  • To begin, focus on pulling shoulder blades back, and rowing dumbbells till elbows reach 90 degrees.
  • Gradually lower dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat.

Pro Tips:

  • The Pendlay row is traditionally performed to move large amounts of weight. When performing the exercise it is important to establish a comfortable and stable foundation.
  • If you are new to the exercise, begin with light weights to practice the technique.
  • Given the exercise is performed with a larger weight, the movement can be performed using momentum from the body, and the rapid release of the row.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  • Rear Deltoids (shoulders)
  • Trapezius (Traps)
  • Rhomboids

Benefits

  • Full body exercise
  • Build core activation
  • Great for building size

How To Perform The Dumbbell Bent Over Row

  • From a standing upright position, bend forward (between 45-90 degrees), hips backward with the spine in a neutral position. 
  • Grasp dumbbells, with feet shoulder-width apart and shoulders over dumbbells, holding with a medium grip (45-degree angles). 
  • To begin, focus on pulling shoulder blades back, and rowing dumbbells till elbows reach 90 degrees.
  • Gradually lower dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat.

Pro Tips

  • Start the exercise with a lower weight to begin. This will allow you to focus on the target muscles, improving results.
  • Aim to maintain a neutral spine during the entire set. This will improve your ability to contract the muscles of the upper back.
  • Focus on breathing out when you row, engaging your core with every repetition. This will help to stabilise your body and increase your capacity to lift. 

Dumbbell Deadlifts

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Abdominals
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings

Benefits

  • Used to build size and strength
  • Full body exercise
  • Great tool to teach correct lifting technique
  • Helps in reducing lower back pain

How To Perform The Dumbbell Deadlift

  • Start by standing upright and knees slightly bent. Relax arms, resting dumbbells against the front of your thighs, palm facing toward the body.
  • Begin the deadlift by pushing your hip backward, and gradually lower dumbbells down toward the knees.
  • Once the dumbbells reach the knees, bend the knee and continue to lower down until you reach mid-shin.
  • From here, begin to return to the starting point, performing the movement in reverse, and thrusting through the hips to complete the movement. Repeat.

Pro Tips:

  • When you perform the dumbbell deadlift, be sure to keep your shoulders slightly forward and over the knees. This will help to distribute the load across the upper and lower back, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.
  • To improve your technique and performance throughout the movement, focus on running the dumbbells down the front of the leg and squeeze your lat muscles (back muscles, near the armpit). This will provide a strong foundation and ensure you’re lifting with your upper back. 

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Target Muscles

  • Lats
  • Erectors
  • Abdominals
  • Glutes
  • Hamstring 

Benefits

  • Full body exercise
  • Workouts glutes and hamstrings
  • Great tool to teach correct lifting technique
  • Reduces lower back pain

How To Perform The Stiff Leg Deadlift

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and some space.
  • Start by standing upright and knees slightly bent. Relax arms, resting dumbbells against the front of your thighs, palm facing toward the body.
  • Begin the deadlift by pushing your hip backward and gradually lower dumbbells down toward the knees. Knees must remain slightly bent and should not continue to bend during the movement.
  • Lower until the dumbbells reach just below the knees, or until you feel you can’t go any lower.
  • From here, begin to return to the starting point, performing the movement in reverse, and thrusting through the hips to complete the movement. Repeat.

Pro Tips:

  • At the beginning of each repetition, be sure to reset your starting position before each rep. This is a great way to refocus and ensure your technique is correct. 
  • Make sure the dumbbells are firm against the upper thigh prior to the movement and focus on squeezing your lat muscle. This will allow for greater activation and strength throughout the set. 

