15 Dumbbell Back Exercises to Help You Build Strength and Improve Posture

Added to the list of benefits of back exercises is a potentially better workout performance, too, Cunningham adds. Even if you’re doing arm day, your spinal stabilizers are always working to keep you aligned. So the more they’re on point, the better your form will be overall.

How can you work your back muscles at home?

If you have some equipment at your disposal, there are a bunch of back exercises at home you can do with dumbbells that can effectively work your back-of-the-body muscles, including your lats, lower traps, rhomboids, rotator cuff, and erector spinae.

Some of these back strengthening exercises use the pulling movement to fire up your lats and rhomboids—so if you’re looking to work your back at home, you’ll definitely want to add rows and row variations to the mix. Other back-strengthening exercises rely on stabilization or resisting motion, such as the ones that activate your erector spinae, or your deep lower back muscles. So if you’re looking for a lower back workout, or simply to give those muscles a little extra work, you may want to include deadlifts or good mornings in your routine.

Important note: Though strengthening these muscles—especially the lower back muscles that make up your core—can actually play a part in warding off back pain, as research suggests, performing back exercises if you have preexisting back pain may make it worse. In that case, you may want to talk with your doctor or physical therapist about what type of moves are best for you and which aren’t.

Otherwise, if you’re ready for some back-strengthening exercise options you can do at home, read on for some awesome dumbbell back exercises to try. Whether you’re looking to create your own specific back workout, a push-pull routine, or even a full-body strength session, you can find some exercise inspo below.

Bent-Over Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back. Bend your knees and make sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.)
  • Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Do a row by pulling the weights up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Your elbows should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower the weights by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.

This dumbbell back staple works your lats, rhomboids, and biceps, as well as the stabilizing muscles in your core. It’s a great option to work into a chest and back workout, like a push-pull session.

Single-Arm Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a moderate-weight dumbbell in your left hand with your arm at your side. Step forward about two feet with your right foot, and rest your right hand on your right quad. This is the starting position.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back, and bend your left knee, making sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.) Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Pull the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body, and squeezing your shoulder blade at the top of the movement. Your elbow should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.

This is another staple in any solid upper-body workout. While your lats and rhomboids are obviously working here, your core also has to fire here to keep you stable.

Bench-Supported Single-Arm Row

  • Stand in front of a bench (or chair, trunk, or other sturdy elevated surface) with your feet hip-width apart in a staggered stance. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm at your side.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, push your butt back, and keep a soft bend in both knees, making sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.) Place your left palm on the bench, arm straight.
  • Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position. This is the starting position.
  • Pull the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbow hugged close to your body to activate your back muscles, and squeeze your shoulder blade at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower the weight by extending your arm toward the floor to return to the starting position. As you lower the weight, make sure your non-working shoulder stays level. That’s 1 rep.

This move really works your lats, rhomboids, and biceps. Since your hand is supporting your body, it makes stabilizing a little easier.

Underhand Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides in an underhand grip, with palms facing up.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back. Bend your knees and make sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.)
  • Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Do a row by pulling the weights up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Your elbows should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower the weights by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.

This rowing variation hits your lats and biceps more than the traditional row does, thanks to the underhand grip.

Single-Arm Row in Plank

  • Stand facing a bench, sturdy box/step, or chair with your feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell in your left hand.
  • Lower your upper body toward the bench and place your right palm on it flat. Your palm should be directly below your shoulder.
  • Extend your legs straight out behind you with your toes planted and heels elevated off the floor. (To make this move easier, you can do it on the floor instead of elevated on a bench.)
  • Brace your core muscles and keep your back flat and straight. Keep your eyes looking down at the bench. Your body will be at a slight angle. This is the starting position.
  • Do a row by pulling the weight up toward the left side of your chest, keeping your elbow hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position. Complete all your reps on one side, then switch sides.

Because you’re in plank position, your stabilizing core muscles have to fire on overdrive to keep you from leaning.

Bird-Dog Row

  • Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, and assume bird-dog position on a bench. Your left hand and right knee should be flat on the bench. Make sure your knee is stacked below your hip, and your hand under your shoulder. Extend your left leg behind you. You’ll hold this position for the duration of your set.
  • Row your dumbbell by pulling the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Your elbows should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest. Slowly lower the weights by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.
  • Slowly lower the weights by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep. When all your reps are done, switch sides and repeat.

This move works your back muscles since you’re performing the rowing movement, but because you’re also holding the bird-dog position, it’s an amazing—and challenging—core exercise, too. You’ll definitely want to use lighter weight than you normally do for rows.

Renegade Row

  • Start in a high plank, holding a dumbbell in each hand on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you wider than hip-width apart (it’ll help with stability), and your core and glutes engaged. This is the starting position.
  • Pull your right elbow back to do a row, raising the dumbbell toward your chest and keeping your elbow close to your torso. Keep your abs and butt tight to prevent your hips from rocking.
  • Lower the weight to the starting position. Do the same thing with your left arm. This is 1 rep.

