Fewer muscles are more imposing than a strong set of lats. They not only shape our upper body but also provide us with considerable strength. 

But for many gym-goers, knowing how to target the lats can be difficult. Leaving our physique appearing unbalanced and even worse, impairing our ability to lift.

The solution to this is the versatile dumbbell.

Whether it be for mass, strength, or performance, dumbbells can be an incredible tool to improve our performance and physique. 

In this article, I am going to share how I helped my clients build dominating V-taper backs with my 10 top dumbbell lat exercises.  

Table of Contents

  • What are the lats?
  • Main Benefits of Dumbbell Lats Exercises
  • How to Target the Lats with Dumbbells
  • 10 Best Dumbbell Lat Exercises
  • “V-Taper” Workout Program
  • Tips for Training the Lats For Growth and Strength
  • Final Thoughts

What are the lats?

Reaching from the lower back, running up our spines, and spreading across and attaching to the underside of each arm, the latissimus dorsi (lats) are one of the largest muscles in the upper body.

With so many origin points across the upper body, the lat is crucial to performing many different movements of the arms. This is not only important for our gym routines but for our posture.

It is with this make-up that the muscle is capable of defining our physique and producing considerable strength.

Here I will share with you the anatomy and function of the lats to help you understand your training.

Anatomy of the Lats

MuscleOriginInsertionAction 
Latissimus DorsiInferior Angle of the Scapula
9th -12th Rib
T7-T12 vertebrae
Posterior of iliac crest
Thoracolumbar Fascia
Lesser tuberosity of humerus
Intertubercular groove
Extension of the arm
Abduction of the arm
Internal Rotation of the arm

Main Benefits of Dumbbell Lats Exercises

Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Variety

A dumbbell is a great tool that allows us to target the lats in a variety of ways. Its ergonomic handle offers the freedom to adopt different hand positions

This can be highly beneficial as we can adjust the angle of our shoulders, allowing us to target specific muscles in the back.

Comfort When Lifting

Training with a dumbbell offers a level of comfort that allows us to move weight into a position that favors our joints.

This can benefit those who have sustained injuries to the shoulder, elbows, or wrists, as the freedom to change grips allows users to modify hand position, to suit their needs. 

Great Range of Motion

The single-handled design of dumbbells takes shoulder joints through a greater range of motion compared to a barbell. 

Plus, they take the muscle to different angles and degrees of stretch.

How to Target the Lats with Dumbbells

To accurately target our lats, we must take the fibers through their designed range of motion.

As the lat is responsible for extension, adduction, and medial rotation of the arm, we must play into these movements to activate the muscle.

To do this, pull the shoulders back and down toward the hip with a slight rounding of the shoulder to engage the muscles prior to your lift.

When performing each rep, focus on pulling the elbows back behind the body. This allows you to take the shoulder into extension, increasing contraction and activation of the lat.

10 Best Dumbbell Lats Exercises

Related: Back and Bicep Workout

1. Prone Incline Row

The prone incline row is a great exercise for developing all the muscles of the back. 

The position on the bench provides us with a stable and comfortable position that allows us to focus on contracting the lats and taking our shoulders through a full range of motion. 

Equipment Requirements

  • Incline Bench
  • Dumbbells

How To Perform Prone Incline Row

  • Using a pair of dumbbells and an incline bench, lie on the bench face down (prone).
  • Position yourself at the top of the bench with legs out straight and to the sides and head above the headrest.
  • Grab dumbbells and hold them with arms outstretched and relaxed.
  • To begin the movement, engage lats by squeezing shoulder blades back and down.
  • Leading with elbows, row dumbbells up until they reach 100 degrees bent at the elbow.
  • Lower to the starting position. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Comfortable position allows you to focus on contraction.
  • Bench support allows for stability for great retraction.

Pro Tips

  • Before each rep, engage lats by pulling shoulder blades back and down. This will help target the muscle better.
  • When rowing, lead with elbows. This will help you focus on the lat contraction more and not the weight in your hand.

