Dumbbell back exercises: woman doing plank dumbbell rowsDumbbell back exercises: woman doing plank dumbbell rows

Kickoff's certified personal trainers and registered dietitians share detailed analysis, discussion, and how-tos about the questions we get most often


7 Dumbbell Back Exercises You Can Do From Home

As many of us started to learn in 2020, home workouts can be every bit as effective as hitting the gym. If you want to build muscle in your back or you're trying to get rid of some unrelenting back pain from the past year of hunching over the computer thanks to that WFH life, a dumbbell back workout can help.

Dumbbell back exercises help you build a stronger back and target the muscle groups that give you better posture. Of course, they can also give you a killer physique. Who doesn't want those impressive rear delts? You’ll use your own bodyweight and a pair of dumbbells that are the right weight for you. It really doesn't get much more straightforward than that.

Try These 7 Dumbbell Back Exercises 

Michael Buble you got this GIF

Here are seven exercises that you can do at home, with nothing more than a set of dumbbells. Pay attention to your form, and make sure you’re maintaining good posture throughout each exercise. If you can’t get through the reps without sacrificing your form, you may have to try it with less weight.

While the best back exercises are simple enough to do at home, it's always a good idea to work closely with a personal trainer, especially if you're a beginner. With an online personal trainer, you'll get 1:1 remote coaching (just $3 per day at Kickoff). Your trainer can give you feedback on your form and assess your range of motion to make sure you can pull off the specific exercises without setting yourself up for injury. A trainer can also give you a specific back workout routine and recommend the best dumbbell weight for your current fitness level and for each exercise.

1. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

Bent-over dumbbell rows GIF

The bent-over row is a go-to dumbbell back exercise for strengthening your upper body and back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi, or lats, and the rhomboids. While the back is the star of the show here, bent-over rows are also a pretty good chest exercise, and they activate your triceps and glutes, too. 

Here's how to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bend your knees. 

  • Firmly grip a pair of dumbbells in each hand with your palms facing toward each other. 

  • Bend your waist at a 45-degree angle, keeping your back in a straight line. 

  • Pull the dumbbells up toward the sides of your chest. 

  • Lower weights to the starting position. 

  • Repeat for 8 to 12 reps for 2 to 3 sets. 

2. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Dumbbell back exercises: woman at the gym doing single arm dumbbell rows

The single-arm dumbbell row is a compound exercise that targets both the upper back and lower back, as well as the biceps, triceps, and shoulders. It also helps improve core strength and overall stability.

Here's how to do it: 

  • Grip a dumbbell in your right hand. 

  • Place your left knee on a bench, and your right foot on the floor  

  • Lean slightly forward and fully extend your elbow, lowering the dumbbell. 

  • Lift the dumbbell straight up by driving your elbow toward the ceiling, squeezing your shoulder blade as you complete the movement. 

  • Repeat for 8 to 12 reps per side for 2 to 3 sets.

Pro tip: If you prefer, you can do this with a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell.

3. Deadlifts

Deadlifts GIF

Yes, deadlifts are a bodybuilder's go-to for muscle growth, but don't let that scare you away. They're also great for beginners or anyone looking for straightforward dumbbell back exercise. Deadlifts target a whole bunch of major muscle groups, from your back to your hips and core to your glutes and hamstrings.

Here's how to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, firmly gripping a dumbbell in each hand. 

  • Keeping your arms extended, bend your hips and knees, lowering your torso until it's almost parallel with the floor. 

  • Keep your core engaged, making sure you don't round or hunch your back. 

  • Return to a standing position slowly, with controlled movement. 

  • Repeat for 8 to 12 reps for 2 to 3 sets.

Pro tip: As you get used to this move, you can use a barbell instead of dumbbells or switch it up between the two.

4. Reverse Fly

Dumbbell back exercises: Standing bent-over dumbbell reverse fly

The reverse fly is a dumbbell back exercise that works the upper back as well the shoulders, specifically the rear deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles.

Here's how to do it: 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, slightly bending your knees and holding a dumbbell in each hand. 

  • Bend at your hips, lowering your chest about 45 degrees. 

  • Extend your arms straight forward with your palms facing toward each other. 

  • Keep a slight bend in your elbows and sweep both arms back and out to your sides. 

  • As you move your arms back, squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  • Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat for 8 to 12 reps.

5. Upright Row

Dumbbell back exercises: Dumbbell upright row

Personal trainers either love or hate upright rows, but they're a really effective back workout when done right. The problem is, if you don't have the proper form when doing them, you do run the risk of shoulder impingement. That basically means the outer edge of your shoulder blade can rub against or pinch the rotator cuff, which can lead to inflammation and some serious shoulder pain. 

But when done right, upright rows target the shoulders and the back, giving you a beautifully sculpted physique. An online personal trainer can walk you through the proper form for these dumbbell back exercises.

Here's how to do it: 

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of you with your arms facing toward your torso. 

  • Slowly lift the dumbbells, keeping the weights fairly close to your body, until your elbows are at your shoulders. 

  • Pause for a second, then slowly lower the weights to the starting position. 

  • Repeat for 8 to 12 reps for 2 to 3 sets.

6. Renegade Row

Renegade rows GIF

The renegade row is a pretty intense dumbbell back exercise that targets the upper back, shoulder, abs, triceps, and quads — no squats required. While it's easy enough to execute, it does require a certain level of core strength, since you have to hold a plank position the whole time. Before you try your hand at a renegade row, work up to holding a proper plank for at least one minute. If you're starting from scratch, a personal trainer can set you up with some core-strengthening exercises to help get you there.

Here's how to do it: 

  • Grab a set of dumbbells and set them up parallel to each other on the floor. 

  • Get in a tabletop position and grab each dumbbell, positioning them about shoulder-width apart. 

  • Move into a full plank position, forming a straight line from your hands on the dumbbells to your feet. 

  • Supporting your weight on your left side, use your right hand to lift the dumbbell to your chest, bending your elbow as you go. 

  • Pause for a second and then lower the dumbbell back to the floor. 

  • Repeat with your left arm. 

  • Do 8 to 12 reps on each side for 2 to 3 sets.

Pro tip: Make sure your body doesn’t twist as you shift your weight from side to side. Your hips and shoulders should stay squared off and parallel to the floor at all times. A personal trainer can help with form correction.

7. Shrugs 

Dumbbell back exercises: shoulder shrugs

Shrugs are a combo back and shoulder exercise. They help you build up and strengthen your trapezius muscles, or traps, and shoulders, as well as the erector spinae, a group of muscles that run along the length of your back. And they're really easy to pull off.

Here's how to do it:

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing inward toward your legs.

  • Stand with your back straight, knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. 

  • Keep your head and neck in a neutral position and slowly raise your shoulders to your ears, like an exaggerated shrug. 

  • Hold the movement for a second and then bring your shoulders back to the starting position. Do 8 to 12 reps for 2 to 3 sets, checking your form as you go.

Get a Personal Trainer To Help You

Dumbbell back exercises are a no-brainer. They strengthen your back muscles, sculpt your physique, and help improve your posture. This can ultimately lead to fewer aches and pains, especially if you work at a desk all day. 

hile these exercises are simple enough to do at home and don’t require any additional equipment (other than the dumbbells, of course), getting feedback from a personal trainer is a great way to make sure you’re doing them correctly so you’re getting the results you want and steering clear of injury. Think you can’t afford it? You can sign up for 1:1 dedicated remote coaching for just $3 per day.