Health

Best Back Exercises With Dumbbells

Trainer-Approved Dumbbell Moves to Add to Your Back Workout ASAP

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Movies tend to glorify the so-called “beach muscles” (the chest, biceps, and abs), but a strong, well-tapered back is the crowning glory of a man’s physique. Even better: back training, especially through the practice of tackling back exercises with dumbbells, has the added benefit of correcting poor posture (so that you’ll stand taller and slouch less), helping to reduce or prevent that dreaded back pain.

RELATED: Build a Bigger Chest

Whether you’re working out with dumbbells by choice or for lack of a barbell, you’ll be glad to hear that dumbbells can actually provide an expedited route to muscle growth — and a broader, more muscular back. Working out with dumbbells requires a greater amount of stabilization, which activates more muscle fibers and increases muscle activity, says Dr. Daniel Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy and Fitness.

“Dumbbells are also easier on your joints,” he says. “You have the advantage of fine-tuning the position of the weights, as opposed to being locked in place with a barbell.”

Below you’ll discover eight of the best back exercises with dumbbells assembled by Dr. Giordano to tone up your entire back – and light up your arms and core muscles in the process, too. These moves require nothing more than a pair of dumbbells to perform – more on those below. You don’t even need a bench.


Best Dumbbells for Back Exercises


Amazon Basics Rubber Encased Hex Dumbbell Hand Weight

Amazon Basics Rubber Encased Hex Dumbbell Hand Weight

Simple yet effective, this dumbbell allows you to complete all the back exercises below, and then some. Built with a solid cast iron core and thick hexagonal-shaped rubber, it is built to last – and it won’t dent your floor! While this dumbbell is the heaviest option at 50 lbs – two will take you to 100 – the lightest is 10 lbs and they go up in 5 lb increments from there.

From $16.99 at Amazon.com

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Version 2 | Two Adjustable Medium Dumbbells

Amazon Basics Rubber Encased Hex Dumbbell Hand Weight

Racks on racks of dumbbells may look nice, but they can take up loads of unnecessary space. This top-rated Bowflex set includes two dumbbells that can go from 5 to 52.5 pounds each at the twist of a dial, combing 15 sets of weights into one – NBD. To top it off, the hand grips feel secure not slippery, and you can connect them to the Bowflex app to track your weight workouts.

From $400 at Amazon.com

Fitness First Urethane Encased Dumbbell Pairs

Fitness First Urethane Encased Dumbbell Pairs

Fitness First dumbbell sets start at 5 lbs and go all the way up to 150 lbs so you can easily find an option that suits your needs. The octagonal rubber ends allow the weight to stay put and not roll around when resting on the ground, and they won’t leave dents in the floor, either. In addition, the textured chrome handle allows for an easy grip if you don’t have spare grips on hand.

From $45 at Amazon.com

Nordic Lifting Wrist Wraps

Nordic Lifting Wrist Wraps

Wrist wraps can be a godsend for a guy who’s ready to get down with some serious weight. They improve joint positioning by preventing hyperextension and also provide support to the wrist. Essentially, that helps improve performance while decreasing wear on the wrist joint. Yes, please. 
$19.95 at Amazon.com

Iron Bull Strength Alpha Grips

Iron Bull Strength Alpha Grips

Get more from your back workout by adding these thick-grip extensions to your dumbbells. The added thickness will torch your forearms more than the standard skinny grip, thereby making every dumbbell exercise you do that much more difficult. This is probably the cheapest way to squeeze some extra gains from your standard workout.
$24.95 at Amazon.com


RELATED: Best Adjustable Dumbbells


Understanding the Anatomy of the Back


Dumbbells are a popular choice for back exercises because of their versatility. Unlike a barbell, which is unwieldy and can force you into fixed planes of motion, or a kettlebell which is trickier to maneuver during two arm exercises, dumbbells can be manipulated to give you greater control over which muscle fibers are contracting, allowing for more specific muscle activation targeting.

When it comes to back training, that’s a big help, since your back is made up of multiple muscle groups, which perform a diverse array of functions.