2. Renegade Row

The renegade row is a full-body exercise that requires us to engage everything with each lift.

Therefore, it’s an excellent exercise for not only the lats but all the muscles of the back.

Equipment Requirements

  • Dumbbells

How To Perform Renegade Row

  • Assume the push-up position, with a dumbbell in each hand as a support.
  • To begin, engage glutes and core.
  • With one dumbbell, row back, leading with elbows to 90 degrees.
  • Gradually lower, returning it to the floor. Change hands. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Full-body exercise.
  • Positioning requires stability for the duration of the set.

Pro Tips

  • Prior to each rep, exhale, tense the core, and squeeze the glute for stability.
  • For beginners, start with a lighter weight and position the feet wide. This will help with stability.

3. Pendlay Row

Pendlay rows are great for building size and strength. The dumbbell starting position on the floor allows us to load up the weight.

From here, we can row with maximum effort for each rep, allowing the dumbbells to rest on the floor for a second between reps.

Equipment Requirements

  • Dumbbells

How To Perform Pendlay Row

  • Using a part of dumbbells, start in the standing position.
  • Bend forward at the hips, rest dumbbells on the floor beneath the shoulders.
  • To begin, gently engage lats and core.
  • Start row, pulling elbows back towards hips until they reach 90 degrees.
  • Lower dumbbells to starting position. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Resting position of dumbbells allows you to load up on weight.
  • Great for strength and mass.

Pro Tips

  • Start with a lighter weight for earlier sets and focus on movement and technique.
  • For heavier sets, focus on lifting the weight, and allow dumbbells to drop to the floor on the downward phase. This will allow you to pull more weight, without the need to exert yourself during the eccentric phase (lowering). 

4. Single-Arm Bent-Over Row

A staple in any back workout, the single-arm row is on this list as it allows us to concentrate on targeting the lats one at a time.

Equipment Requirement

  • Dumbbell
  • Flat Bench

How To Perform Single-Arm Bent-Over Row

  • Using a flat bench, place one knee and same-side hand on the bench for support.
  • Place the opposite leg on the floor to stabilize.
  • To begin, grab the dumbbell with the free hand, holding it relaxed beneath the shoulder.
  • To start the movement, engage lats back and down to the hip.
  • Leading with the elbow, row dumbbell up, elbow brushing against the side of the body, focusing on lat contraction until elbow reaches 90 degrees.
  • Gradually lower to the starting position. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Bench is great for support, it allows you to lift more weight.
  • Dumbbell path allows for lat stretch and shoulder range of motion. This means great activation.

Pro Tips

  • Before each movement, exhale and engage the core. This will help you stabilize, allowing you to focus on targeting the lats.
  • For each rep, lead with the elbow, pulling it back toward the hip while tucked to the side. This will help improve lat activation.

5. Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is discussed as one of the most effective ways to target the lat.

The position of the body allows us to take the arms overhead, taking the lats to full stretch. Making it great for muscle development and growth.

Equipment Requirement

  • Dumbell
  • Flat bench

How To Perform Pull Over

  • Position yourself on your back, with shoulders resting in the middle of the bench.
  • Place feet shoulder-width apart and raise hips.
  • Grab the weight with both hands, palms overlapping one end of the dumbbell, lifting it over the chest.
  • To begin, gradually lower the dumbbell overhead and toward the floor.
  • Lower until arms reach parallel with the floor. Lift and return to the starting position. Repeat.

Benefit

  • Takes lats through full stretch.
  • Great for chest and core.

Pro Tips

  • For beginners, start with a lighter weight as the movement and position can be uncomfortable when performing it for the first time.
  • Focus on breathing. Inhale when reaching the dumbbell overhead, exhale and tense the core when lifting weight to starting position.

For more on pullovers, check out Guide to Pullover Machine: Plus Pullover Exercise Alternative.

6. Bent-Over Row

The dumbbell bent-over row is a great lat development exercise that uses the entire body. 

