It’s easy to forget to
work your back muscles. Sure, they may not be as fun as glute exercises, but they’re still important for your overall fitness game. Don’t worry, though — you can just incorporate some moves that target this area into your workout routine with nothing more than a set of dumbbells — and no trip to the gym required.
“As the largest
upper body muscle spanning most of the back, the lats are incredibly important for posture and stabilizing your posterior chain from your neck to your hips,” says Nikka Saadat, a personal trainer at Vitruvian. The latissimus dorsi, as they’re officially called, are the muscles below the shoulder blades that run down the spine to the pelvis and across the width of your back , so they play a major role in keeping you upright — which is why it’s totally worth it to give this area a little extra love.
The lats also play an important role in any
strength training program, adds Rob Wagener, a NASM-certified personal trainer. “In addition to strengthening the muscles, lat exercises also help to improve your flexibility and range of motion,” he tells Bustle. “As a result, they can help to prevent pain and injuries in the lower back, shoulders, and hips.”
While there are specific
machines that focus on the lats at the gym — like the lat pulldown — you can always reach this area with a set of dumbbells, says Lalitha McSorley, PT, a physical therapist and personal trainer at Brentwood Physio. “Dumbbells allow you to move through a greater range of motion than the weight machine, which can result in a better muscle-strengthening workout,” she tells Bustle. “They’re also great at engaging the surrounding stabilizing muscles.”
Read on below for a list of lat exercises with dumbbells to try.
1 Bent-Over Row
This is one of the most fundamental
dumbbell exercises for the lats, says TJ Mentus, a certified personal trainer. “The lats work to pull the elbows into the sides and keep the shoulders back,” he tells Bustle, “which is exactly what this exercise does.”
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Hinge forward at the hips so your chest is facing the ground.
- Let your arms hang toward the ground.
- Keep your shoulder blades pulled back.
- Row the dumbbells up by pulling your elbows up and into your sides.
- Open up your chest as you squeeze your lats.
- Keep your shoulders back.
- Lower the dumbbells down by straightening your arms.
- Repeat 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
2 Standing Around The World
“The standing around the world exercise is a great compound movement with a heavy concentration on the lats,” says Wagener. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand up straight.
- With a light dumbbell in each hand, slowly raise each arm upward and outward, as if you’re doing a side lat raise.
- Keep a slight bend in your elbows.
- Instead of stopping when the arms are level, keep the rotation going and lift both arms up over your head, all in one continuous motion.
- Once at the top, reverse the same circular motion back down.
- For a challenge, count slowly to five on the way up and again on the way back down.
- Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps each.
3 Reverse Fly
Another option is the reverse fly, a move that targets the lat muscles by working them in an eccentric contraction, McSorley says. “This means that the muscles are lengthened as they work.”
- Grab a pair of dumbbells.
- Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your knees bent.
- Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing each other.
- Lean forward so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the ground.
- Keep your core engaged.
- Inhale and slowly lift your arms up and back until they are in line with your shoulders.
- Exhale and lower the weights back to the starting position.
- Repeat 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
4 Pendlay Row
Want a challenge? “The Pendlay row allows you to use heavier dumbbells, compared to other back exercises,” McSorley says. As a bonus, this move also targets your rhomboids,
biceps, glutes, hamstrings, and rear deltoids.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge forward at your waist with your knees bent.
- Keep your torso parallel to the floor.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip.
- Keep your elbows tucked in, flex your core, and slowly draw your elbows back and up.
- Bring the dumbbells toward your lower chest.
- When the dumbbells touch your chest, focus on squeezing your back muscles for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back down.
- Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
5 Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
You could also focus on one side of your body at a time. Pro tip: “Rather than rowing with your elbows flared and pointing out the side, which targets the upper back, keep the elbows close to your sides to target the lats,” Saadat says.
- Start by holding a dumbbell in one hand with a neutral grip, palm facing inward towards your body.
- Keep your arm extended at your side.
- Lean forward so your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Use your other arm for support by gently leaning on a bench.
- Engage your core to stabilize your torso.
- Keeping your upper arm close to your side, drive your elbow down and back towards your hip until your upper arm is in line with your torso.
- Keep your shoulder blades drawn down and back. (Imagine putting them into your back pockets.)
- Keep your arm close to your side.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell down to the starting position.
- Do 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps on each side with moderate weight.
6 Renegade Row Julie Bobek, a trainer at FlexIt, recommends this exercise to work the lats. She says it also adds some core work into the mix.
- Start in a
high plank position with your shoulders over your wrists.
- Hold a medium-weight dumbbell under one hand.
- Place your feet hip-width apart.
- Exhale and engage your core.
- Row the dumbbell back to your waist.
- Keep your shoulders and hips level.
- Return the weight to the floor.
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
7 Lat Pullover
To work your lats as well as your biceps, triceps, and pecs, try a lat pullover — a move McSorley is a fan of for upper body strength.
- Sit on a bench.
- Hold a dumbbell on one end.
- Lean back on the bench and extend your arms straight above your head.
- Lower the dumbbell back behind your head.
- Use your lat muscles to pull the dumbbell back up to the starting position.
- Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Studies referenced: Aerenhouts, D. (2020). Using Machines or Free Weights for Resistance Training in Novice Males? A Randomized Parallel Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17217848 Fenwick, CM. (2009). Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019. Jeno, SH. (2022). Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 28846224. Lehman, G. J. (2003). Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study. Dynamic medicine : DM, 3, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-5918-3-4 Vishwakarma, V. (2019). Effect of Latissimus Dorsi Muscle Strengthening in Mechanical Low Back Pain. https://www.ijsr.net/archive/v9i8/SR20730124217.pdf Sources: Nikka Saadat, personal trainer at Vitruvian Rob Wagener, NASM-certified personal trainer Lalitha McSorley, PT, physical therapist, personal trainer at Brentwood Physio TJ Mentus, certified personal trainer Julie Bobek, trainer at FlexIt
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