How to Do a One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Dumbbell Row
Dumbbell Row. photo (c) Dominic DiSaia / Getty Images

Also Known As: Single-arm dumbbell row, single-arm bent over dumbbell row

Targets: Back, shoulders, triceps

Equipment Needed: Dumbbell

Level: Intermediate

The one-arm dumbbell row is a good addition to any dumbbell workout. This movement targets the upper and lower back, shoulders, biceps, and hips while improving core stability. Five different joint actions take place in this compound exercise. Beginners can use light weights as they build strength. This is also a good exercise to do as part of a circuit training routine.

Benefits

The main muscle group worked during the single-arm row is the latissimus dorsi (lats). You also engage the entire back, shoulders, and arms (the trapezius, rhomboids, teres major and minor, deltoids, infraspinatus, biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, and even pecs). By focusing on one arm at a time, you can better isolate the lats and lift the weight higher than during a classic barbell row. By placing your free hand on your thigh, or another stable surface, you are also able to lift more weight, but keep in mind that the goal of the one arm row is to reach the maximum range of motion of the movement rather than simply lifting heavy weights.

Keeping your free hand supported on your thigh gives you just enough support to help stabilize your spine and upper body, and allows you to concentrate on slow, controlled movements.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin with feet hip distance apart, holding the dumbbell in one hand.

  1. Take one step back into a lunge position. Keep the front leg bent with the knee in line with ankle, and keep the back leg straight. Lean slightly forward, and rest your free hand on your forward thigh. Tighten your core by squeezing your belly button in towards your spine.
  2. Lower the dumbbell toward the floor until you have a full extension at the elbow. Maintain proper posture through your shoulders, hips, and lower back. Avoid rounding or arching the lumbar spine.
  3. Begin the upward motion of the dumbbell by first sliding your shoulder blade toward your spine and then lifting the weight up toward your torso by driving your elbow to the ceiling. Keep your elbow close to your body as it passes the ribs.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blade in toward the center of back (contracting the rhomboids). At the end of the movement, the dumbbell should be in line with your chest and your elbow should be pointing up toward the ceiling. Be sure to maintain good posture through spine, shoulders, and hips.
  5. Repeat for the appropriate number of repetitions.
  1. Switch sides and repeat the same number of repetitions with the opposite arm.
  2. Perform two to three sets of the exercise, with a one-minute rest between sets.

Common Mistakes

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

Too Much Weight

Don't lift too much weight when you begin this exercise or you may find that you are focusing exclusively on the lats and neglecting the smaller stabilizer muscles. Start with a lighter weight and more repetitions (between 15 and 2o), and squeeze the shoulder blades during the movement to get the shoulders and rhomboids firing. After you master the basic movement through the full range of motion, add weight and decrease the number of repetitions.

Moving Arm Rather Than Shoulder

Move the shoulder blade, not the arm, to initiate the row.

Jerking or Twisting Motion

Avoid jerking the weight or twisting the spine and shoulders. If you are doing this, it's likely that you are using too much weight.

Rounded Back

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

Modifications and Variations

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

Need a Modification?

You can perform this exercise with one leg kneeling on an exercise bench and supporting with the free hand on the bench or on your knee. Or, align yourself perpendicular to an exercise bench and place the free hand on the bench to support yourself.

Up for a Challenge?

Follow this progression to build more strength with this exercise:

  • Increase the weight of the dumbbell.
  • Increase the number of repetitions.
  • Balance your free hand on a stability ball instead of using your front leg for support. This increases not only the difficulty of the exercise, but it also engages a number of smaller stabilizer muscles throughout the torso, arms, and shoulders.
  • Move on to the pushup with lat row exercise.
  • Add a few additional back and core strengthening exercises for a complete and well-balanced upper body exercise routine.

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:

Was this page helpful?