The bent-over position is great for rowing, while engaging the core, lower back, glutes, and legs.

Equipment Requirements

  • Dumbbells

How To Perform Bent-Over Row

  • Holding a pair of dumbbells in the upright position, bend forward at the hips. Aim for between 45-90 degrees.
  • Hold dumbbells with outstretched arms beneath the shoulder.
  • To begin, activate the lats, rowing dumbbells back with elbows tucked to the side of the body.
  • Pull dumbbells back until elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
  • Lower dumbbells down to starting position. Repeat.

 Benefits

  • Engages the whole body.
  • Bent-over position is great for targeting lats.

Pro Tips

  • To start, use a lighter weight and focus on contracting the lats.
  • Keep elbows tucked to the sides, focusing on leading with the elbow. This will help you target the lats through the duration of the set.

7. Kroc Row

The Kroc row allows us to target the lats in a supported and semi-upright position. 

The split stance and hand position provide us the stability to move considerable amounts of weight.

Equipment Requirements

  • Dumbbells
  • Upright bench or supporting structure

How To Perform Kroc Row

  • Use a single dumbbell and upright bench. Hold the dumbbell in one hand and assume a split stance.
  • Place two-thirds of your body weight on the front foot, leaning forward. Support yourself with the free hand.
  • To begin, activate the lats. Pull the elbow back toward the hip, brushing it against your side.
  • Pull until the elbow reaches 90 degrees.
  • Gradually lower until back to the starting position. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Comfortable, upright position.
  • Upright bench support allows you to move more weight.

Pro Tips

  • Lead each rep with your elbow, keeping it tucked to the side. This will help with lat activation.
  • Adjust stance to a comfortable position to begin. This will allow you to focus on technique and lifts, improving your ability to target the lats. 

8. Reach Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is an exercise that is often associated with working the muscles of the upper back. 

However, when we incorporate a slight rounding of the back and reach forward, it allows us to target the lats.

Equipment Requirements

  • Dumbbells

How To Perform Reaching Reverse Flys

  • To begin, have a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Bend forward at the waist with a slightly rounded back, arms reaching forward.
  • With arms slightly bent, engage shoulder blades back and down toward the hips.
  • Fly dumbbells back and out to the side until they are in line with the shoulder.
  • Lower dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat.

Benefits

  • Works all the muscles of the upper back as well as the lats.
  • Increased bend allows for lat targeting.

Pro Tips

  • Start with a light weight, as reverse flys do not need a lot of resistance to be effective.
  • Allow back to arch slightly, and allow the dumbbells to hang forward toward your head. This will put the lat on stretch.

9. Seal Rows

Similar to the supported row, we can use the bench to brace ourselves and assist with pulling motion. Meanwhile, our horizontal positioning helps us to row vertically against gravity.

Equipment Requirements

  • Dumbbells
  • Flat Bench
  • 2 x Boxes

How To Perform Seal Rows

  • Using a flat bench, place a box underneath the legs at each end.
  • Position yourself on the bench lying face down. Grab both dumbbells.
  • To begin, activate lats by pulling the shoulder blades down toward the hip.
  • For the row, lead with the elbows, pulling them back behind the body while keeping them tucked to the sides.
  • Once your elbows reach 90 degrees, gradually lower to the starting position. Repeat.

Benefit

  • Elevated bench allows for a greater stretch of the lats.
  • Position on the bench takes away other components of the body for balance, requiring the lats and back to do the lifting.

Pro Tips

  • Use steps that allow you to have arms at full extension at the elbow. This will help you take the lats to a greater stretch.
  • Prior to each lift, exhale and engage the glutes and core. This will make the body rigid and allow you to focus on pulling more weight.

10. Alternating Pendlay Row

The alternating Pendlay row is great for engaging the lats with isometric holds.

This is done by holding the row position with one side while the other side performs the lift. That means both sides are getting a workout with each rep.

