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20 Best Back Exercises with Dumbbells

By Thomas Wooten


Updated on

We all know the back is the body’s biggest muscle group, and depending on who you ask, it may very well be the most rewarding one to train also.

Regardless of whether you’re working out to impress someone or if you want to feel better in your own body, you should already know by now that having a big back is worth all the pain and suffering you put in the gym.

But many of us can’t go to the gym these days, either because it’s too far away, don’t afford a gym membership, or we just don’t want to spend time working out alongside big sweaty strangers lifting and moaning around us all the time.

Luckily you can just make your way to the local sporting goods store and get your hands on a couple of dumbbells and you can still get the job done in the comfort of your own home.

As such, today we decided to give you our very own top 20 list of the absolute best back exercises that you can do using only dumbbells and your own mental fortitude to get you the beach body you’ve always wanted.

But before we start counting down, let’s give you a brief rundown of what muscles you want to actually activate in the back and why you’d even need to do this in the first place.

The Anatomy of the Back

The Anatomy of the Back
Photo by Pikx By Panther / pexels.com

First off you have the Erector Spinae muscles, which are in turn made up of three different sub-muscles, aka the Spinalis, the Longissimus and the Iliocostalis. You can find these muscles from the lower back to the neck.

These are the muscles that you need to keep your spine in a neutral position under any load you put on it, so essentially, it’s the thing that keeps you from folding like a newspaper every time you pick up something heavy.

Next up we have the Rhomboids, aka the muscles that you can find on the shoulder blades. They are meant to help with scapula adduction, elevation and inward rotation.

The Trapezius comes next as this muscle can also be broken up into three different parts altogether, specifically the upper, middle and the lower traps. They are meant to take the load on any scapula adduction, elevation and depression.

Last but not least we have the Latissimus Dorsi, or as they’re called around the gym, the lats. These cover most of your back except for the traps and they are known to keep you in one piece every time you do pretty much anything around the gym.

With all of that being said though, let’s hop right into our first back exercise with dumbbells of the day:

20. Single Leg Deadlift

In order to get this done, simply place your legs together and hold a dumbbell close to your chest with both of your arms. Next up just shift your weight to your left leg and start bending over as you hinge at your hips at the same time.

Make sure that your back is completely flat the whole way and don’t be afraid of falling. You will lose balance but the more you do it the stronger your core will get which will make the exercise easier to progressive overload in the future.

19. Kickstand Deadlift

This is a different variation of a deadlift that you can also implement into your workout to make your back light up like a Christmas tree. Just keep your feet around hip-width apart from one another and make sure to firmly hold a dumbbell in each hand.

Make sure that you keep one foot a little bit behind the other and elevate your heel to make your position more staggered.

Hinge at the hips as you lower your body and again, keep that back flat the whole way through to avoid getting injured.

18. Towel-Grip Dumbbell Row

This exercise is actually quite useful if you want to make the normal dumbbell row harder while also not adding in any more weight.

It works your core and your back at the same time because the stability factor makes sure that you need to do it a lot slower and more controlled, which is always a great addition to any exercise out there.

Just make sure that you don’t yank on the dumbbell and use as little momentum as possible to make the exercise as hard as possible.

17. Quadruped Single-Arm Rear-Delt Raise

In order to safely do this exercise just get down on your knees on a mat and place one of your hands on the floor while holding a dumbbell with the other. Then, brace your core and start raising your arm to the side.

Make sure to keep your arm straight the whole way through and activate that core so that you don’t move the rest of the body with the dumbbell.

16. Half-Iso Incline Row Countup

The incline row is already a great exercise to implement into your training, but if you want to make it even better then definitely consider adding in a half-iso countup to the mix.

This exercise will really fire up your back and before you know it you will not be able to do any more reps if done properly.

Just make sure to keep your body engaged and your core shouldn’t be lacking here as you will need to not swing around in the slightest to put all of the load on the back.

15. Dumbbell Row to Hip

This exercise is actually one of the best that you could do if you have the necessary weight for it. It is great at isolating the back since you won’t really need to worry too much about engaging any other muscle while holding yourself on the bench.

Simply put your non-working hand and knee on the bench and start rowing the dumbbell with your other hand. Keep your shoulders down the whole way through and don’t forget that your chest needs to be up too in order to get the proper back engagement done.

14. Suitcase Deadlift

While this may seem like a simpler variation of the former two deadlift exercises, it is actually far superior to them because you have a lot more stability, making it a lot easier to add in a lot more weight due to the lack of core activation needed.

We should mention here that keeping your legs from bending too much and making sure that your back doesn’t bend is paramount to you avoiding potential injuries while doing it.

13. Elevated Plank Row

Training your core is always great, even though no one actually likes doing it. Are you really going to do it at the end of your workout? Are you sure?

The best way to do it is to actually implement it into your normal routine, and here’s a perfect example of this right here.

Just start from a standard dumbbell row position but instead keep your core engaged by going in an elevated plank position with your arms. Then, just start rowing away and you’ll instantly feel your back light up.

12. Batwing Row

The batwing row is quite a useful back exercise that you need to implement into your routine asap if you want your back to have a glow up.

Simply lie face down on a bench and make sure that your chest and legs are perfectly straight as you start rowing the dumbbells up. You will need a neutral grip here while you also make sure to retract your shoulders down the whole way through.