Dumbbell Shrugs

Target Muscles

  • Upper trapezius (traps)

Benefits

  • Build mass through upper back
  • Improves physique
  • Helps to reduce headaches

How To Perform Dumbbell Shrugs

  • Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells, and standing in the upright position.
  • Hold dumbbells to the side, with shoulder blades slightly back and chest up.
  • To begin the movement, shrug shoulders directly upward toward the ears. 
  • Pause for one second, then gradually lower the dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat

Pro Tips:

  • To begin, start with a lighter weight and focus on technique and the contraction of the muscle. Doing this will allow you to understand the movement, allowing for great growth later on.
  • Pause at the top of the repetition. This will improve your awareness of muscle contraction.   

Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Target Muscles

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Rear deltoid
  • Rhomboids
  • Lats

Benefits

  • Teaches correct hip hinge function
  • Great for learning correcting lifting technique of smaller objects
  • Full body exercise

How To Perform Dumbbell Single Romanian Deadlift 

  • Start by standing upright and knees slightly bent. Relax arms, resting dumbbells against the front of your thighs, palm facing toward the body.
  • Begin the deadlift by slowly lifting one leg backward, and gradually lower the shoulders to the floor
  • Lower until the dumbbells reach just below the knees, or until you feel you can’t go any lower.
  • From here, begin to return to the starting point, performing the movement in reverse, and thrusting through the hips to complete the movement. Repeat.

Pro Tips:

  • To begin, start with a lighter weight and focus on technique and the contraction of the muscle. 
  • For beginners, start with a smaller range of motion, and slowly lead with your leg moving backward to practice your balance.

Dumbbell Upright Row

Target Muscles

  • Rear deltoids
  • Upper trapezius (traps)

Benefits

  • Builds back of shoulders
  • Builds upper traps and thickens neck

How To Perform Dumbbell Upright Row

  • Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells, and standing in the upright position.
  • Hold dumbbells in front of thighs, with shoulder blades slightly back and chest up.
  • To begin the movement, pull dumbbells upward, with elbows pointing toward the ceiling until they reach your collar bones.
  • Pause for one second, then gradually lower the dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat.

Pro Tips:

  • To begin, start with a lighter weight and focus on technique and the contraction of the muscle. Doing this will allow you to understand the movement, allowing for great growth later on.
  • Do not go too lift dumbbells above the collar, as this will add unnecessary pressure to the shoulder joint.  

Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Target Muscles

  • Rear deltoids
  • Upper trapezius (traps)
  • Rhomboids

Benefits

  • Builds upper back and shoulders

How To Perform Dumbbell Reverse Flys

  • Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells, bending forward at the hip between 45-90 degrees.
  • Starting with dumbbells palms facing together, raise dumbbells out towards the sides with arms straight.
  • Once the arms and dumbbells reach 90 degrees, lower them to the starting position. Repeat.

Pro Tips

  • Bend forward to a position that is comfortable for you, provided it is 45 degrees or lower.
  • Use light weights to start, and perform your lifts without swinging your body. 

Dumbbell Incline Bench Front Raise

Target Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids

Benefits

  • Builds upper back and rear shoulders
  • Great for strengthening shoulder mechanic

How To Perform Dumbbell Incline Bench Front Raise

  • Lie face down on the bench, legs straight with chest positioned off the top of the bench.
  • Pick up both dumbbells, holding pronated grip with straight arms. Shoulder blades are slightly back and engaged. 
  • Begin the movement by raising dumbbells upward directly in front.
  • Continue the movement until arms are parallel with the floor
  • From here, gradually lower dumbbells and return them to the starting position. Repeat. 

Pro Tips

  • These exercises should be done with a lighter weight, as it is a weaker range of motion.
  • Focus on the contraction of the target muscle, this will help improve function and definition. 

Dumbbell High Pulls

Target Muscles

  • Upper trapezius
  • Rear deltoids (shoulders)
  • Erectors

Benefits

  • Builds back of shoulders
  • Builds upper traps and thickens neck
  • Power and momentum for cleans

How To Perform Dumbbell Upright Row

  • Begin by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and standing in the upright position.
  • Hold dumbbells in front of the thighs, with shoulder blades slightly back and chest up.
  • To begin the movement, gradually lower yourself, bending the knees until the dumbbell reaches the knees.
  • From here, explode up and pull dumbbells upward with a degree of momentum from the hips, with elbows pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Pull dumbbells up high, until they reach chin level.
  • Then gradually lower the dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat.