Equipment Required

  • Dumbbells

How To Perform Alternating Pendlay Row

  • Start in the standing position with a pair of dumbbells in each hand.
  • Bend forward, aiming for a 45-90 degree bend in the hips.
  • To begin the movement, engage lats, row both dumbbells up until the elbows reach 90 degrees, and tuck them to your sides.
  • Now, while holding one dumbbell in the retracted position, gradually lower the other dumbbell, to the starting position and then row back up.
  • Switch sides and perform the movement with the other dumbbell. Alternate and repeat.

Benefits 

  • Bent-over position engages the entire body.
  • Holding the row engages the lat isometrically, helping with lat development.

Pro Tips

  • Perform this with lighter weight than the Pendlay row since we’re holding the dumbbell in the retracted position.
  • When holding, pull into the lat and squeeze the muscle. This will allow you to hold positions for longer and improve lat recruitment.

“V-Taper” Workout Program

Related: How Long Does It Take To Get Ripped

v-taper workout

Beginner

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Alternating Pendlay Row (Light)38-1245 – 60 secs
Bent-Over Row31045 – 60 secs
Pullover38-1260 secs
Bent-Over Single-Arm Row31045 secs
Prone Incline Row310-1245 secs

Advanced

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Time
Alternating Pendlay Row (warm-up)31045 – 60 secs
Pendlay Row4845 – 60 secs
Pullover4860 secs
Seal Row4845 secs
Reaching Reverse Fly312                                                      45 secs

Weekly Schedule

MonTueWedThursFriSatSun
ChestBackLegsArms/ ShouldersBack/Accessory

Maximizing growth requires additional attention. Splitting your week into body parts is a great way to help you focus on developing a specific muscle or group of muscles.

In the table above, I am using a five-day split. I have used the first three days (Mon-Wed) of the week for larger muscle groups and compound lifts.

The remaining two days (Fri, Sat) I have dedicated to arms, shoulders, and back.

When we want to grow a certain aspect of our body, we do need to challenge it more.

This is why on the fifth day of the week, I have suggested additional back work.

This program allows us to hit the back twice in one week while still having appropriate rest for repair and growth.

Want to build your perfect dumbbell routine? Check out 15 Awesome Dumbbell Back Exercises and Workout Plan

Tips for Training the Lats for Growth and Strength

dumbbell lat workout

The lat muscle is one of the largest muscles of the upper back, however, this does not mean it’s always easy to target.

Here are some tips to help you hit them correctly with every rep.

Start Light

Prior to each exercise, perform a warm-up set with a lighter weight. This can be done using 20-60% of one-repetition maximum (1RM).

This will warm up tissue, increase blood flow, and help you get used to the movement pattern. It also serves our next tip, mind-muscle connection.

Mind-Muscle Connection

When we are training any muscle of the body it is important to focus on our mind-muscle connection.

By starting with a lighter weight we can accurately focus on the lats, evenly contracting them as we guide the weight through its full range of motion.

This helps us to activate more fibers, improving our results.

Engage Lat Before Each Rep

It is important to engage the lats before each repetition. 

This can be done by starting with a lighter weight and focusing on pulling the shoulder blades back and down towards the hips.

This will allow the lat to engage upon your command. By doing this you are making your lats the focus of the exercises. 

This builds that connection, improving your fiber activation and improving results.

Later Sets – Load Up Weight

The benefit of accurately warming up and building your connection to the muscle in early sets is that you can really hammer away at them for your working sets.

From here, you can perform 70-95% 1RM for sets of 6-12 repetitions. This is the ideal rep range for muscle growth

Final Thoughts

Creating a bold V-taper back requires us to take our joints through their full range of motion and allow our muscles to stretch out. 

This makes the dumbbell the perfect tool for the job.

I know that training with dumbbells for a bigger back can be thought of as less effective. After all, the resistance tends to be lower. 

However, given their ergonomic design, they allow a variety of hand positions, which gives them an advantage over barbells.

Are there any on the list you’re going to try, or have I left one out? 

Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share this article with someone who needs it.