I’m a Personal Trainer and These Are the 6 Dumbbell Exercises I Do for My Back

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Working your back can be as easy as grabbing dumbbells and getting to work. Learn more about the best back workout with dumbbells to get started.

Working out at home is great, but it can be difficult to develop an effective dumbbell back workout.

After all, many of the moves for the back require complex equipment other than simple dumbbells, right? Wrong! I’m here to show you how to tone your back with just the dumbbells you have at home.

A strong back is not only aesthetically pleasing but essential for healthy living. The back is involved in nearly every movement we perform throughout the day.

Furthermore, weaknesses and imbalances in the back can cause debilitating pain and dysfunction that is very hard to overcome. 

In this article, I will first outline the importance of strengthening your back muscles. After that, I will detail a 6-move routine using only dumbbells that will help you achieve a strong, defined back. 

Back Workouts With Dumbbells

Back Workouts With Dumbbells

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Let’s dive in!

The Importance of Working Your Back Muscles Nearly 80% of all Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. 

This staggering number is even more surprising when one realizes that many of these instances of back pain are due to weakness and poor posture. 

Posture is important regardless of whether you are sitting, standing, or moving. Fortunately, we have muscles that keep us from falling into dangerous postural positions. 

Muscles such as the posterior deltoids, the rhomboids, the traps, and the lats are critical in maintaining posture and the health of the spine.

Let’s take a deeper look at posture as it relates to back muscle strength.

Sitting Posture

If you picture the typical person working at a desk (or yourself, reading this article right now), you see a slumped posture with a significant curve in the spine. 

For short periods, this posture won’t typically cause any problems. But after 8 hours or more of sustaining the position every day, for years, the back muscles can become very weak. 

When these muscles become weak and can no longer keep us from falling into dangerous postural positions, back pain often develops.

Standing / Walking Posture

When we stand and walk, our back muscles need to be very active. If a person has weak and ineffective back muscles, they will often experience pain while upright, leading to compensations in his gait pattern.

These compensations, in turn, can lead to dysfunction and pain elsewhere in the body.

So in some cases, a knee injury might have resulted from a weak back!

Posture During Exercise/Activity During physical activity and exercise, such as weight lifting, the back needs to be strong. 

This is true regardless of which muscle groups you are emphasizing on a given day. 

For example, even though deadlifts are primarily intended to strengthen the legs, a weak back will leave you unable to stabilize during the movement. Worse yet, you may experience decreased exercise performance.

The Six-Move Dumbbell Back Workout at Home

Every workout you perform should reflect your own, individualized goals. 

That being said, if your workout goals are primarily to lift heavier weights, and develop huge back muscles, approach this workout with the following parameters:

  • Perform three to five sets of each exercise.
  • Rest for 30-90 seconds between sets (There are many theories and guidelines on rest intervals. Just make sure you feel ready to go before the next set).
  • Aim for fatigue and loss of form in the range of 8-12 reps during each set.

However, for those of you that are looking to maximize your time while exercising, circuit training is likely more appropriate. 

Therefore, I will describe a circuit training routine in which you will rest only once you’ve completed an entire round of the circuit. 

Minimal to no rest between circuits will create a slight cardiovascular response, while delivering a killer pump to your back muscles.

Ready to see your new at-home back workout? Let’s get after it!

1. Bent-Over Reverse Fly

Dumbbell reverse fly

With this exercise, you’ll torch your upper back muscles and your shoulders. This is an excellent postural exercise that forces you to correct the position we find ourselves in so often throughout the day: slumped forward.

  • Target Muscles: Rhomboids, mid-traps, posterior deltoids
  • Reps: 8-15
  • Sets: 3-5 
  • Rest Time: If performing in a circuit, do not rest, move immediately on to the next exercise. If performing in a “traditional” strength-building manner, rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

How to Perform:

  • Holding dumbbells, bend over at your waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Dumbbells should be hanging down toward the ground.
  • Bring the dumbbells out to the side and toward the ceiling with your elbows straight, attempting to “pinch” the shoulder blades together.
    • Slowly return to the start position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

2. Dumbbell Superman

Dumbbell Superman

Supermans are excellent exercises that can be modified for anyone’s individual needs. 

For example, if you have pain when you move into hyperextension, you can put padding underneath your hips and waist and only extend to neutral. If you’d like to increase the intensity of the exercise, you can hold dumbbells. The possibilities are endless!

