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Dumbbell Back Exercises That Build Strength, Size & Shape

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

A weightlifter performing dumbbell back exercises.

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Looking for dumbbell back exercises to spice up that old routine? Or maybe you need a dumbbell exercise to target a specific muscle group?

Whatever reason has brought you here, the eight best dumbbell back exercises below will provide you with a solution.

The dumbbell exercises offer a wide range of development opportunities. In addition to offering training variation, they can be used to achieve a fitness objective.

For example, if you want to build strength in the lower back, the dumbbell stiff leg deadlifts will do that job. But if you’re searching for an exercise that forges functional fitness, the dumbbell Farmer’s walk is for you.

For those seeking to increase explosive power in the posterior chain, you need to start including dumbbell snatches in your workouts.

This article will explain how to execute these exercises with technical proficiency.

How to use these dumbbell back exercises

The dumbbell back exercise tutorials can be used as a reference source. If you want to brush up on your technique, or fact find which muscle group a dumbbell exercise targets, this article can help.

Alternatively, if you felt like your resistance routine was underperforming, or needed rejuvenating, you have plenty of exercises to choose from here.

And don’t forget, the eight best dumbbell exercises could be used as a workout. Either split them in half or mix them according to your training objectives and assign a rep and set range. This approach will provide you with a few good workouts.

Dumbbell Back Exercises #1: Single arm row

The single arm dumbbell row is an excellent exercise that builds strength in the latissimus dorsi. Another attribute of this classic dumbbell exercise is that it enables you to correct any strength imbalances that can develop from performing the barbell version. Single side (or unilateral) exercises prohibit dominant muscles from overcompensating.

Back muscles targeted: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, infraspinatus, trapezius.

Dumbbell row key techniques

  • With a dumbbell positioned between you and a solid object set about waist height, first form a stable position from which to execute the lift.

  • Space your feet so that the one opposite to the arm lifting is further forward.

  • The foot on your lifting side is set back and slightly out.

  • The supporting hand is gripping the solid object and your upper body is almost parallel to the floor.

  • Now grasp the dumbbell and proceed to row it until it touches the side of your torso.

  • Lower the dumbbell to the start position but stop short of touching the floor.

  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Dumbbell back exercises #2: Reverse flys

The reverse fly performed from a standing position requires more control than the seated version. It’s a great exercise for sculpting definition in the upper back and it enables you to target a specific range of muscle groups.

Back muscles targeted: rear deltoids, rhomboids, infraspinatus, trapezius.

Standing reverse flys key techniques

  • Adopt the same position as you would when performing a bent-over row.

  • Hold the dumbbells at your front, palms facing each other.

  • Maintaining a slight bend at the elbow joint, fly the dumbbells back.

  • Pause momentarily ensuring to squeeze! at peak contraction.

  • Bring the dumbbells back together. They should make contact before the next rep is initiated.

DB back exercises #3: Stiff leg deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift is ‘an overall power exercise that involves more muscles than any other exercise in your routine, including the lower back, upper back, trapezius muscles, the buttocks, and the legs,’ (The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding). If you’re looking to develop your spinal erector muscles, or add balance to an abdominal workout, then include DB stiff leg deads. They’re also useful for stretching out tight hamstrings.

Back muscles targeted: erector spinae, latissimus dorsi.

Stiff leg deadlift key techniques

  • To get the dumbbells into position, execute the first phase of the standard deadlift.

  • Adopt a shoulder-width stance.

  • Lock a slight bend in the knees.

  • Under control, hinge forward at the hips until the dumbbells are level with the upper knee.

  • Remember, the dumbbells remain close to your legs throughout the movement.

  • Pause momentarily, return to the upright position.

  • As you stand erect focus on executing a smooth movement.

Related: Best Adjustable Dumbbells for the Home Gym

Dumbbell back exercises #4: Shrugs

The dumbbell shrug provides a very specific strength development function. Though the range of movement is constricted, shrugs are by far the best exercise for building bulging traps.

Back muscles targeted: trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus.

