Looking to develop your back? If so, you’re in the right place.

Using dumbbells to develop your back muscles is extremely effective no matter what your experience level is. However, knowing which are the best dumbbell exercises can be a challenge.

In this article, you’ll discover the best 14 exercises you can do to develop a t-shirt filling upper back.

1. Proper Body Positioning

When working your muscles, you always want to ensure you use the correct form.

When training your back muscles, there are several positions.

The bent-over position, prone position (lying on your chest against a bench), incline prone position, and seated bent-over position.

2. Know Various Grip Positions

If you want to get the most from your back workouts, you should utilize a variety of grip positions. By changing the position of your hands during a movement, you can shift the emphasis to certain areas of your back.

The most common hand positions are overhand grip, underhand grip, and neutral grip. However, you can even use a rotated grip where your hand position moves during the back exercise.

Each grip will have a different effect on your back muscles.

  • Overhand Grip: Emphasizes your upper back muscles (traps, rhomboids, teres major, and rear delts).
  • Underhand Grip: Flipping your grip helps target your lats more.
  • Neutral Grip: Targets your back fairly evenly while giving your an extensive range of motion.

As you can see, you can benefit massively from adjusting your grip position, so use it to your advantage.

If you want more variation, you can work your muscles unilaterally (using one dumbbell at a time); this increases your core engagement and places more stress on your stabilizers.

3. Pull Position

While training your back muscles, you can also change your pull position. An example would be pulling to your chest or hip level during a bent-over row.

I think changing the pull position is an excellent way for beginners to adjust their workout routine without learning a new movement.

However, combining all the factors mentioned above will give you the best results.   

14 Best Back Exercises With Dumbbells

To help you out, here are 14 of the best back exercises that you can perform using dumbbells. Read through them and choose a handful to add to your workout routine.

1. Bent Over Rows With Dumbbells (Narrow & Wide Row)

Man Doing Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows In The Gym

The bent-over dumbbell row is pretty similar to the barbell version of the row. It works your lats and rhomboids (you can change the emphasis by adjusting arm position) and requires your lower back and core muscles to help stabilize your body during the movement.

As it relies on your lower back for support, I feel it can be a great assistance exercise to help improve your deadlift.

But, it’s not suitable for gym-goers suffering from lower back issues because of the added strain on your lower back. 


  • Uses a large range of motion. 
  • Suitable for all ability levels. 

How To Do It:

  1. Pick up a set of dumbbells.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  3. Lean forward and hinge from your hips, maintaining a neutral spine.
  4. Allow the dumbbells to hang and pull them to your hips or chest (depending on the areas you want to target).
  5. Slowly bring the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12 

Tips From A Trainer!

Narrow grip (lift to hips) - More emphasis on the lats. Wide grip (lift to chest) - Moves focus to your upper traps and rhomboids.  

2. Batwing Dumbbell Row

Man Doing Batwing Row with Dumbbells

The batwing dumbbell row is an excellent exercise if you want to develop your rhomboids without placing a lot of stress on your lower back.

Throughout the movement, your body is supported on an incline bench, so your core and lower back shouldn’t need to work hard at all…perfect if you’ve got lower back issues or a weak core.

I've used this movement with several clients who suffer with lower back pain, they found it worked their lats effectively and didn't place strain on their lower back. 


  • No strain on your lower back. 
  • Suitable for people with weaker cores.

How To Do It:

  1. Set a bench to a 30-degree incline.
  2. Place your body chest down on the bench.
  3. Hold two dumbbells with a neutral grip.
  4. Pull the dumbbells up to the outside of the bench.
  5. Slowly lower and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12 

Tips From A Trainer!

Don’t go too heavy; focus on getting your form 100% correct. 

3. Dumbbell Incline Row

Man Doing Incline Rows

The dumbbell incline row is one of my favorite dumbbell back exercises. It works your lats, rhomboids, biceps, and rear deltoids; it's a brilliant upper back movement.

As it uses a bench to support your chest, it places less strain on your lower back, making it ideal for gym goers who suffer from lower back pain. 

Most gym-goers can easily perform this movement, making it suitable for all levels of experience.


  • Low back strain. 
  • Suitable for most abilities.
  • It's a compound movement.

How To Do It:

  1. Set a bench to 30-45 degrees.
  2. Lie on the bench, chest down.
  3. Place feet hip-width.
  4. Draw your shoulders back.
  5. Lift the dumbbells to your lower rib cage.
  6. Lower and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12

Tips From A Trainer!

Move your arms in a slight arcing motion to place more emphasis on your lats and less focus on your biceps.  

4. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Woman Doing Dumbbell Reverse Fly Exercises

The dumbbell reverse fly is a brilliant free weights exercise to work your shoulders (rear deltoid) and upper back.

The exercise is performed in the bent-over position, placing some stress on the lower back. So if you have lower back issues, this might be an exercise that you want to skip.

However, it’s a great movement if you want to develop your upper back and shoulders (rear deltoids). 

I like adding this exercise to my back workouts as it provides my upper back with the burn and pump that I'm looking for. 


  • Suitable for most ability levels. 
  • Doesn't require a lot of weight. 
  • Minimal space required.

How To Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width, feet flat.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, elbows slightly bent.
  3. Bend over with a neutral spinal posture.
  4. Draw your shoulders back and lift the dumbbells to your shoulder level.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 12-14

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't allow momentum to take over the movement. If you feel yourself swinging the weights too much, slow down your reps.  

Related Article - Dumbbell Cardio Workout

5. Dumbbell Pullover

Man Doing Dumbbell Pullovers

The dumbbell pullover is traditionally a pec movement, but it uses a large number of lats, teres major and delts, making it one of the most popular dumbbell back exercises.

It works your lats through a large range of movement, making it an excellent upper back developer. 

While it’s simple to perform, beginners might find the form a little confusing and requires a strong grip. If you're unsure about the form, ask somebody for assistance until you get the hang of it.


  • Uses a wide range of motion. 
  • Suitable for most abilities. 

How To Do It:

  1. Lie perpendicular to a flat bench with your shoulders and upper back placed firmly on the bench.
  2. Place your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Hold a dumbbell with your right and left arm.
  4. Lift it above your chest and move it backwards past your head.
  5. Hold and return to the starting position.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12

Tips From A Trainer!

If you don't have a dumbbell handy, you can perform this movement using a resistance band, making it the perfect exercise if you're travelling.  

6. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Man Doing Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

It’s one of the easiest unilateral exercises for beginners and allows you to develop an excellent mind-muscle connection while developing a strong back.

As a personal trainer, this single arm dumbbell exercise is one of the first back exercises my clients will learn when building muscle.

The single-arm row is like the other rowing movements, but you work one side at a time while supporting the opposite side on a bench. It’s a good exercise if you suffer from lower back pain as it places less stress on the back.


  • Uses a wide range of motion. 
  • Excellent for beginners.

How To Do It:

  1. Hold a single dumbbell in one arm (left hand). Keep arm straight and left leg straight.
  2. Support your right arm and right leg on a flat bench.
  3. Keep your core tight and a neutral posture.
  4. Ensure your back leg is supporting you with your left foot flat.
  5. Draw your elbow back and bring the dumbbell to your hips.
  6. Lower the dumbbell and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure to use an arching motion during each rep. By doing so, you'll increase lat activation and decrease biceps activity.  

7. Dumbbell Incline Pause Row

Man Doing Dumbbell Incline Pause Row In The Gym

This exercise is one of the best dumbbell back exercises for building your lats without needing to place excessive strain on your lower back. It’s an ideal accessory movement to add to your back workout routine.

I used this exercise while I was rehabilitating my clients back as it allowed them to train effectively without overloading their lower back. 

The movement also works your rear deltoids and strengthens your shoulder blades.


  • Reduced lower back strain.
  • Strict lat movement. 
  • Uses a large range of motion.

How To Do It:

  1. Set up as you would for a regular incline row.
  2. Pause the movement at the top.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12

Tips From A Trainer!

Superset this movement with spider curls. To do so, simply perform bicep curls in the same position that you're in for the incline pause row. 

8. Renegade Row

Man Doing Renegade Rows

The renegade row is a whole body movement that not only works your upper back and arms but your entire core & stabilizing muscles.

With good form, you can use this exercise to develop a strong upper body while improving your balance and stability.

I would recommend only more advanced gym-goers attempt this exercise as it can be challenging. I would also suggest you skip this one if you have shoulder injuries, therefore you can take a look at renegade row alternatives.


  • Works your entire body.
  • Improves balance and stability.
  • Suitable for more advanced lifters.

How To Do It:

  1. Put two dumbbells on the floor and assume the push-up position.
  2. Place your hands on the dumbbells, palms facing each other.
  3. Lift one dumbbell to your rib cage and lower.
  4. Repeat with the opposite side.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12 Per Side

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're struggling to balance, try widening your legs to give you an increased base.  

9. Dumbbell Upright Row

Man Doing Dumbbell Upright Rows

The dumbbell upright row is a great upper trap, delts, and biceps builder. However, if you have shoulder issues, you should avoid this movement and check out upright row alternative exercises.

