6 Best Dumbbell Back Exercises For Definition And Strength (2023)

Dumbbells also known as free weights, are one of the best training implements to help improve strength, balance, coordination, core stability, and build more muscle mass. Typically, back day consists of a mix between isolated movements, and compound lifts, using cable pulleys, machines, and free weights. Dumbbells are often neglected on back day, however adding more dumbbell back exercises to your workout can help build more functional strength and improve athletic performance in a big way.

Your back consist of several muscles which are divided into three distinct groups; superficial, intermediate, and deeper internal muscles also known as your intrinsic muscles.


The trapezius, or "traps" are a long, triangular shaped superficial muscle, which creates a trapezius shape on the upper back. The proximal region connects from the skull, withits most distal portion from the cervical to lower thoracic spine.Back workouts that target the trapezius, include vertical row, dumbbell snatch, or cable vertical row.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi or “lats” originate from the lower part of the back, where it covers a wide area andstretches to form thedesired V-taper. The latshave a broad origin – arising from thethoracic spine between T6-T12, thoracolumbar fascia, iliac crest, and the inferior three ribs. Back exercises such as the lat pull down, seated rows and bent over row, will target the latissimus dorse and middle back or rhomboids.

Levator Scapulae

The levator scapulae are a small strap-like muscle. It begins in the neck and descends to attach to the scapula.

(Video) Best Dumbbell Back Exercises | Tone and Tighten


Rhomboids are split into two muscles, the rhomboid major and minor. Therhomboid minor is situated superiorly to the major. The majorstarts from the spinous processes of T2-T5 vertebrae, while the minor originates at the bottom of the cervical spine at C7.Seated and bent over rows target the middle back and stimulate the rhomboids.

Training with dumbbells have many benefits, as opposed to only training with machines, or cables. You may not be able to lift the same weight, however, the benefits stretch futher than just adding more muscle mass and strength.

Machines are designed to target and isolate specific muscles. As a result, these movements, are not commonly found in normal every day human movement. Functional strength, is based upon the your biomechanics, with a direct purpose of training and building strength for human movement. Moving weight with two implements, such as dumbbells recruits more muscles, such as your core, and additional joints, to help stabilize the weight, like you would in everyday movement patterns.

Resistance training will help you build strength and more muscle mass, despite if you use dumbbells or not. Constantly contracting your muscles under stress or heavy loads, for a repeated number of reps, consistently, will initiate the muscle building process, muscle protein synthesis, and signal your body to develop more muscle tissue. As a result, physical trauma or the act of lifting weight, will help you develop more muscle, to adequately recover and adapt to that stress.

Dumbbellsactively recruit more core strength and midline stability, which results in better muscle coordination and balance. Core stability, coordination, and strength is needed to perform everyday activities, as well as help improve athletic performance.

(Video) The BEST Dumbbell Exercises - BACK EDITION!

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted a study to evaluate the muscle stimulation of 8 different back exercises on multiple muscle groups in the back, including the middle trapezius, lower trapezius, latissimus dorsi, infraspinatus, and erector spinae. The results indicated that several row variations specifically the inverted row, seated row, and bent over row elicited the greatest back stimulation [R]. The more simulation from isolation, the more muscle mass and definition you'll gain.

The single arm dumbbell rowis a unilateral isotonic exercise, meaning only one side of the body is used in order to product muscle contraction. Traditionally, the single arm dumbbell row is performed kneeling with one knee on a bench, however you can also bend with one arm resting on your knee while you row as well. The single-arm dumbbell row performed on a bench row will provide more stabilization to lift heavier loads by providing optimal core and spinal stabilization. The main targeted muscle group during a single arm dumbbell row is the latissimus dorsi (Lats). This movement is used for isolated muscle contraction and typically performed with heavier loads and less reps.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Variations

  • Bent Over Dumbbell Row
  • Close Grip Bent Over Row
  • Single-Arm Cable Row
  • Wide Grip Bent Over Row

How To Single Arm Dumbbell Row

  • Place your knee on the bench, with your opposing foot firmly planted into the ground, and your back at a 90-degree angle.
  • Grab the dumbbell with your hand opposite of the knee on the bench.
  • Place your opposing hand on the bench gripping the side outside of our knee
  • Look straight ahead and let the dumbbell hand, stretching your lat and shoulders.
  • Pull the weight back, with your hand placed firmly on the handle and pull keeping your elbow tight and tucked close to your body, keeping your back straight avoiding any additional movement.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blade and contract, holding for 1-2 seconds.
  • Return the dumbbell slowly with control, until you feel a stretch in your lat, and shoulder keeping your back straight, then repeat.

