Building your back muscles at home is a chore. There’s nobody to spot you, you aren’t likely to have your own smith machine; the equipment just usually isn’t available enough to the average home gym owner.
But what if we told you that all you needed to build up your back was a set of dumbbells and a few specific workouts?
These back workouts put your dumbbells to work and give you ultimate control over how your back muscles develop.
If you haven’t been building your back muscles at home, these methods and techniques are about to completely change the way that you exercise. Let’s not wait any longer and get into the best back workouts with dumbbells at home.
#1 Dumbbell Rowing
Expect to see rowing a lot in this article, because the different variations of rowing are all super helpful for your back, and they’re great if you’re just getting into fitness and don’t want to overdo it right away.
This is a simple way to start rowing, even if you’re just using small 3lb dumbbells at the beginning.
Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, a slight bend to your knees
Hold your back and neck neutral and lean your hands down to pick up your dumbbells
Raise your dumbbells up so they’re directly in front of you, going vertically (the heavy end of the dumbbells going up and down, not side to side)
Try to raise them to shoulder level or just below and keep your arms straight
Begin to row by pushing out until your arms are nearly fully extended, and then pull backwards, maintaining that straight line from your shoulders out to the end of the dumbbells
Your elbows will come out and below you as your bring the dumbbells in; bring them as close to your chest as possible
Make sure that you inhale as you pull the dumbbells closer, and exhale as you extend them from your body
Rowing is fantastic because it doesn’t require as many muscle groups to be activated, so you can truly focus on your back, chest, and arms all at the same time.
If you’re just starting out and you want to be careful with your back to avoid injuries, this is basically the best place you could hope to start. Work your way up from here.
#2 The Good Morning
The Good Morning might sound like a blend of store-bought coffee, but it’s actually an exercise that usually uses barbells, but we just improvised.
You can use a single dumbbell for this, just be sure you have something covering your arms while you do it.
Place the two ends of as dumbbell on the inside of your shoulders, leaning between your biceps and forearms
Keep a solid grip, and curl your hands all the way around to grip the bottom of each side of the dumbbell
Stand with your neck and back straight, completely neutral, and stand tall
Bend solely at the hips, not the knees, and bend over to a 90° angle, then raise yourself back up
You will feel your glutes push backwards, and you should let them; you can’t stand perfectly tall while doing this, but you don’t want to engage the knees and bring down additional weight on top of them from the dumbbell
Dumbbell back exercises don’t have to be the most difficult thing in the world.
Yes, we can put the weights to use in more intense situations, which we’ll describe as we go along, but sometimes sticking with something simple is better.
#3 Dumbbell Chest Rowing
Yep, more rowing! If you have a weightlifting bench with an inclined back, then it’s time to use it.
You’ve likely experimented with putting your chest on the 45° incline and using weights, but now we’re going to do it with a primary focus on your back, not just your biceps.
Place two dumbbells on the floor behind the 45° inclined seat
Lay your chest on the back, and make sure your legs are sticking out with a slight bend to your knees, your tiptoes keeping you nice and stable
Keep your neck and back aligned, so you will be looking slightly ahead and not actually focusing on or looking at the dumbbells at all
Pull up until your elbows bend and the dumbbells nearly come in contact with the seat you’re leaning on
Repeat as many reps as you can tolerate
This exercise takes some of the learning curves out of the back exercise. Your weight is being supported by the bench, and you can focus on your breathing the entire time.
It’s important to have rhythmic breathing during any back exercise, especially here.
#4 Weighted Lunges
Lunges work out your legs and your glutes, right? Well, yes, but you can add a little flavor to the mix. You’re going to run into a bit of a logistics issue at first, but the motion will feel comfortable before long.
Neck straight, back straight, everything totally neutral
Hold one dumbbell in each hand; opt for lower than your highest dumbbell weight since there’s going to be dynamic motion involved here
Lean into your first lunge, but when you hit the peak and you’re learning down on your leg, pull your dumbbells straight up alongside your body
You’ll feel your shoulder blades come out a bit, then lower those dumbbells back to the resting position
Now exit your lunge, and repeat on the other leg
This is a modification of a standard lunge, but part of the benefit here is stabilization.
It’s already difficult to stay stable during lunges, but adding weights and forcing you to focus on your center of gravity during it makes it even better.
You’ll be a master before long.
#5 Farmer’s Walk (With Dumbbells)
This is perhaps the most simple workout you can do, and it sounds like it’s not going to do much, but that’s because it focuses primarily on one back muscle group. It’s a large group, though: the traps!
Keep your head level and your back straight; look ahead at a target and keep your focus
Holding one dumbbell in each hand, ensure you have a tight grip on them, and begin walking with proper posture
Walk around and time yourself without releasing or setting down the dumbbells
What, you were expecting more bullet points? It’s as simple as that. It’s an easy enough workout that you can use as an introduction to begin working out your back muscles.
It’s not going to do a ton, but you’ll also feel a bit in your shoulder blades the next morning as well.