The upright row can cause impingement in your shoulder muscles for some gym-goers, which isn’t a nice feeling (trust me). If you notice pain, you should skip this one.


  • Develops your traps. 
  • Great for more advanced gym goers.

How To Do It:

  1. Hold two dumbbells, and stand tall with your legs straight.
  2. Place the dumbbells together (knuckles forward).
  3. Lift the dumbbells with your elbows high.
  4. Pause in the top position.
  5. Lower and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 12-15

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're on the move or travelling, you can perform this exercise without dumbbells by using a resistance band.  

10. Good Mornings

Woman Doing Dumbbell Good Mornings In The Gym

This compound exercise targets your lower back, erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings. It’s one of the best back exercises with dumbbells for women and men.

Performing this exercise requires a large amount of back muscle recruitment and is one of the most challenging on this list.

As it's highly challenging, I recommend that only more advanced gym-goers try this movement. If you can't perform it, try doing good morning alternatives.


  • Strengthens your posterior chain. 
  • Large amount of back activation. 

How To Do It:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at hip level, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your back straight and hinge forward.
  3. As you lean forward, keep a slight bend in your knees.
  4. Stop at the bottom and push your hips forward until your body is back in a straight line.
  5. Repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12

Tips From A Trainer!

Always ensure a slight bend in your knees to fully engage your hamstrings. 

11. Dumbbell Farmer's Carry

Man Doing Dumbbell Farmer's Carry

The dumbbell farmer’s carry is one of the most underrated exercises for back muscle growth. It’s relatively easy to learn and is suitable for all fitness levels.

I've used this movement often with my new clients. While it may look simple, it's tougher than it looks. 

The movement develops your full body but is perfect for building your traps, lats, middle back, erectors, rear delts, and rhomboids. Your body has to maintain stability as you lift serious weight.


  • Improves core stability. 
  • Increases grip strength. 
  • Benefits carry over to other exercises e.g. deadlift.

How To Do It:

  1. Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Draw your shoulders back and down.
  3. Tighten your grip and back muscles. Walk around the gym.
  4. Repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 30-60 Seconds

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't walk too fast. The biggest mistake I see is people trying to complete this exercise as quickly as possible.  

12. Chest Supported Supinated Row With Dumbbells

Woman Doing Chest Supported Supinated Row With Dumbbells

As with other chest-supported exercises on this list, you get the benefits of the bent-over row without placing too much stress on your lower back muscles. This makes it ideal for anyone suffering from a lower back injury.

The supinated hand position helps emphasize your lats, allowing you to target the elusive lower lats.

If you're looking to develop your lats, you NEED this movement in your workout routine. My clients love this exercise and it's easy to see why. 


  • Uses a wide range of motion.
  • Doesn't require a ton of weight. 
  • Places less strain on your lower back.

How To Do It:

  1. Set an adjustable bench to 30 degrees.
  2. Lie chest down on the bench. Keep your body in a straight line.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (palms facing forward).
  4. Draw your shoulders back.
  5. Lift the dumbbells to your hips, pausing in the top position.
  6. Lower to starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Perform this exercise slowly. You want to feel your lats working throughout every single moment. If you perform the exercise too quickly, you'll miss out on gains. 

13. Dumbbell Shrugs

Man Doing Dumbbell Shrugs

If you want to develop brilliant upper traps, you want to add dumbbell shrugs to your workout. They are one of the best dumbbell back exercises and are extremely easy to perform.

Honestly, these have been one of my go-to exercises for developing my traps. They're one of the best t-shirt filling exercises you can perform. 


  • You can use a lot of weight.
  • Suitable for all abilities. 

How To Do It:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and stand tall with your shoulder blades back. (Left and right palm facing inward).
  2. Place feet hip-width apart.
  3. Keep your arms straight and shrug your shoulders upwards.
  4. Pause at the top.
  5. Slowly lower to the starting position.
  6. Repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 12-20

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep your shoulders back at all times for optimal trap engagement. 

14. RDLs Using Dumbbells

Man Doing RDL Rows Using Dumbbells In The Gym

The RDL row is a whole body movement that works your lower and upper back. The exercise also works your hamstrings and glutes due to the hip hinge movement, making it a brilliant posterior chain developer. 

However, it will also help you develop a thicker looking upper back, which is why you're here, right?

Yet, while it can be performed by all ability levels, it's a complex movement and if you don't use the correct form, you put yourself at risk of an injury. 


  • Uses your entire back. 
  • Great muscle developer. 

