This Back Workout With Dumbbells Hits Muscles In Ways Other Routines Can’t

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The best back workouts almost always contain bent-over rows and other row exercises, which are just about the best back exercises you can do. Which means we expected to see them when we asked Aaron Cook (opens in new tab), personal trainer and PT manager at Gymbox (opens in new tab), to share a back workout with dumbbells.

Sure enough, there are rows in the workout, but Cook has also introduced us to some interesting variations we’ve not come across before, and we can’t wait to hit the gym and try this session ourselves.

“You will be using supersets to try to maximise intensity and minimise time,” says Cook. “The supersets combine a compound movement with an isolation movement.”

As you’ll know if you’ve read our guide to common gym slang, superset means doing two exercises back to back with no or very little rest, a compound movement is an exercise that works multiple muscle groups and joints at once, and isolation movement means focusing on one muscle group or joint with the exercise. 

The combination of exercises Cook has selected means you’ll be working all the key muscle groups in your back from multiple angles.

“We will be working within the ten-to-20 rep range on most movements for muscular endurance and hypertrophy,” says Cook. “However, if you have heavier weights and want strength-based training, then drop the rep ranges down to five to eight and increase the amount of sets by one or two.”

If you’re in need of weights to use for the workout, check out our round-up of the best dumbbells to find a suitable set.

Back Workout With Dumbbells

1A Bent-over supinated row

Sets 3 Reps 10-12

Hold dumbbells by your thighs. Hinge at your hips to lower your torso into a bent-over position with your chest parallel to the floor and back straight. Turn your palms to face away from you. Initiate the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down, then draw your elbows up and past your torso until your hands are by your pockets. Pause for a second, and then slowly lower.

1B Hang dumbbell snatch

Sets 3 Reps 12-20

Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, holding the dumbbells between your thighs. Dip down and sit back slightly, then use your legs to drive up, generating the momentum to lift the dumbbells overhead.

2A Alternating gorilla row

Sets 3 Reps 10 each side 

Place your dumbbells on the floor, then stand with your feet outside of your dumbbells. Hinge forwards at the hips and bend your knees, moving low enough to take hold of the dumbbells (if you are unable to do this, prop the dumbbells up on a weight plate or similar). Keeping a flat back, pull one dumbbell in to your hip without rotating your chest. Pause, then lower slowly to the floor. Alternate sides with each rep.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 3 Rep 10-15

Set your shoulders and upper back on a chair, sofa or bench with your hips held high in a glute bridge position, and both hands holding one dumbbell over your chest or face, with a slight bend in your elbows. Lower the dumbbell behind your head, keeping your elbows slightly bent. When you feel a good stretch under your armpits in the lats, raise the dumbbell back to the starting position.

3A Knee-supported single-arm wide row 

Sets 3 Reps 10 each side

Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, rest your right knee and right hand on a chair, sofa or bench with your back flat and hips square. Lift the dumbbell, but instead of drawing the dumbbell in to your hip, flare your elbow out wide. The wide elbow now targets the rear deltoid, rhomboid and mid-trap muscles differently. Do all your reps on one side before switching.

Sets 3 Reps 12-15

Hold dumbbells down by your thighs. Hinge at your hips to lower your torso into a bent-over position with your chest parallel to the floor and back straight. Lift the dumbbells out to the sides, keeping your arms as straight as possible. Hold for two seconds at the top of the move, then lower slowly. Try to avoid using momentum.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 3 Reps 20

Start in a high plank position, holding dumbbells resting on the floor. Keep your hips and shoulders square as you raise one dumbbell towards your torso, keeping the other arm locked out for support. The goal is to avoid dropping or rotating the hips. If you want to make this harder you can add a press-up after every rep.

4B Weighted arch hold

Reps 3 Time 15sec

Lie face down on the floor with your legs and arms extended, holding a light dumbbell in front of your head. Squeeze your bum, abs, quads and shoulders to raise your legs and arms off the floor, creating a long, tight arch position. The goal is tension, not range of motion, so be tight and long, not loose and high.