One Arm Dumbbell Row for Back Strength

A Basic Strength Builder for the Back, Shoulders, and Biceps

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

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.

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. However, 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 fifteen and twenty), 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.

How to Do the One Arm Dumbbell Row

The Ready Position

  1. Begin with feet hip distance apart.
  2. Hold the dumbbell in one hand.
  3. Take one step back into a lunge position.
  4. Keep the front leg bent with the knee in line with ankle, and keep the back leg straight.
  5. Lean slightly forward, and rest your free hand on your forward thigh (as pictured).

​​Initiating the Movement

  1. 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.
  3. Maintain proper posture through your shoulders and hips.
  4. Maintain proper posture in the lower back. Avoid rounding or arching the lumbar spine.
  5. 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.

Completing the Movement

  1. Keep your elbow close to your body as it passes the ribs.
  2. Squeeze your shoulder blade in toward the center of back (contracting the rhomboids).
  3. 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.
  4. Be sure to maintain good posture through spine, shoulders, and hips.
  5. Repeat for the appropriate number of repetitions.
  6. Switch sides and repeat the same number of repetitions with the opposite arm.
  7. Perform 2-3 sets of the exercise, with a one-minute rest between sets.
  8. Additionally, you can perform one set as a part of a circuit training routine.

Tips and Advice

  • Move the shoulder blade, not the arm, to initiate the row.
  • Keep the elbow close to the body as it passes the rib cage.
  • Keep your back flat and knees slightly bent throughout the movement.
  • 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.

Exercise Progressions

  • 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 push up with lat row exercise.
  • Add a few additional back and core strengthening exercises for a complete and well-balanced upper body exercise routine.
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