How To Do It:

  1. Hold two dumbbells at your sides and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hinge forward with your back in a neutral position and slightly bend your knees.
  3. Draw your shoulder blades together and lift the dumbbells to your hips.
  4. Slowly lower the weight and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12

Tips From A Trainer!

If you don't have dumbbells, you can use a resistance band instead. This makes it a great exercise to perform when you're travelling.  

What Are The Benefits Of Training Your Back With Dumbbells?


Using a barbell locks your body into a set movement pattern and grip. This can cause discomfort for some gym-goers and can lead to joint issues.

However, dumbbells give you more freedom of movement, placing less stress on your wrists, elbows, and shoulder joints.

Eliminates Imbalances

While using barbells, you can sometimes develop muscular imbalances. This is common among beginners and can easily be addressed using dumbbells.

Dumbbells allow you to work both sides equally without one side compensating for the other. This helps you reduce the likelihood of muscle imbalances while improving any existing ones.

Related Article - How To Fix Uneven Lats

Improved Muscle Development

Using dumbbells during your back workout allows each side of your body to work independently, allowing your weaker side to catch up with your dominant side.

Dumbbells generally allow a greater range of motion, which is crucial for developing your muscles.

Easier To Use

Can’t be bothered loading and unloading a barbell?

Dumbbells are hassle-free pieces of equipment that are easy to set up, use, and pack away.

Greater Range Of Motion

As I mentioned previously, you can achieve a greater range of motion using dumbbells, which will result in more work by your upper body and therefore improve your muscle & strength development.

Wide Range Of Variables

There are many variables when using dumbbells during your back workout. You can change your body position, grip, and lifting pattern.

man doing back exercises with dumbbells

The Anatomy Of Your Back Muscles

Erector Spinae

Three muscles make up your erector spinae; the Spinalis, Longissimus, and Iliocostalis.

Your erector spinae muscles help with head movement, lateral flexion, and spinal extension. However, arguably their most important function is to help you maintain a neutral back while under load - crucial for preventing injury during weight lifting.

Most barbell and dumbbell back exercises will use your erector spinae to some extent.

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

When you think of working your back, you no doubt think about your lats. Your latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle in your back and gives you the desired V-shape most weight lifters aspire for.

The lats cover most of your back muscles, except for the traps. They begin at your scapula and vertebrae of the thoracic spine, down to the lumbar spine.

The main movements of the lats include shoulder extension and adduction, horizontal adduction and abduction, and internal shoulder rotation.


Your Rhomboid's primary function is scapula adduction (bringing together), elevation (think overhead press), and inward rotation (bringing your arms towards your torso).

Strengthening your scapula will have a considerable carry-over to your other main lifts, such as bench pressing, military press, squat, deadlift, and others, as it helps stabilize your shoulder joint.

Trapezius (Traps)

Your traps are divided into three parts, the upper, middle, and lower trapezius.

The trapezius muscles are located at the side of your neck (above shoulder blades) and mainly assist your scapula movements such as elevation, depression, adduction, and outward rotation.

They also help you add mass to your frame. A well-developed set of traps is impressive.

Rear Delts

Your rear delts are worked, giving you good posture and improved injury prevention. Improving scapula function has been shown to help increase stability. [1]

Anatomy of Back Muscles

Frequently Asked Questions About Dumbbell Back Exercises

How do you warm up your back before training?

To warm up your back before training, you can perform dynamic warm-up stretches combined with activation exercises such as banded face pulls, straight arm lat pull down, and others to warm up your back. Your warm-up doesn’t have to be complex and shouldn’t take up much time.

What exercises to avoid if you have lower back pain?

To avoid lower back pain,  you need to stay away from movements that place strain on your lower back like the bent over row. You can try using exercises that don’t place as much strain on your lower back, such as the chest-supported row.

What are the best exercises to get rid of back fat?

Unfortunately, there are no exercises that can target back fat. However, you can aim to perform exercises that burn more calories. Compound exercises are your best option as they use multiple joints and recruit many muscle fibers, burning more calories in the process. [2]

How do I know if my back pain is muscle or spine?

If you have back pain and you can feel the pain running through your arms or legs, it could be a sign of a spinal injury. It’s best to have any pain checked by a doctor just to be sure. If you notice any unusual pain, stop working out and seek medical attention.

How long will it take to get a toned back?

To get a "toned back" can take years. However, you should begin to notice some results within the first 8-12 weeks, especially if you use a variety of exercises, grip positions, etc. 


Developing a strong back is essential for not only your overall strength but your health too.

Dumbbell back exercises are an effective way of developing back muscles, but it can be challenging to figure out your best options.

Check out the list above and add a few to your back training program.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5611703/
  2. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpendo.00156.2017
Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.