Pro Tips

  • Similar to the upright row, the high pull pulls the dumbbells in an upward motion. However, the high pull is a more explosive movement and can be loaded up with additional weight.
  • If you are a beginner start with a lighter weight, and work on technique.
  • To generate power for the movement, thrust at the hip to begin the movement.

Dumbbell Farmers Carry

Target Muscles

  • Core
  • Glutes
  • Lats
  • Erectors
  • Rhomboids

Benefits

  • Build overall body strength
  • Strengthens entire back during carry movements
  • Great for building posture

How To Perform Dumbbell Farmers Carry

  • Begin with a dumbbell in each hand, with hands to the side.
  • Stand upright, with shoulder blades slightly back, core, and glutes activated.
  • Slowly walk a distance of 10-20m+, focusing on glute, back, and core activation.
  • Once you have reached the end, turn around and repeat.

Pro Tips

  • Begin with a lighter weight to get the technique right
  • Focus on activation of target muscles, uses the entire body to carry the weight

Awesome Dumbbell Back Workout

Beginner

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Dumbbell Deadlift38-1245 – 60 secs
Dumbbell Bent Over Row38-1245 secs
Dumbbell Single Arm Row38-1045 secs
Dumbbell Incline Bench Narrow Row3-845 secs
Dumbbell Shrugs31045 secs

Pro Tips:

  1. Beginners should focus on technique, especially for larger lifts such as the deadlift.
  2. Allow for sufficient rest between sets. This will enable you to hold your technique throughout the set, forming good habits for the future.

Advanced

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Dumbbell Deadlifts4845 – 60 secs
Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift38-1245 – 60 secs
Dumbbell Pendlay Row46-860 secs
Dumbbell Incline Bench Narrow Row4845 secs
Dumbbell Incline Bench Rear Delt Row31245 secs
Dumbbell Shrugs4845 secs

Pro Tips:

  1. For sets containing lower repetition, lift heavy for maximal strength and growth.
  2. For sets with higher repetitions, work to the feeling of the muscle contraction, focusing on activation. 

Avoid These Mistakes with Back Exercises

When it comes to dumbbell back exercises, many movements we perform in the gym can be straightforward. 

However, at least once per session, I notice issues with technique that might not impact performance but will affect gains.

So, here are five mistakes you need to avoid when training your back.

Not Activating Prior to Workout

A common mistake for many is the lack of a proper warm-up and activation routine. When we skip this, we are not giving our muscles the head-ups that will allow them to perform better.

Research indicated that pre-activating muscles prior to training can increase performance and muscle growth.

Use a lighter weight and perform the exercise with a focus on the contraction of the target muscle. 

In doing this, we can increase our awareness of our target muscle and make sure to contract it through our working sets. 

Curling the Wrists

Something I see too often in dumbbell back exercises is the wrist curl. This happens when people are fatigued or lifting toward the higher end of their capacity, and they begin to curl the wrist.

This is often done subconsciously, as the body attempts to recruit from areas that are a part of the movement but not used in the movement. 

The curl itself attempts to have the forearm flexors lift when the focus should be on the back and biceps pulling. 

Too Much Bicep

Training back muscles require both the back and the biceps to work together to pull the weight. 

When muscles fatigue or the weight is too heavy, we tend to lift more with our biceps and underutilize our back muscles, which reduces performance and growth potential. 

I tell my clients to focus on their muscle mind connection, visualize, feel and squeeze the back muscles on each rep contraction rather than relying on the biceps to finish the movement. The final sets and reps are where the real gains are made and the form needs to be maintained for optimal strength gains and injury prevention.