#6 Reverse Fly
This is perhaps one of the most well-known dumbbell exercises, but just in case you haven’t heard of it before, this is how you do a reverse fly.
Take a proper stance by keeping your feet at shoulder length, with that little bit of space in between
Lean forward with your hip, and slightly bend your knees
While holding one dumbbell in each hand, engage your core while keeping your neck and back neutral
Pull your arms apart so your shoulder blades are moving as if they wanted to touch one another, elbows bent as you go
Pull the dumbbells as far apart as you can and hold that position for a few seconds, then gently release
Rinse and repeat for as many reps as you possibly can
Performing a reverse fly is actually very intense, so you should be able to feel the effects almost immediately.
It’s wise to start with lighter dumbbells than you think you’ll need because this exercise quickly shows you just how badly you need to work out your back and biceps.
#7 Dumbbell Plank Row
Planks are tough, but you’re tougher—introducing dumbbells into the mix makes it even rougher, so get ready to really engage those back muscles. We’ll let the steps explain this exercise:
Put both dumbbells on the floor direct in front of you, heavy ends going vertically, not horizontally
You want them to be set at shoulder-length apart
Rest the entirely of your palm on each of the dumbbells and push yourself off the floor
Hold your core, straighten your back, and straighten your neck—this is the planking position
Push up with your arms and stabilize your lower half on your tiptoes
If you can do this successfully, you’ll feel your core begin to burn while your shoulders are engaged
When you pull up, bring the dumbbell up to your shoulders as best you can; this ensures maximum engagement from the exercise
This is obviously a step up from other exercises, but it ends up being fantastic for your back while also helping you work out your core and really engage those muscles.
Dumbbell plank rowing is going to help your biceps as well, but because you’re leaning on the weight of the dumbbells, they engage your arms less than you would expect. Still, the myriad of benefits with a back-centric exercise in mind is great.
#8 Single Arm Dumbbell Row
You’ll find that rowing is one of the best things for your back, especially rowing machines.
If you want to take it up a notch and really build those back muscles, dumbbells are the way to go. This simple single-arm row will do wonders.
Ready one dumbbell and place it next to a bench or other sturdy object you can lean one arm on
Bend slightly at the knees and at about a 60° angle at the hips, leaning over the object or bench you have
Lean your arm on the bench with your elbow nearly fully extended
Use your other arm to pull the dumbbell up, pulling your elbow back
Pull until your arm runs along your torso in a straight line, and then slowly lower it
Remember: when you release, your muscles are also working, so don’t just let go of all the weight—you have to ease it down slowly
Alternate between your arms for every five reps. Once you alternate and you feel the arm that you just worked out feeling wobbly on top of the bench or whatever you’re leaning on, it’s probably time to call it for the moment.
You have so much control with these that it can actually be useful to do single-arm dumbbell rows before you get into squats, that way you can prepare your arms.
#9 Dumbbell Shrugs
This sounds simple, but it’s possibly the most direct way to work out your traps. We did a whole post on traps and we don’t spoil it for you, but basically, they’re a difficult muscle to work out but hold so much control over the movement of your body.
Stand with your chest forward, neck and spine neutral
Holding one dumbbell in each hand, make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground, legs evenly spaced at around shoulder length
Do not pull up with your dumbbells, but do keep them as straight and aligned as possible
Use your shoulders to pull up in a shrug; you do not want to roll your shoulders, only pull up and down
Your arms are basically there just to help support the weight that you’re using through shrugging
This seems like nothing is really happening at first, but in the morning, you’ll have sore traps
Your traps are only part of your back muscles, of course, so this shouldn’t be seen as an all-in-one back exercise (that’s what all these rowing-related exercises are for).
Shrugs can be done without weights if your traps are very unrefined, but you should at least introduce simple 3 lb weights to get off on a good note.
#10 Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
Dumbbells are fantastic for back workouts if you know how to use them. This exercise is normally done with a barbell, but if you have dumbbells handy, they’ll do just fine.
Start with a neutral neck and back position, looking forward
Bend your knees slightly, and bend in with your hips to roughly a 90° angle
Focus on a target ahead of you, and lean down a bit to pick up the dumbbells
Pull the dumbbells upward with your elbows pointed out, bringing the dumbbells near your abdomen/midsection
Breath in when you pull them up, and breathe out when you release them to the starting position
Repeat this process for as many reps as desired
Engage your core and feel your shoulder blades pull back when you pull in during the row. If you find that your neck is strained at all during this exercise (beyond an exercise-level safe amount), lower the dumbbell weight.
Justin Rodriguez has spent most of his adult life inspiring people to take their fitness more seriously. He is not new to the business of providing practical solutions for those looking to set and smash their fitness goals. From sharing professional tips and tricks to recommending awesome products, Justin Rodriguez helps just about anyone who wants to get the best out of their workout routines.Having gathered a lot of experience both in and outside the gym, Justin Rodriguez uses DSW Fitness as a medium to show you exactly how to get that great-looking body with toned muscles you’ve always wanted.