Research investigating muscle activation amongst specific back row variations, shows that the bent over row, elicits more muscle activation from the upper to lower back, resulting in better performance and strength, than similar back exercises [R]. Although this exercise provides more muscle activation, it is not recommended to those that have previous back injuries, as it does induce larger spinal load, than other variations such as the inverted row and seated cable row.

What's great about the alternating bent over row, is that it stimulates and contracts your upper and mid lats, while also increasing intensity and tempo, burning more calories, in each set.


Bent Over Dumbbell Row Variations

  • Bent Over Dumbbell Row
  • Close Grip Bent Over Row
  • Supinated Grip Bent Over Row
  • Single-Arm Cable Row
  • Wide Grip Bent Over Row
  • Bent Over Cable Row

How To Do Bent Over Dumbbell Row

  • Slightly bend you knees, bend down and grab two dumbbells palms facing toward you.
  • Bend over at 45 degrees, with your back straight.
  • Brace your core, take a deep breath in and slowly lift both dumbbells, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  • As you contract, slightly rotate the wrists and dumbbells away from your to capture maximum range of motion, bringing your elbows all the way back.
  • Slowly reverse the movement and come back to hanging position.
  • Repeat for desired reps

The upright or vertical row emphasizes the upper traps and deltoids as well as the rhomboids. This movement is performed in isolation within bodybuilding programs and resistance training protocols. It’s also emphasized in movements such as the dumbbell snatch and the barbell snatch often performed in high intensity functional training programs and CrossFit.

Dumbbell Upright Row Variations

  • Barbell Upright Row
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row
  • Kettlebell Upright Row
  • Cable Upright Row

How To Dumbbell Upright Row

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip with your palms facing toward you.
  • Roll your shoulders back and brace your core to isolate your traps and top of the deltoids.
  • Slowly inhale and bring the dumbbells straight up, like a string is attached to the top of your hands pulling them all the way up along and close to your body, as if you were a puppet.
  • When you get to the top of the movement, your elbows should be flared out, contracting your traps.
  • Hold, then release back to starting position.

The dumbbell renegade row is a dynamic functional strength training movement. Holding a plank position, with your hands resting on two dumbbells, youwill perform an alternating dumbbell row. As a result, you are effectively training and strengthening your core stability, improving balance and midlinestrengthwhile building more back strength and mass.

How ToDumbbell RenegadeRow


  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and get into pushup or plank position, in a static hold.
  • Lock your shoulders in place and set your feed to a wide stance, this will help with stability
  • Pull one arm up at a time, while the other stabilizes your body and brace your core.
  • Pull one arm and row with your elbow close to your side and the hip, retracting your scapulae and shoulder back.
  • Work on isolating your rhomboids and delts, and hold once you get to the top of the movement, for a one second count, then lower the dumbbell back to the ground and switch sides.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

The seated dumbbell rear delt fly is a must have in any exercise program or back day training split. Thecoveted shoulder cut that makes every tank top go from good to greatis what the rear delt fly ismade to do.

Seated Dumbbell Rear DeltFlyVariations

  • Cable Rear Delt Fly
  • Standing Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly

How To Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly

  • Seated on the end of bench, grab two light weight dumbbells, that you can use for volume.
  • Bending over, with your chest to your knees and thighs, place the dumbbells behind your heel under at the end of the bench.
  • Without using momentum bring both arms up at the same time, limiting your upper body movement.
  • Contract your scapulae and shoulder blades squeezing at the top of the movement, release and bring your arms back to starting position
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

The incline dumbbell row is a great dumbbell back exercise to target your lats and upper back. This movement can also help alleviate the pressure placed on your lower back and trunk, when in the bent over position, which can cause significant discomfort.

How ToIncline Dumbbell Row

  • Set the incline to a 45 degree angle and gently rest your chest on the bench
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells with your arms resting at your sides and hanging freely.
  • Slowly retract your scapulae and bring your elbows high along your sides until you reach full range of motion.
  • Hold at the top of the lift, then release
  • Repeat for prescribed number of reps.

If you are looking to add more variety and functional strength training movements, dumbbells can help improve total body strength, in addition to core strength, midline stability, balance, and coordination.

(Video) Full Back Workout Using Only Dumbbells (FORM EXPLAINED!)

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6 Best Dumbbell Back Exercises For Definition And Strength (1)

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What is the king of all back exercises? ›

The deadlift remains the king of all back exercises, as the movement incorporates lat and core stabilization along with engaging your entire posterior chain. Here, going heavy is encouraged, and as your pulls become stronger, you'll see how much more developed your back becomes. Don't skip deadlift day!

What is the number 1 back exercise? ›

#1 Pull-Ups/Weighted Pull-Ups

One of the oldest and undisputed kings of the back exercises is the pull-up. There are many variations to this exercise but the proper form that makes it king is with a pronated grip using your own body weight with added weight if possible.