Graphic showing a man's upper back, mid back, and lower back musclesGettyImages
  • Lower Back: The lower back, also known as the lumbar area, plays a crucial role in supporting your upper body’s weight. That means it needs to be strong, since a weak lower back is a recipe for lifelong back pain and soreness. The lumbar area is also engaged any time you bend, rotate, or extend your body from the waist, so training through these movement patterns will help to keep it in good shape.
  • Mid Back: The mid back, also known as the thoracic area, is involved in protecting your spine and enabling your body to twist and rotate. The major muscle group here is the latissimus dorsi, which also happen to be the largest muscles in your back, but the area is also comprised of the erector spinae and the serratus posterior. A wide, thick back that so many men desire can only be achieved by strengthening these muscle groups.
  • Upper Back: This region of the back retracts your shoulder blades, supports the weight of your head, stabilizes the shoulder girdle, and helps retract your scapula. The major muscle groups involved here are the latissimus dorsi and trapezius, though we can also include the rear delts in the mix, since strong, prominent rear delts are one of the signals of a healthy back.

The best back exercises are those target a wide range of these specific areas, or that enable you to narrow your focus on one small muscle group to address any structural weaknesses you may have in your back itself. Some of the benefits of incorporating the below dumbbell workout into your fitness routine include:

  • Better posture
  • Reduced back pain
  • Greater shoulder stability
  • Improved range of motion throughout the lumbar spine

Whatever your training goals, you owe it to yourself to incorporate the following exercises into your back workout routine:


RELATED: Exercises to Build Muscle


Best Back Exercises With Dumbbells


Best Back Width Exercise: Reverse Fly

Man doing reverse fly back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Posterior deltoids, posterior rotator cuff, upper back muscles

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart, then hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel with the floor.
  • The dumbbells should hang straight down from your shoulders, with your elbows slightly bent (not fully straight) and palms facing each other.
  • Keeping your core tight and back flat, pull your shoulder blades down and back (depress and retract), then raise your arms out to the side until your elbows are at shoulder height.
  • Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

Best Back Stabilization Exercise: Ys

Man doing Ys back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Lower trapezius, postural muscles

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart, then hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel with the floor.
  • The dumbbells should hang straight down from your shoulders, with your elbows slightly bent (not fully straight) and palms facing each other.
  • Keeping your core tight and back flat, pull your shoulder blades down and back (depress and retract), then raise your arms in front of you, thumbs pointed towards the sky, until your elbows reach shoulder height. Your torso and arms should resemble a Y.
  • Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

Best Back & Shoulder Exercise: Upright Row

Man doing upright row back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Upper trapezius, deltoids

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells hanging in front of your body with your elbows slightly bent (not fully straight), and palms facing you.
  • Pull your shoulder blades down and back, flex your elbows, and pull the dumbbells up towards your chin until the dumbbells cross your lower chest and your elbows are at shoulder level.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Best Trap Exercise: Shrug

Man doing shrug back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Upper and middle trapezius, levator scapulae

  • Set feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Allow the dumbbells to hang at your sides, palms facing each other, with your elbows slightly bent (not fully straight).
  • Pull your shoulder blades down and back. While maintaining this position, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
  • Pause, then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Best Exercise for Building Back Thickness: Narrow Row

Man doing narrow row back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids, rhomboid, trapezius

  • Grab the desired dumbbells.
  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart, then hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel with the floor.
  • The dumbbells should hang straight down from your shoulders, with your elbows slightly bent (not fully straight) and palms facing each other.
  • Keeping your abs contracted and back flat, draw your shoulder blades down and back (depress and retract them), pulling them together, and then row the dumbbells up until your elbows are in line with your rib cage.
  • Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

Best Exercise for Building Back Width: Wide Row

Man doing wide row back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Rear deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart, then hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel with the floor.
  • The dumbbells should hang straight down from your shoulders, with your elbows slightly bent (not fully straight) and your palms facing you.
  • Keeping your core tight and back flat, draw your shoulder blades down and back (depress and retract), pulling them together. As you row the dumbbells up, point your elbows outwards, perpendicular to your torso.
  • Pause once your upper arms are parallel with the floor, then slowly return to the starting position.

Best Total-Body Back Exercise: Romanian Deadlift

 Man doing Romanian deadlift back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Erector spinae, iliocastalis, longissimus, spinalis, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with palms facing you.
  • Maintaining a tight core and flat back, hinge at the hips to push your butt back. With control, lower your torso until the dumbbells pass your knees or you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Thrust your hips forward, standing tall into the starting position.

Best Lat Isolation Exercise: Lat Pullover

Man doing lat pullover back exercise with dumbbells in living room spaceTarget: Latissimus dorsi, triceps, rhomboids, rear deltoids

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
  • Grab the desired dumbbells and press them over your chest with your palms facing each other. Allow for a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Maintaining a flat back, lower the weights toward the floor behind your head until your right arm and left arm are in line with your torso. This is your starting position.
  • Engage your lats and, maintaining only a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weight until it is above your chest.
  • Pause, then return to the starting position.

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