How to Do Dumbbell Row: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Rows

muscles worked by dumbbell rows

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Dumbbell Rows

  1. Start by placing a dumbbell on the floor beside a bench or chair. Stand facing the bench or chair and place your left hand and left knee on top of it.
  2. Keep your back flat and parallel to the ground, with a slight bend in the standing leg. Grip the dumbbell with your right hand.
  3. Inhale and pull the dumbbell by driving the elbow toward the ceiling.
  4. With control, lower the dumbbell back to the starting position while exhaling.
  5. Complete desired reps on one side, then switch to the opposite arm and leg.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

Introduction to the Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row is an exercise where you can get a long range of motion and really focus on the working muscles.

The dumbbell row works your back muscles in a horizontal pulling movement. By adding a vertical pulling movement (like the pull-up or lat pulldowns) and an exercise for the back extensors, (like the deadlift or a back extension), you have a complete back workout.

Read more: How to Train Your Back Muscles: Exercises & Workout

Which Muscles Do the Dumbbell Row Work?

The dumbbell row is a compound exercise, meaning that it works multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Dumbbell rows work most of your major back muscles, primarily hitting your latissimus dorsitrapezius, and posterior deltoids.

The secondary worked muscles are your bicepsforearm flexors, and rotator cuffs.

Muscles worked by dumbbell rows

Benefits of Dumbbell Rows

  • Unilateral training. By working each side independently, the dumbbell row helps to a more balanced strength and muscle development.
  • Stronger and thicker back. The dumbbell row is an excellent exercise for building a stronger and thicker back since it targets most of the muscles in your back at once.
  • Balances out your press work. If you (like most) do a lot of pressing exercises like the bench press or overhead press, the barbell row can help you balance that out by working the antagonists. For a balanced upper body, there must be balance in your pushing and pulling training.
  • Minimal equipment required. It only requires a dumbbell and a bench, making it a convenient exercise for home or gym workouts.

Dumbbell Row: Proper Form & Technique

The dumbbell row can be tricky in the beginning, but when you get to know it, it’s a really good back exercise. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind while introducing the dumbbell row.

Dumbbell row starting position
Dumbbell row starting position
Dumbbell row top position
Dumbbell row top position


Make sure to stand about shoulder-width apart, and place your knee on the bench at an angle where you can keep your hips parallel to the ground. The same goes for your arm. You want to place it so that you can keep your back parallel to the ground.

Back and Core

Try to keep your back neutral during the whole movement, and make sure to keep your core active. Remember to keep your neck neutral as well by fixing your eyes on something below you instead of looking straight forward or in a mirror.


Typically, your back is stronger than your grip. So don’t hesitate to use lifting straps if necessary. At least if your purpose for doing this exercise is to build your back muscles and not to train your grip strength. Most people can do significantly more reps or use heavier weights if they use lifting straps, which means a better training effect for your back muscles.

The Shoulderblades

You can let your scapula slide forward at the bottom of the movement and pull it back in the top position, just make sure to keep the movement controlled.

The Movement

By rowing the dumbbell closer to your hip or shoulder, you can control what muscles will work the hardest. Pull the dumbbell closer to your hips to put more work on your back muscles or closer to your shoulder to put more work on your biceps and brachialis.

Remember to keep your elbow close to your body, regardless of which of the movements you’re aiming for.

Common Mistakes in the Dumbbell Row

  • Excessive momentum. Using momentum to lift the weight compromises form and reduces muscle engagement in your upper back. Focus on controlled, deliberate movements and avoid jerking the dumbbell.
  • Incomplete range of motion. Not fully extending the arms at the bottom or not fully retracting the shoulder blades at the top of the movement reduces the exercise’s effectiveness. Aim for a full range of motion with each rep.
  • Elbows flaring out. Allowing the elbows to flare out excessively can shift the focus away from the target muscles. Keep your elbows close to the body and drive them back during the row.

Dumbbell Row Alternatives & Variations

There are a lot of similar exercises to the dumbbell row. Since the dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise, it’s great for working on any side differences. However, it does take some extra time for your workouts, and therefore you might want to try one of the alternatives working both sides simultaneously if you’re in a rush.

  1. Barbell Row
  2. Cable Row (one-handed, or two-handed)
  3. T-bar Row
  4. Inverted Row

1. Barbell Row

A classic example of another rowing exercise is the barbell row. It might put some more stress on your lower back than the dumbbell row, and the range of motion is a little shorter, but it is an excellent exercise and a good substitute if you want to change it up.

2. Cable Row

Cable rows are a good alternative to the dumbbell row as well. You can choose to do them with one side at a time or work with both hands simultaneously. The one-handed version has the benefit of working on eventual differences, while the close-grip cable row isn’t as time-consuming.

3. T-bar Row

T-bar rows are a standing row variant where the weight and bar path are fixed. That lessens the requirements of balance and stabilization and can make it easier to focus on the muscles being trained.

4. Inverted Row

The inverted row is an exercise where you use your own body weight as resistance. You can make the exercise heavier by placing your feet on an elevation or easier by raising the bar to a higher rack position. This is a good alternative to the dumbbell row if you don’t have access to any equipment.

Dumbbell Row vs Barbell Row

Both the dumbbell row and the barbell row are great back exercises – but which one should you choose if you only have room for one in your workout?

The dumbbell row offers a longer range of motion than the barbell row, which is good for your muscle growth. The dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise, meaning that you can focus on one side at a time and make up for eventual differences in strength between them. On the other hand, this means that you’ll have to perform twice as many sets and therefore the dumbbell row is more time-consuming than the barbell row.

Another thing to remember is that the dumbbell row takes away some of the load on your lower back, compared to the barbell row. This could be both a benefit and a drawback, depending on why you’ve added the exercise to your workout and how much load your other exercises put on your lower back.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do of Dumbbell Rows?

Your purpose for doing the exercise should guide the number of reps you do in the dumbbell row.

  • For muscle growth, aim for around 6–15 reps per set.
  • For strength, around 3–8 reps per set are good.

There are no clear-cut lines between these two goals, however. Training in the “muscle growth range” will still increase your strength, and training in the “strength range” will still cause your muscles to grow. It’s just a matter of what you are emphasizing.

Read More: How Many Reps to Build Muscle vs. Strength?

Regarding how many sets of dumbbell rows you should do, that depends more on your training background and your capabilities. How much back work are you used to doing, and how much does it take for you to stimulate growth?

It also depends on how many workouts you do per week. You can tolerate (and grow from) a higher training volume if you distribute it over more workouts.

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that the dumbbell row is twice as time-consuming as an alternative row where you work with both sides at once. Depending on how much time you have in the gym, you might want to consider alternating between another type of row to get the right amount of work in.

Workouts & Programs that Include Dumbbell Rows

Here are a few examples of programs and workouts that include the dumbbell row.

  • StrengthLog’s Full-Body Hypertrophy. 3x/week. Three different full-body workouts. One focuses on heavy weights and low reps. The second workout is a mix of compound exercises and more isolation work. The third and last workout of the week focuses on getting that sweet pump.
  • Bodybuilding Ballet. 4-6x/week. The perfect bro split for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders looking for a training program dedicated to muscle growth.

All of these, and many more programs and workouts, are available in the StrengthLog workout tracker, which you can download using the button for your device. StrengthLog helps you get the best results possible with hassle-free workout logging, 100% ad-free, including the free version.

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

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