Although you may think you need a well-equipped gym to stand any hope of increasing your back size to any noticeable proportion, you’d be wrong. Just a pair of dumbbells, if used correctly, can have you on your way to experiencing some serious strength and muscle gains – and they’re easier on your joints too.
Dumbbell back exercises are actually more beneficial in so many ways as dumbbells require an increased amount of stabilisation from your body which in turn activates more muscle fibres and therefore increases muscle activity. Also, focusing on row-focused dumbbell exercises will help offset hunched postures you tend to get by sitting at a desk all day or driving.
Try these five dumbbell back exercises, either at home or in the gym, and you’ll be well on your way to an all-round bigger, stronger, and impressive looking back.
Before You Start
Remember to control the movement
As with all weights, you want to ensure you go at a slow and controlled pace concentrating on good form and posture to help prevent injury and to get the most out of each exercise. I always recommend pausing at the top of each contraction for a second or two to increase the amount of time your muscles remain under tension, which will force them to work harder.
Before you begin your workout, make sure to warm-up by getting the blood flowing around your body and to the muscles that will be worked. A few minutes of light jogging or marching on the spot followed by a quick burst of cardio such as jumping jacks will get the blood oxygenated and your muscles warm, especially those upper body arm, shoulder and back muscles you’ll be using in this workout.
Aim to perform three sets of each exercise resting between one to two minutes in between. You can either do them in a circuit – so one set of each of the five exercises, one after the other, completed three times over – or by performing all three sets of each exercise before moving onto the next.
1. Reverse Fly
Muscles used: Upper back muscles, posterior rotator cuff, rear deltoids
How to perform it: Pick up a pair of dumbbells in each hand and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your upper body forward at the hips until your chest is almost parallel with the floor and let your arms hang downwards with a slight bend in your elbows and palms facing inwards. Whilst keeping your core tight and back straight, pull your shoulder blades in towards each other and raise your arms out to the sides until your elbows are at roughly shoulder height. Squeeze at the top here and hold for a second before lowering back down to complete one rep. Perform 8 -12 reps to complete one set.
2. Renegade Row
Muscles used: Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, abdominals, chest and triceps
How to perform it: The first time you try this exercise you may want to opt for a lighter weight – certainly until you get used to it. If you have flat bottomed dumbbells then use them, if not make sure you have a mat underneath you to help prevent roll. Take a dumbbell in each hand and get into a press-up position. Keeping your core tight and your back straight, raise one dumbbell up until your upper arm is marginally higher than your torso whilst supporting your weight on the other arm. Then lower back to the start position and lift the other arm, alternating between both until you’ve completed between 8 to 10 reps. Once you can comfortably perform all ten reps on both sides look to increase the weight on your next workout.
Variation: If you find the full version too challenging then try it with your knees on the ground which will reduce the tension on your core and upper body.
Muscles used: Trapezius, levator scapulae (neck muscle)
How to perform it: With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms hanging down by your sides, palms facing inwards and a slight bend in your elbows. Now shrug your shoulders up towards your ears by pulling your shoulder blades down and back. Pause at the top for a second before lowering the dumbbells back to the start position. Perform between 10 to 12 reps.
4. Narrow row
Muscles used: Rhomboid, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids
How to perform it: With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and bend forwards at the hips until your chest is nearly parallel to the floor. The dumbbells should be hanging down from your shoulders with elbows slightly bent and palms facing inwards. Ensuring your core is tight and back straight, bring your elbows back, keeping them close to your sides, until they are in line with your rib cage – aim to do this by pulling your shoulder blades in together. Pause at the top of the movement for a second before returning to the start position and then repeating for between 8 to 10 reps.
5. Romanian deadlift
Muscles used: Erector spinae (spinal muscles), glutes, hamstrings, quads
How to perform it: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, grab a pair of dumbbells in each hand, holding them out in front of your thighs with palms facing inwards. With a tight core and straight back, lean forward through your hips in order to push your rear back and lower your torso until the dumbbells reach your knees, or you feel a stretch in the hamstrings. Pause here for a second before thrusting your hips forward to bring your torso back up to a standing position. Repeat for between 8 to 10 reps in a slow and controlled manner.
Ready To Give These A Try?
The great thing about these exercises, and this workout, is that the only equipment required is a pair of dumbbells, you don’t even need a bench. Remember in order to keep progressing in strength and building muscle you will need to continue progressively loading the weights – so when you can complete all required reps in an exercise try and increase the weight on the next workout and repeat.
What’s your favourite back exercise? Do you like working out with dumbbells or do you prefer barbells or weight machines to help grow your back? Comment underneath and let me know.