  • Target Muscles: Erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, low/mid traps
  • Reps: 8-15
  • Sets: 3-5
  • Rest Time: If performing in a circuit, do not rest, move immediately on to the next exercise. If performing in a “traditional” strength-building manner, rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

How to Perform:

  • Lie flat on your stomach.
  • Extend your arms in front of you, above your head (you may choose to hold dumbbells or not with this exercise).
  • Lift both your legs and arms up off of the ground and hold the position for 3 seconds.
  • Slowly lower back down into the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

3. Dumbbell Bird Dogs

Dumbbell Bird Dogs

This is one of the best exercises to develop the tiny muscles between spinal segments known as the multifidi. These seemingly insignificant muscles play a huge role in both mobility and stability.

  • Target Muscles: Multifidi, many of the stabilizers of the back and core, various shoulder muscles
  • Reps: 10-15 per side
  • Sets: 3-5
  • Rest Time: If performing in a circuit, do not rest, move immediately on to the next exercise. If performing in a “traditional” strength-building manner, rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

How to Perform:

  • Starting on your hands and knees (holding dumbbells, if desired), extend one arm directly forward, above your head.
  • As your arm progresses through the motion, simultaneously extend your opposite leg behind you.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • You may alternate sides between reps, or complete all reps on one side before switching.

4. Single-Arm Bent Over Rows

Single-Arm Bent Over Rows

Of the available dumbbell exercises for the back, this is the one where you can really use a lot of weight if strengthening is your goal. This exercise is safe to perform with heavier weights, as long as you support yourself on a stable surface and maintain a neutral spine.

  • Target Muscles: Rhomboids, biceps, traps, lats.
  • Reps: 8-15
  • Sets: 3-5
  • Rest Time: If performing in a circuit, do not rest, move immediately on to the next exercise. If performing in a “traditional” strength-building manner, rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

How to Perform:

  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand while your other hand supports your weight on a bench or similar stable surface.
  • Keeping your spine neutral, bend forward at the waist so that your upper body is nearly parallel with the floor.
  • Allow the dumbbell to hang down toward the ground.
  • Keeping your elbow close to your side, pull the weight toward your chest and ribs by bending your arm and using your back muscles.
  • Slowly return the weight to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch sides.

5. Prone Snow Angels

Prone Snow Angels

A little bit of weight goes a long way on this one. This is a fantastic exercise for shoulder stability and strengthening. It is perfect for overhead athletes, but also for anyone who uses their arms at all throughout the day!

  • Target Muscles: Traps, rotator cuff muscles, erector spinae, rhomboids, posterior deltoids.
  • Reps: 8-15
  • Sets: 3-5
  • Rest Time: If performing in a circuit, do not rest, move immediately on to the next exercise. If performing in a “traditional” strength-building manner, rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

How to Perform:

  • Laying on your stomach, grasp one light dumbbell in each hand (or perform without weight).
  • Slightly extend your back so that your chest lifts a bit off the floor.
  • Starting with the dumbbells your hips, raise the weight off of the ground slightly.
  • Without lowering the weight, create an “arcing” motion, as if you were making a snow angel.
  • The weights should arc all the way above your head, at which point, you will reverse the motion, without lowering the weights to the ground.
  • Once you’ve returned to the starting position, you may choose to set the weights down briefly, or you may keep them elevated throughout the entire set.

6. Dumbbell Renegade Rows

Dumbbell Renegade Rows

Saving the toughest one for last! This exercise engages arguably every muscle of the body. You’ll really feel this one in your back and shoulders.

  • Target Muscles: Many shoulder muscles, lats, traps, rhomboids, and biceps.
  • Reps: 10 rows on each arm (the distance you move will vary based on your height and how far you shift the weight with each rep).
  • Sets: 3-5
  • Rest Time: After completing this exercise, take a 60-second rest, then start over again with the first exercise in the circuit.

If performing in a “traditional” strength-building manner, rest for 30-90 seconds between sets.

How to Perform:

  • Start in a pushup position, holding dumbbells. 
  • Move BACKWARD by picking up one of the weights all the way to your chest and placing it a few inches behind where it started.
  • As you move the weight, step back with your opposite leg simultaneously, so that you are “crawling” backward.
  • Repeat on both sides until you get 10 reps on each side (or until you hit a wall and have to turn around).

For those performing these exercises in a circuit fashion: aim for 3-5 rounds of the entire circuit.

Conclusion

You may prefer to work on your chest or arms as opposed to your back. But whether or not you enjoy back days, it is critically important that you spend some time developing these muscles. 

This back and bicep workout can give you a great pump in your arms as well, it’s not isolated to just the back muscles. 

Your back is vital for your health, posture, and stability in your daily life. So make sure you take care of it! 

Give this back workout with dumbbells a try and see what you think!

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Professional online writer. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about health, wellness, fitness, parenting conundrums and navigating complex relationships.

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