Your Guide To An Effective Dumbbell Bent Over Row For A Strong Back

Fit woman performing dumbbell bent over row in black workout clothes on in dark black background.

Dumbbell exercises allow you to engage more stabilizing muscles and allow for a more extended range of motions to work your muscles more. The dumbbell bent-over row is a great compound exercise that will strengthen your back. In fact, performing rows will likely improve your posture as you increase your traps and lats, pulling your shoulders back and straightening your back.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row Summary

  • Primary Muscles Worked: Upper Back (Infraspinatus, Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Teres Major, and Trapezius)
    Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Brachialis, Brachioradialis, and Deltoid
  • Equipment: Dumbbells
  • Mechanics Type: Compound
  • Force: Pull
  • Utility: Auxiliary

How to Properly Perform the Dumbbell Bent Over Rows

Proper Setup

  1. Grab two dumbbells and stand up straight with your feet at hips width.
  2. Bend forward at your hips and bend with your knees keeping your arms hanging straight down with the dumbbells over your toes.
  3. Maintain your back straight and shoulders back.

Executing Dumbbell Bent Over Row Correctly

  1. Now That you are in the correct starting position.
  2. Next pull the dumbbells beside your torso and go as far back as you can comfortably. Pull while focusing on bringing your shoulder blades together.
  3. Finally, lower the weight stopping before your elbow lock.
  4. And repeat.
Man performing dumbbell palm rotation bent over rows with MuscleMagFitness logo background.

Scott Herman On Proper Form For Dumbbell Bent Over Row

How To: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

The Muscles You Use For Dumbbell Bent Over Rows

Target (Agonist) Muscles

  • Infraspinatus
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rear Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres Major
  • Teres Minor
  • Trapezius, Middle
  • Trapezius, Lower

Synergist Muscles

  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Deltoid, Posterior
  • Erector spinae

Dynamic Stabilizers Muscles

  • Biceps Brachii

Stabilizer Muscles

  • Adductor Magnus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteus Maximus

Antagonist Stabilizers

  • Pectoralis
  • Triceps, Long Head

Tips for Better Dumbbell Bent Over Row Form

  • The further you get your torso parallel, the harder the exercise will be, and the more of your back will be involved.
  • Keep your knees bent with the dumbbells over your toes to allow you to maintain your back straight.
  • If you find you can’t lower your chest without bending your back, you can reduce the weight. Although if reducing the weight doesn’t help, you must increase your hamstring flexibility.
  • Don’t focus on pulling with your hands, instead focus on pulling your elbows to the ceiling. When you focus on pulling with your back, your target muscles will be more engaged.
  • Breath into expanding your stomach is keeping your core tight. Proper breathing will give you a strong base.
  • Wear a lifting belt if you feel discomfort in your lower back. Although a lifting belt by itself will not prevent injury, you can use the belt to maintain a stronger core. Breath in and press your stomach out against the belt will help you keep a tighter core.

Common Errors While Performing the Bent Over Rows

  • Dumbbells Are Too Far Forward. You must keep the dumbbells close to your body and over your toes. If the dumbbells are too far forward, you will be more likely to bend your back to maintain a proper center of gravity.
  • Don’t Stand Too Upright. Remember, you are not doing upright rows. Sit your butt down. If you still struggling with this then sit on the edge of a bench an lean forward over your knees. Although this will reduce the benefits of working some of your stabilizing muscles.
  • Stop Lifting With Your Hips. If you feel your hips or knees opening and closing while you perform the rows, then you are cheating your back. When you can’t lift the dumbbells without using your hips and legs during each rep you are lifting too much. If you are only cheating on the last rep then you are doing well.

Bent-Over Row Variations

These variations are intended to focus on different subgroups of the same muscles you utilized for dumbbell rows. When you want to get stronger faster you must rotate exercises frequently. Additionally, you shouldn’t perform multiple sets of all of these exercises during the same routine, this will likely lead to overtraining. If you are look to mix up your routines, even more, check out our exercise category. Here are some variations you can rotate in on different back days, or do a few supersets:

Barbell Bent Over Row. The same movements as detailed above, except you, can use a longer range of motion. Since the dumbbells won’t touch your chest like the barbell, you can pull your elbows up higher.
Underhand Grip Bent Over Row. When you use an underhand (reverse) grip, you will incorporate your biceps and lats more. You may find that the reverse grip is more comfortable for you or you can lift more weight this way.
Pendlay Row. Pendlay Rows is used to develop explosive strength and not large muscle. The barbell bent-over row involves resting with the bar on the ground between each rep. The focus is only on the concentric movement and minimizing the effects of the eccentric movement.

Few Other Exercises You Should Do To Compliment Your Rows

DeadliftsThe Deadlift is the primary back exercise for many lifters, not just power lifters. Although as one of the core power lifts the deadlift is a great measure of your overall back strength. If you don’t deadlift then you should really consider adding it to your routine, many people are intimidated by deadlifting because they think they might hurt their back. On the contrary, deadlifting will strengthen your back to make you more resilient to injury when done properly.
Machine Seated Row. The machine row is an excellent alternative to the dumbbell bent-over row. Also, machine rows are very versatile, by simply changing out handles and your grip you can work multiple different parts of your back.
Pulldown and Chin-ups. The number of pull-ups you can do is a great measure of your upper back strength. Although, if you can’t yet do chin-ups then you can work your way up by doing lat pull-downs.
HyperextensionsMany people suffer from lower back trouble and feel they can’t do lower back exercises. Unfortunately, this attitude is perpetuating the problem. In other words, to fix a week lower back you should strengthen your lower back. Clearly, hyperextensions target your erector spinae (lower back) but also work your gluteus maximus (butt), hamstrings, and adductor magnus.

When To Add The Dumbbell Bent Over Row To Your Strength Training Routine

Dumbbell bent-over rows should be mixed into your training routine occasionally. If you struggle with performing barbell bent-over rows, start out with dumbbell bent-over rows. Remember to rotate in different exercises frequently. For more back exercises check out 7 of the Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding and Strength Training.

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