If you’ve been following our blog posts, you’ll know that we’re running a series of articles on training your entire body with a simple set of dumbbells. Why? Because dumbbells are affordable, they’re convenient and compact, and because they offer a seemingly never-ending selection of exercises to choose from.

Just like our previous post, Training with dumbbells: Chest, we’ll cover some of the best exercises for strength, power, and hypertrophy (muscle growth). But, this time, we’re purely focussed on your back.

The benefits of working out with dumbbells

  1. Working out with dumbbells requires an incredible amount of stabilisation, allowing you to activate more muscle fibres and increase muscle activity during workouts.
  1. Dumbbell exercises tend to be easier on your joints. With the freedom of movement they provide, you’re able to fine-tune the position of the weights and avoid joint strain.
  1. They seldom require additional equipment. Unlike barbell exercises, you’ll rarely need accessories like benches or power racks to complete your workout.

Four dumbbell exercises for your back

Dumbbell dead row

If you’re looking to increase power, look no further than the dumbbell dead row. A fusion of regular deadlifts with a rowing motion, this speed-oriented movement allows you to be explosive, generating a large amount of force through your feet to lift heavier weights, with a strong back focus at the peak of the exercise.

Performing the dumbbell dead row

Since the early stages of this exercise are almost identical to a deadlift, we recommend familiarising yourself with that movement.

Once you’re ready, grab yourself a pair of dumbbells with a pronated grip (palms facing the floor). Then, like a deadlift, press through your heels until the dumbbells are just above knee height. As the dumbbells pass your knees, continue to hold your position, with a slight bend in your legs,
and your back leaning forwards at a roughly 25° angle from horizontal.

Take advantage of your explosive start to drive the weights towards your abdomen, bringing your elbows behind your back. Squeeze your elbows back for a second, and lower the weights back to the floor. Repeat.

It’s okay to go heavy. We don’t like to encourage cheating, but in this exercise, it’s the name of the game. Feel free to lift as much weight as feels comfortable.

Lat pullover

When it comes to hypertrophy and creating muscle growth, you want to focus on a specific muscle. The key to growth is progressive overload, which means to increase the weights consistently while training, no matter how small the jump in increase might be.

Performing the lat pullover

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Grab a set of low weighted dumbbells, or a single heavier dumbbell, and press them directly over your chest with your palms facing each other.

Always allow for a slight bend in your elbows to protect your joints and remove pressure from your lats. Maintaining a flat back, lower the weights toward the floor behind your head until your arms are in line with your torso.

Squeeze through your lats and, while maintaining your form, raise the weight, or weights, until you're back to your starting position above your chest.

Don't pause. Once the weights are above your chest, try to begin your next rep as soon as possible. The less rest, the better.

Wide row

If you're looking for serious back muscle, then the wide row is for you. With this simple to perform exercise, you'll be able to pack on some mass and refine the details on your upper lats and mid-back.

Performing the wide row

You won't want the weights too heavy for your first attempt here, so pick up a set of dumbbells with a weight you're comfortable at lifting. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, and hinge at your hips until your upper body is almost parallel with the floor.

Allow the dumbbells to hang down from your shoulders at a width that feels natural, with your elbows slightly bent, and a pronated grip (palms facing you). Brace your core, and begin to bring your blades down and back, pulling them together.

As you row the dumbbells towards your chest, allow your elbows to come outwards, perpendicular to your torso. Hold for a second once your upper arms are parallel with the floor, and then slowly return to the starting position.

Add some control. If you find yourself swaying or cheating the weight towards your chest, try this exercise from the floor. Get into a pushup position with the dumbbells under your hands, raising one weight at a time, while stabilizing your body with the other.

Reverse fly

Chest flys, if done incorrectly, can result in shoulder injuries. Reverse flys, on the other hand, are the perfect way to train your upper back and posterior delts, while strengthening your shoulders and the ever-problematic rotator cuff

Performing the reverse fly

You'll want to start in the same position as the wide row. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel with the floor, and allow the dumbbells to hang down from your shoulders.

But this time, instead of contracting your muscles to bring the weight to your chest, you're going to lift them outwards. Tighten your core, then raise your arms out to the side until your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Pause, and maintaining control, slowly return to the dumbbells to the starting position.

Understanding rep ranges

When training your back for strength, you’ll want to push the weights a bit heavier, but you’ll still want to focus on longer sets consisting of 8-12 reps. But remember, always allow your body to rest for a reasonable amount of time before performing your next set.

If you’re looking for growth or endurance, however, try to perform reps in the range of 12-15 per set, and reduce your resting time to less than two minutes.