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Ultimate guide to dumbbell rows

Dumbbell rows are a great option for beginners because they’re easy to learn. It doesn’t involve any complex movements or fancy equipment. In fact, all you need is a dumbbell or two (depending on the variation you fancy) and an exercise bench.

So we've created the ultimate guide to dumbbell rows. I will break down the basics of this exercise to help get you started.

Muscles Worked

First, let’s look at the muscle groups you target when you do dumbbell rows:

  • Latissimus dorsi: Simply known as the “lats,” this is one of the biggest back muscles which gives seasoned bodybuilders’ upper bodies an impressive V-shape. This flat, triangular muscle assists in arm adduction and extension.
  • Posterior shoulders: These refer to the muscles on the back of your shoulders.
  • Rhomboids: These are muscles in your upper and middle back which help squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Scapular stabilizers: These muscles surround your shoulder blades. They assist in shoulder joint function.
  • Forearms: These muscles in your lower arms are responsible for grip strength as well as wrist flexion and supination.
  • Biceps: The large muscles in the front of your upper arms which assist in elbow flexion and forearm rotation.
  • Spinal erectors: These muscles run along the length of the spine and help straighten your back.

Benefits of Dumbbell Rows

Now, let’s find out what dumbbell rows can do for you:

  • Stronger back muscles: The dumbbell row can help you build bigger and stronger back muscles, along with proper nutrition habits and adequate rest and recovery.
  • Bigger arms: It also works on your biceps and forearms, which is a great bonus if you want to develop your arm muscles.
  • Unilateral training: This refers to training one side of your body at a time. When you do one-arm dumbbell rows, you target either the right or left side of your back, right bicep, and right forearm simultaneously. Then you will switch sides for your next set.
  • Unilateral training corrects muscular imbalances, where one set of muscles are tight from too much use while the other set is weak due to lack of use. One-arm dumbbell rows can rectify this issue in your back and arm muscles.
  • Simplicity: The dumbbell row isn’t a complex move at all. It doesn’t even resemble a rowing movement, contrary to what its name says! The movement is more similar to sawing a piece of wood while pinning it to a table with your knee.
  • Convenience: Depending on your preferred variation, you will need one or two dumbbells and a bench to execute this exercise. That’s it. You can even do dumbbell rows without a bench, but the disadvantage of that is you might feel less comfortable and less stable during the exercise.

Before You Begin

Now that you know the muscles worked by dumbbell rows and the benefits you stand to gain from doing it, you must be pretty excited. But before you crank out your first set of dumbbell rows, it's best to keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Warm up and cool down: Warm up with light cardiovascular or dynamic stretching (using repetitive movement to stretch the muscles) exercises for five to 10 minutes before your first rep. These help supply working oxygen to your muscles for optimum exercise performance. Once you finish your last rep, do five to 10 minutes of static stretching (stretching a particular body part in place) to ward off lactic acid buildup.
  • Refrain from lifting heavy right off the bat: Lifting too heavy right away is dangerous, especially if you are new to this exercise. If you’re going to do one-arm dumbbell rows, you can start off with, say, 12 reps of 15 lbs for your first set. For your second set, up the ante and do 10 reps of 20 lbs. When you reach your third set, do eight reps of 25 to 30 lbs.
  • Hire a certified personal trainer: This professional can guide you through the exercises, offer invaluable advice regarding your form, and act as a spotter when the situation calls for it.

Dumbbell Row Variations

In this section, I will share with you three variations of dumbbell rows that you can include in your exercise routine:

1. One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Since the one-arm dumbbell row works one side of your back at a time, it’s perfect for correcting any muscular imbalances in your back area.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell with your right hand. Your palm should face your body. Place your left shin on an exercise bench. Your left foot should dangle from its far end. Next, lean over and place your left hand on the bench for support. Your back should be parallel to the ground. Maintain a neutral spine. Place your right foot firmly on the ground. Lower the dumbbell within inches off the floor. This is your starting position.
  2. Lift the dumbbell until your right tricep is parallel to your back. That’s one rep. Hold the position for a second or two and feel the squeezing motion on your back.
  3. Lower the dumbbell for another rep. Try to let the dumbbell drift slightly forward as you lower it to place extra emphasis on your right lat muscle. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions..

2. Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows

The bent-over dumbbell row is more challenging than its one-arm counterpart because you will lift two dumbbells simultaneously. Aside from that, you won’t be using a bench for support. This exercise targets your lower back and trapezius (or “traps” in bodybuilding lingo), which assist in the pulling motion of your shoulders. This is a better alternative to one-arm dumbbell rows if building muscle mass or increasing strength is your goal.

How to do them:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip (palms facing your body). Stand with your feet placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Lean forward until your back is nearly parallel to the ground. Maintain a neutral spine and look at the ground at all times. At this point, the dumbbells are roughly six inches apart or less from one another. This is your starting position.
  2. Exhale as you lift the dumbbells until your triceps are parallel to your back. Ensure your elbows are six inches or so away from your body to increase the tension. Feel the squeeze on your back as you hold this position for a second or two.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat to the desired number of repetitions.
Dumbbell Row on Super Bench Pro
Incline Dumbbell Row on Super Bench Pro

3. Incline Bench Dumbbell Rows

This is the bench-supported version of bent-over dumbbell rows. When you lie on your front side on an incline bench, you support spinal stabilization because you don’t round your back. Thus, you isolate your back muscles more easily.

How to do them:

  1. Set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle. Hold two dumbbells with your palms facing each other. Lie in a prone position (your front side on the bench). Maintain a neutral spine and plant your feet on the ground at all times.
  2. Pull through your elbows as you lift the dumbbells. Feel the squeeze in your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Hold for a second or two before returning to the starting position
  3. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions.

Beginning with rows

Doing dumbbell rows is a great way to start your fitness journey on the right foot: it is beginner-friendly, it helps build your back muscles and, to a lesser degree, your biceps and forearms, and it corrects your muscular imbalances, if any.

Whatever variation of dumbbell rows you prefer, make sure you do it consistently. In conjunction with proper nutrition and enough rest, this exercise can help you achieve your fitness goals sooner than later.


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