What are the 2 main back muscles? ›

Latissimus dorsi (lats), the largest muscle in the upper part of your body. It starts below your shoulder blades and extends to your spine in the lower part of your back. Levator scapulae, a smaller muscle that starts at the side of your neck and extends to the scapula (shoulder blade).

How long does it take to get a defined back? ›

The answer: Depending on how often you exercise and the intensity of your workouts, give it between four to eight weeks for your muscles to get ripped, says Kawamoto.

How to get rid of back fat? ›

You can only lose back fat by losing fat all-over on your bod. You can also tone the area by targeting back muscles. Creating a calorie deficit, eating healthy, and exercising regularly are the keys to the weight loss needed to target back fat. Remember that some degree of back fat is healthy and totally normal!

Is 4 exercises enough for back? ›

The ideal number of exercises per workout session is 3-4 exercises. If you select your exercises appropriately and train them with sufficient volume and intensity, this will be more than enough to make great progress. This means: Focusing on an 80/20 split of compound to isolation exercises.

Is it OK to train back everyday? ›

Like all muscles in your body, you can perform back exercises up to three non-consecutive days a week. If you're lifting heavy weights—enough that you can only complete six to eight repetitions—you'll need two or more days of rest before you perform the exercise again.

Is 2 exercises for each muscle enough? ›

To recap, most people can see great results performing 2-4 different exercise per muscle group per training day, and include 4-12 different exercises paper muscle group per week as long as they are getting enough training volume throughout the week (15-20 total work sets for most people would suffice)..

Can you build a good back with only dumbbells? ›

The basic dumbbell row is one of the best exercises for your back, attacking both the lats and rhomboids. And if you do it right, focusing on keeping your hips and shoulders square to the ground, it'll build serious core strength, too. Just make sure not to round your back.

What is the strongest back muscle? ›

The scientific name for the broad, fan-shaped muscles in your back is latissimus dorsi, and they're the largest back muscles you have.

What is the most important muscle in the back? ›

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

The latissimus dorsi, also known as the “lats” or “wings,” are the largest and most well-known of all the back muscles. Once large enough, the lats are responsible for your body's “V-taper” because of their protruding appearance under your armpit area and on the back of your ribs.

What part of the back is the strongest? ›

Your upper back is generally stronger in comparison to your lower back. Since your upper back has far more muscles to train and build, your lower back can often be more important to strengthen and support.

What are the 5 parts of the back? ›

The vertebrae are numbered and divided into regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx (Fig.

How do you tone back and get rid of back fat? ›

To get rid of fat deposits on your back, you'll need to start by creating a caloric deficit. That means that you'll need to burn more calories than you consume. In addition to cutting calories, you can tone your back muscles if you focus your exercise routine to target the muscles in your upper and lower back.

How do I get more muscle definition? ›

Do both cardio and strength training. Resistance training helps grow muscles and define their shape. But you're also going to have to do some cardiovascular exercises (the ones that get your heart rate up) to burn calories to get rid of those extra layers of fat between the muscles and the skin.

Do back muscles grow quickly? ›

Depending on your workout, muscle cells can grow back bigger and stronger anywhere from one to seven days later. While they grow back, you should work on different muscle groups to stay on a consistent schedule.

How many months does it take to get back in shape? ›

And if you exercise regularly, over time you will gain even more fitness benefits. “At 6 to 8 weeks, you can definitely notice some changes,” said Logie, “and in 3 to 4 months you can do a pretty good overhaul to your health and fitness.”

How can I build muscle on my back fast? ›

Numerous experts recommend resistance and weight training as the best ways to rebuild muscle. And in addition to building muscle mass, this type of exercise increases bone mass, which is another key to remaining mobile as you age.

How long does it take to strengthen the back? ›

Muscle cells can take anywhere from ONE TO SEVERAL DAYS to grow back bigger & stronger than before, which is why most EXPERTS DON'T RECOMMEND working the SAME MUSCLE group on BACK-TO-BACK DAYS.

What vitamin stops age related muscle loss? ›

Vitamin D may be protective for muscle loss; a more alkalinogenic diet and diets higher in the anti-oxidant nutrients vitamin C and vitamin E may also prevent muscle loss.

Can you regain muscle mass after age 60? ›

Repeated research has shown that, through weight training, men and women in their 60s and beyond can grow muscles as big and strong as an average 40-year-old.

How can I regain muscle after 50? ›

Resistance exercise like weight training is one of the best ways of reversing the loss of muscle mass as you age. It benefits both men and women. Both groups typically lose muscle mass because levels of testosterone or estrogen go down as you age.


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