Dumbbell shrugs key techniques

  • Stand with two dumbbells by your sides.

  • Adopt a shoulder-width stance.

  • Keep your eyes fixed forward, core tight, chest out.

  • Attempt to touch your ears with your shoulders.

  • Don’t roll your shoulders – up, pause, then down.

  • To increase the focus on the lower section of the traps, force your shoulders back at peak contraction as though you’re trying to crack a walnut between your shoulder blades.

  • Hold at the top position before returning to the start.

Dumbbell back exercises #5: Incline reverse flys

Seated incline flys are a variation of the standing flys outlined above. They target the same muscle group and confer a similar range of benefits. However, because they are performed from a stable seated position, they do not require the same level of control to perform. While this is a limitation for advanced trainers, it is beneficial for beginners.

Back muscles targeted: rear deltoids, rhomboids, infraspinatus, trapezius.

Reverse flys key techniques

  • Set a 45-degree incline on a workout bench.

  • Place two dumbbells at the head of the bench.

  • Take a reverse seated position so that your chest is pressed against the back support.

  • Pick up the dumbbells then, ensuring to maintain a shallow bend in the elbows, fly the DBs back as though you’re drawing open a pair of curtains.

  • When executing this exercise, focus on performing a smooth controlled movement.

Dumbbell back exercises #6: Farmers' walk

Arguably the dumbbell Farmers' walk isn’t purely a back exercise. But then, arguably, there are no exercises that solely target one muscle. Even super-strict exercises, such as bicep curls or chest flys, engage multiple muscle groups – synergists and such.

Because the Farmers' walk works such a wide range of muscle groups, it’s hard to classify. Is it a lower-body exercise or an upper-body exercise? Or an amalgamation of the two?

To make life easy, I’ve classified the Farmers' walk as a whole-body exercise, and one that confers considerable strength and fitness benefits both in the legs and the back.

Back muscles targeted: trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus, latissimus dorsi, lower back. Other muscles engaged: deltoids, forearms, transverse abdominus, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, gastrocnemius.

Farmers' walk key techniques

  • Stand with two dumbbells either side of your feet.

  • Applying correct squatting technique, pick up the dumbbells.

  • Before setting off, organise your posture: arms straight, chest out, feet shoulder-width.

  • When you’re ready proceed to walk.

  • Ensure to look forward while walking – a seemingly obvious point, but a common Farmers' walking technique error is to look down.

Dumbbell back exercises #7: Snatch

The dumbbell snatch is a superlative strength and explosive power building exercise. It primarily targets the muscles of the posterior chain – hamstrings, glutes, lower back and traps. However, if a high rep range is applied, or you perform them as an AMRAP or EMOM, snatches stimulate the cardio-respiratory system as well.

Back muscles targeted: lower back, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids. Other muscles targeted: glutes, core, shoulders.

Dumbbell snatch key techniques

  • Stand directly over a single dumbbell. Space your feet a little over shoulder-width.

  • Bending at the knees, squat down and grasp the dumbbell.

  • Keeping your core tight and eyes fixed forward, in one controlled movement hoist the dumbbell above your head.

  • When snatching focus on engaging the big muscles of the legs and back simultaneously. It helps to view the snatch as whole-body exercise.

  • With the dumbbell poised above your head, return it to the floor.

  • Change hands and repeat.

Dumbbell back exercises #8: Bent over lateral raises

Bent over lateral raises are a variation of the reverse fly. The minor difference is that, in the standing position, the angle of the torso is not as extreme. When performing bent over lateral raises you are very nearly erect. This slight positional modification shifts the emphasis onto the posterior deltoid and upper trapezius.

Back muscles targeted: posterior deltoid, trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus.

Bent over lateral raises key techniques

  • Sit at the end of a workout bench holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides.

  • Hinge forward at the hips slightly. Your torso is at about 45-degrees to your thighs.

  • Under control, raise the dumbbells level with your shoulders. The palms of the hands face the floor throughout the movement.

  • Pause momentarily before lowering.

Related: Build shape and size with these Dumbbell Back Workouts >


About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam at

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