Mind Muscle Exercise Connection
Mind Muscle Exercise Connection

Shrugging During Repetitions

Training your back often requires a great deal of effort. When we are trying to pull larger weights our bodies will recruit from all sorts of areas for those final reps.

During times of maximal effort and fatigue, the upper traps may contract to assist. While this isn’t always a negative for rows for the upper back, for lower rows it may reduce the effectiveness of the contraction.

A great way to combat this is again to focus on that muscle mind connection. When we go for those remaining sets and rely on a shrug, we take the focus away from our target back muscles, such as lats and rhomboids.

So, I know what you’re thinking, what happens if you can’t perform the repetitions through a full range of motion?

When this happens, aim to perform the movement correctly, and squeeze the muscle as you normally would, even if the last few repetitions are done as half reps.

By doing this we can aim to still target our back muscles and maintain the correct technique. By doing this you will ensure that you don’t build bad habits (shrugging), and give your back the opportunity to build down the track. 

Not Using Shoulder Blades

Not using shoulder blades during your pulls has to be one of the most common mistakes I see in the gym. 

Similar to bicep pulling, the lack of shoulder blade use means that you will not be performing your rows through their full range of motion.

When performing your rows, make sure you initiate your pull movements with your shoulder blades to ensure a solid back contraction.  

How to Warm Up Your Back for dumbbell back exercises

Warming up your back prior to your workout can be done by completing a short warm-up of 3-5 minutes on any piece of cardio in the gym. Or, you can complete a light warm-up set of the exercise you are about to engage in.

By performing a light set of the exercise you are about to engage in, we prepare muscles and joints in the pattern that they will soon be using.

This will help to increase blood flow to the body parts that we will be using in our first working set and place us in a great position to activate and ensure the best results. 

What are the types of grip positioning to perform dumbbell back exercises?

One of the main benefits of training with dumbbells is the ability to alter your grip position. By altering our grip and adjusting the angle of our elbows we can help target different muscles.

There are 4 main grips that are typically used at the gym.

Wide Grip

  • Palms facing downward (pronated).
  • Elbows positioned out wide, 90 degrees away from the body.

Benefit

  • Targets muscles of the mid and upper back.

Medium Grip

  • Palms facing downward (pronated).
  • Elbows positioned out wide, 90 degrees away from the body.

Benefits

  • Targets muscles of the mid and upper back.
  • More comfortable hand position.
  • Great for building width.

Neutral Grip

  • Palms facing inward.
  • Elbows tucked to the side of the body.

Benefits

  • Comfortable hand position.
  • Great for working around shoulder joint pain.
  • Targets the muscles of the upper and middle back.

Reverse Grip

  • Elbows tucked to the side.
  • Palms facing upward (supinated).

Benefits

  • Comfortable hand position.
  • Easier to contract lats. 
  • Builds thickness. 

How do you train different parts of your back?

Training different parts of your back can be done by altering hand and elbow positioning. 

By performing rows with a narrow grip, we aim for more thickness of the back, targeting aspects of both lats and mid-back. 

Changing to a wider elbow position, we are training for building width. 

How do you isolate your back muscles?

Isolating back muscles can be done by altering hand and elbow positions. 

When targeting specific muscles, choosing the correct hand and elbow position and using a lighter weight will help you accurately target your chosen muscle.

How do I activate my back muscles?

To activate a muscle, perform your initial set using a lighter weight with a focus on your target muscle. 

Perform 5-10 repetitions, holding each one for 1-2 seconds. Aim for what feels like a minor cramping sensation.

Once you have finished your activation set, you should be able to feel the cramping areas more than the rest of your muscles. 

Final Thoughts

The dumbbell back exercise is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment for strengthening and growing our back. 

The freedom of movement provides us with a variety of positional options that allow us to train specific muscles and work around the dysfunction. 

So, are any of your favorites on this list? Do you have one you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.