How to Do a Dumbbell Bent Over Row

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Two-arm bent over dumbbell row, bent over two-dumbbell row

Targets: Back, shoulders

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Intermediate

The bent over dumbbell row is widely considered to be one of the best muscle building exercises for the back and also for the shoulders. It works both areas well and has been known to improve overall strength and also build muscle. However, an individual needs some experience with weight training before getting into the bent over dumbbell row exercise. The lifter's back should be kept straight throughout the exercise. The amount of weight used for the bent over dumbbell row should be moderate until you are confident you back is strong enough to handle increased weights. It can be used as part of an upper body strength workout.

Benefits

The two-arm bent over dumbbell row targets many muscles in the upper and middle back. These include the trapezius, infraspinatus, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, teres major, teres minor, and posterior deltoid. The pectoralis major of the chest and the brachialis of the upper arm also get worked. Your shoulder rotators are employed. This is a compound, functional exercise and you may use this same motion throughout the day when picking up things. Knowing how to properly position your back and brace your abs can protect you from strain.

Racks of dumbbells.
Racks of dumbbells. UFO/Getty Images

Step-by-Step Instructions

Stand with legs about shoulder-width apart, with knees soft or slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the body, holding them shoulder-width apart.

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend over at about a 45-degree angle (no farther). Keep the back straight throughout the exercise. Brace your abdominals and breathe in.
  2. Lift the weights straight up, exhaling. While lifting, the arms should go no higher than parallel with the shoulders—slightly lower than the shoulders is fine. While lifting, try to keep the wrists from excessive extra movement down or to the side. Do not squat down and up after the initial pose. No movement of the legs occurs throughout the exercise.
  3. Lower the weights in a controlled manner while inhaling.
  4. Remain bent over until all repetitions are complete.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most from this exercise and prevent strain or injury.

Inexperience

The bent over dumbbell row is an intermediate exercise with a reputation for building back and shoulder muscle. It often is listed as being for beginners, but you need to ensure you have a strong lower back and previous experience in weight training before adding this particular exercise to your program.

Rounded Back or Shoulders

You must keep the back straight and not curved over and the shoulders square throughout the exercise.

Lifting Too Far

You should not raise the weights beyond the line of the shoulders.

Bending Over Too Far

Your body should be bent no more than 45 degrees. Bending over farther can strain the back, especially if you are lifting heavier weights.

Bent Wrist

Do bend the wrist excessively up, down, or to the side.

Leg Movement

Your legs and hips are still throughout this exercise after you set your stance and pick up the weights. Do not squat.

Too Heavy of Weight

Do not lift heavy weights with this particular exercise unless you are experienced and trust your strength, shoulder joints, and back.

Modifications and Variations

This exercise can be performed in different ways depending on your needs and skill level.

Need a Modification?

Beginners often start with a one-arm bent over row. It also targets the lats. Once you are familiar with proper back position and bracing with your abs, you can progress to the two-arm bent over row. Be sure to use lighter weights until your form is perfected.

Performing the row with a low pulley is generally safer for the back.

Up for a Challenge?

You can increase the weights so long as you are able to maintain control and perfect form. You can change your grip to target the muscles differently.

You can also do the bent over row with a barbell. Hold the barbell with the palms facing in. Bend 45 degrees from the hips. Then brace the abs and perform the lift.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have back or shoulder problems. Shoulder impingement can be a problem with heavy weights or poor form. If pain or inflammation occurs, cease the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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Article Sources

  1. Fenwick CM, Brown SH, Mcgill SM. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(2):350-8. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019

  2. Swain DP, ACSM, Brawner CA. ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012.