When you pick up your arm to row, you lose one point of contact with the ground—which means your core needs to fire to keep you stable.

Renegade Row to Triceps Kickback

  • Start in a high plank, holding a dumbbell in each hand on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you wider than hip-width apart (it’ll help with stability), and your core and glutes engaged. This is the starting position.
  • Pull your right elbow back to do a row, raising the dumbbell toward your chest and keeping your elbow close to your torso. Keep your abs and butt tight to prevent your hips from rocking.
  • At the top of the row, extend your arm and straighten it behind you. This is the kickback part of the move.
  • Reverse the movement, then lower the weight to the starting position. Repeat with your left arm. This is 1 rep.

This is a challenging core exercise that also works your back thanks to the row, and your triceps (the muscles along the back of your upper arm) with the kickback.

Pullover

  • Lie on your side on a mat with a dumbbell in front of you. Grab the weight with both hands, hold it to your chest, and turn flat on your back. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Grip the dumbbell securely at both ends with each hand. (If your dumbbell is larger, it might feel safer to hold it vertically, with both hands around one end as pictured.) Lift it into the air directly above your chest, keeping your arms straight.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell over your head and gently touch it to the floor.
  • Bring the weight back to the starting position, engaging your core as you move the weight. This is 1 rep.

This is a vertical pulling exercise that really targets your large lat muscles. Vertical pulls are often difficult to find in dumbbell form, so bookmark this move to include in an effective dumbbell workout!

Reverse Fly

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in each hand with your arms at your sides, palms facing in, and elbows slightly bent.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, push your butt back, and bend your knees slightly, so that your back is no lower than parallel to the floor. (Depending on your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility, you may not be able to bend so far over.) Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Keeping your back flat, core tight, and elbows bent, raise your arms out to the sides until they are in line with your shoulders. Pause for a second, and then lower your arms back down to the starting position. This is 1 rep.

This move works your rear deltoids, the small muscle in the back of your shoulder which plays a big role in posture and injury prevention.

Quadruped Single-Arm Rear-Delt Raise

  • On a mat, start in an all-fours position with your knees underneath your hips and palms underneath your shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand.
  • Raise your right arm to the side, feeling the work in the back of your shoulder. Brace your core, keep your back straight, and try not to twist to the side.
  • Lower your dumbbell back to the ground. That’s 1 rep.

Along with working the small muscles on the back of your shoulders, this move also requires your core to fire to keep you stable.

Romanian Deadlift

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your thighs.
  • Hinge at your hips, bending slightly at your knees. Push your butt way back and keep your back flat. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor, and the weights should reach your shins.
  • Keeping your core tight, push through your heels to stand up straight. Keep the weights close to your shins as you pull.
  • Pause at the top and squeeze your butt. This is 1 rep.

While you may see the deadlift programmed on leg days, since it targets your hamstrings and glutes, your bigger upper-back muscles as well as your stabilizing lower back muscles also need to fire during this move. Proper deadlift form is crucial, though, to make sure you’re not overstressing your back.

Kickstand Deadlift

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Place one foot a foot-length behind the other, heel elevated (as shown above), so your stance is staggered. You’ll be working your front leg.
  • Hinge at your hips to lower your body. Push your butt far back and keep your back flat. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping your core tight, push through your front heel to stand up straight. Keep the weights close to your shins as you pull up.
  • Pause at the top and squeeze your butt. That’s 1 rep

While your back leg is on the ground for balance, this is considered a unilateral move, which requires greater core engagement than the bilateral deadlift version above.

Single-Leg Deadlift

  • Stand with your feet together, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your legs. This is the starting position.
  • Shift your weight to your left leg, and while keeping a slight bend in your left knee, raise your right leg straight behind your body, hinging at the hips to bring your torso parallel to the floor, and lower the weight toward the floor.
  • Keep your back flat. At the bottom of the movement, your torso and right leg should be almost parallel to the floor, with the weight a few inches off the ground. (If your hamstrings are tight, you may not be able to lift your leg as high.)
  • Keeping your core tight, push through your left heel to stand up straight and pull the weight back up to the starting position. Bring your right leg back down to meet your left, but try to keep the majority of weight in your left foot.
  • Pause there and squeeze your butt. That’s 1 rep. Complete all your reps on one side, then switch sides.

If balance makes this move too challenging, you can perform it by holding a dumbbell in one hand, and using your other hand to lightly brace a wall or sturdy object.

Good Morning

  • ​​Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell horizontally at your chest; crisscross your arms to hold it more securely. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping a soft bend in your knees, hinge forward at the hips and push your butt back as you fold your torso forward. Stop when your torso is just above parallel to the floor.
  • Drive your hips forward as you lift your torso back up and return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. This is 1 rep.

The hip hinge movement works your hamstrings and glutes, as well as your lower back muscles.

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Last Updated on September 8, 2023 by shalw

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