11. Seal Row

The seal row is yet another rowing variation that you can do in order to help your back grow larger than ever before.

The only real difference between it and the batwing row is the fact that the batwing row is elevated while the seal row in on a straight incline or just simply on a couple of low boxes.

10. Farmer’s Carry

The best part about the farmer’s carry is the fact that it actually utilizes all of your muscles at once to do properly. The only real issue with it is that you will need your dumbbells to be quite heavy to actually fire up your whole body.

In order to do it just pick up the heaviest dumbbells you can lift and start walking with them. Don’t be afraid to look goofy while doing so, just keep your back straight and your core engaged while also squeezing your shoulder blades the whole way through.

9. Reverse Fly

In order to get this done just stand with your feet around hi-width apart and get a pair of light dumbbells in each hand.

Make sure that you don’t ego lift here and instead go for a weight that you can handle while also not moving the rest of your body too much.

Simply engage your core as you lean forwards and push your butt out. Keep your knees at a slight bend and start raising your arms to the side. Don’t go too high up with them, now, record yourself to make sure that you keep your arms parallel to your shoulders.

8. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is by far the best deadlift variation you could do in order to fire up your back using nothing but dumbbells.

While it is primarily a leg exercise, your back will also take a lot of the weight on, putting all that pressure as you go down and lift yourself back up.

Make sure to keep your legs fairly straight the whole time, with a slight bend in them in order to make sure that you don’t lose your balance at any time. Also, remember to keep your back flat the whole time.

7. Dumbbell Pullover

This is actually one of the best exercises that you could do with your dumbbells in order to fire up those lats. On top of that you also use your shoulders, your core and your chest while doing this.

Just make sure that while you do it you don’t accidentally end up bending your arms because that will take the pressure away from your lats and onto your triceps.

Lean back on the bench and keep your arms straight as you go back with the weight only to lift it back up to your startup position.

6. Stability Bent Over Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise

Also commonly referred to as the reverse fly even though it’s a bit different, this exercise is perfect if you want to really put a lot of pressure on your rhomboids and the middle traps.

Just make sure that you hold onto something with your other arm so that you can put all of the weight on the desired muscle as opposed to swinging around and barely getting anything done.

Stand next to the squat rack or pretty much anything that you can hold onto and hinge at the hips while also pushing your shoulders down and your chest as high up as you can.

Next up just slightly bend your working elbow and start doing the delt raises. You should be able to feel your back fire up right about now. As soon as you’re done come back to your startup position and use your other arm instead.

5. Chest Supported Row

In order to properly do this exercise to your heart’s extent you will need to make sure that your chest never leaves the pad below you no matter how heavy the weight is.

The less of your lower body that you use the harder it will be, so make sure to put a lot of emphasis on your upper back by focusing solely on rowing and not on pushing with your feet.

We recommend that you go for a 45-degree incline with this exercise and as you go down, make sure that you hold onto each dumbbell with a neutral grip.

4. TRX Plank Pause Row

Ok, this is not exactly an exercise with dumbbells, but we just had to mention it. It’s also not an exercise for beginners because no matter who you are and no matter how strong you think you may be, you will always feel yourself fighting for your life as you do more and more reps on the TRX.

The TRX is great because it really engages your core the whole way through, carving out your abs and obliques the more you use it.

Just keep in mind that you will need to have a decent level of strength as you keep on pushing yourself, but the end results will speak for themselves. Your lats and rhomboids will be completely devastated by the time you finish your workout and that’s a fact.

3. Unilateral Deadstop Row

The unilateral deadstop row may seem like your standard row but trust us when we tell you that it really is worth a try. It is one of our personal favorites simply because it increases the range of motion over most other rows out there while also making it very easy to progressively overload.

This is all due to the pause that really just fires up your whole back as you try to keep yourself stable using your core.

It will be a lot harder but it will also be really worth it because the pain you feel today will lead to the beach body you’ve always wanted later on down the line.

2. Renegade Row

The renegade row is one of the most surefire ways of blasting your entire upper body with a single exercise. You can progressively overload very quickly with it by adding in a pushup to the mix, although that is something worth considering later on.

For now, just stand down in a pushup position with your dumbbells in your hands. Start rowing the weight up as you keep your body from moving left to right with it. Record yourself again to make sure that you don’t move too much because the more you move, the less back you use for the rowing.

1. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

This is in our honest opinion the very best back exercise your money could get you. It is very simple to do but this doesn’t mean that it is any less effective. It is in fact one of the best dumbbell exercises out there, and the more you do it the more your back will start to look like something out of Baki.

To start doing it simply hinge forward at the hips as you push your butt back. Next up just bend your knees and keep your shoulders from rounding up.

Let your hands go as low as you can and as soon as you feel comfortable to do so, start rowing the weight up. Do this exercise as slowly as possible for maximum efficiency.


Best Back Exercises with Dumbbells
Photo by StockSnap / pixabay.com

The back really is one of the most important muscles in our body, and while many people end up skipping out on training it, we recommend that you take the time to properly train it so you can look your best the next time you go to the beach.

Trust us, a well-built back is a hundred times more attractive than a six pack, and you can quote us on that one.

About Thomas Wooten

Thomas is a certified fitness coach hailing from the bustling streets of New York City. With a degree in exercise science and nutrition and a background in competitive bodybuilding, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our site. Please read our Disclaimer.