Rows should be your go-to when you’re looking to build a stronger back, and there’s no shortage of different types you can do. The version you’re likely to be most familiar with is the bent-over barbell row, and it fully deserves its preeminent status due to the massive back-boosting benefits it provides.
However, it is perhaps fair to say that the one-arm dumbbell row is even better for your back than the bent-over barbell row. That’s because using one arm at a time allows you to really focus your efforts on the lats, traps and other back muscles targeted by the exercise.
Using dumbbells instead of a barbell also prevents you from relying on one side of your body to do the bulk of the work, and can highlight any strength imbalances that you need to work on. And the one-arm row also has a greater range of motion than the bent-over row, because you can row the weight higher than when using a barbell.
How To Do The One-Arm Dumbbell Row
You need a bench or a sturdy thigh-high platform to lean on when doing the exercise, so secure that first and place a dumbbell on the floor to one side of it. Put your left leg on the bench and grab the far side with your left hand, then bend over so your upper body is parallel with the ground. Reach down and pick up the dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip (palm facing you), then hold it with your arm extended, keeping your back straight.
Bring the dumbbell up to your chest, concentrating on lifting it with your back and shoulder muscles rather than your arms. Keep your chest still as you lift. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder and back muscles. Lower the dumbbell slowly until your arm is fully extended again. Do all your reps on one arm before switching to the other side.
Dumbbell Row Variations
Symmetrical stance one-arm dumbbell row
Once you’re comfortable with the standard one-arm dumbbell row, you can progress the exercise by standing square-on to the bench. Instead of supporting yourself with your leg and hand on the bench, you’ll only have one hand on it while you row with the other. This increases the challenge to your core, because you’ll have to work harder against the weight to hold your torso in place while you row it up and down.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hinge at the hips to lean over the bench on one hand, pushing your bum back and keeping your back straight. Row the weight up,making sure that only your arm – not your torso – moves during the exercise.
Gym ball one-arm dumbbell row
Switching out the bench for an unstable inflatable ball is surefire way to increase the work your core has to do to keep you still while you perform your rows. This makes the exercise a better all-round workout even if you won’t be able to lift as much weight as when leaning on a stable surface.
Dumbbell incline row
Set a bench up at a 45° incline and lie chest-down on it. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and row them up to your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Don’t let your chest come off the bench at any point during the exercise. Lying on a bench like this is a good way to prevent you from rounding your back while performing the movement.