Building sturdy and broad lats is one of the ultimate goals of many fitness enthusiasts. However, it requires proper training, diet, and discipline to achieve this holy grail.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) is thicker, larger, and v-shaped muscles on the back, which are spread from shoulder to waist. They provide stability to your upper body, especially the spine, and are involved in various activities from lifting objects from the ground to pulling weight from height.
Machines and barbell exercises are the best way to build sizable lats, but when they are not available, you can do it with dumbbells.
I’ve shared as many as fifteen dumbbell lat exercises to help you build wider, stronger, and sculpted back at home.
Pros and Cons of Doing Lat Exercises with Dumbbells
- The dumbbells are a great piece of exercise equipment. They allow a greater range of motion and help you target your lats specifically.
- Dumbbells allow you to perform unilateral exercises so you can train each side of your lat effectively and improve strength and muscle definition.
- Dumbbells are good for performing isolation exercises. Isolation exercises are excellent for training your lats particularly.
- Nowadays, dumbbells come with an adjustable function that is great for training lats muscles. As you have to do various lats exercises, you can adjust the weight according to it. For example, the deadlift is performed with heavy weights, while superman rows with light weights.
Studies show that lats are highly stretched and activated during pullups, chinup, seated rows, and pulldown exercises, which are impossible to perform with dumbbells. So building broader lats will take more time with dumbbells than with machines and barbells.
List of Dumbbell Lat Exercises to Forge Your Back at Home
- Unilateral Row
- Bent Over Row
- 45-Degree Incline Row
- Dumbbell Deadlift
- Incline Plank Row
- Superman Row
- Alternate Gorilla Row
- Renegade Row
- Pendlay Row
- Yates Row
- Seal Row
- IYT Raises
- Staggered Stance Row
- Incline Reverse Superman
Let’s find out the benefits of each exercise, how to do them step by step, and how you can integrate them into your dumbbell workout plans.
1. Unilateral Row
The unilateral row works on several muscles group at once including the latissimus dorsi. It is a unilateral back exercise that allows you to work on each side of the lat individually and helps focus more on the inferior muscle.
Steps to perform a unilateral row:
- Grab a dumbbell in your right hand, and place your left knee on a flat or incline bench. And put your right foot firmly on the ground beside the bench.
- Keep your left arm straight on the bench and hold your right arm straight underneath your shoulder. That’s your starting position.
- Bringing your elbow at your side, pull the dumbbell until it reaches chest level.
- Hold for a second then lower it down to start. That’s one rep.
- Keep your core tight throughout the movement.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades when you pull the dumbbell.
- Do not arch your back.
- When you row the dumbbell, use your elbow instead of your hand because using the elbow activates more back muscles and reduces wrist involvement.
2. Bent Over Row
The bent-over row is one of the exercises that highly activate lats and help increase muscle mass, as shown in a study published by ACE.1Best Back Exercises by Holly Edelburg, B.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Clayton Camic, Ph.D., Attila Kovacs, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D., with Daniel J. Green – American Council of Exercise
Another research discovered that the standing bent-over row elicited maximum activation symmetrically from the upper to the lower back.2Fenwick 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):350-358. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019
So it can be an excellent choice if you want to develop wider lats and sizable back at home.
Steps to do a bent-over row:
- Grab one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand upright with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bent forward, look down, and keep your back as straight as possible.
- Pull the dumbbells up to your sides, keeping the elbows close to your body until you feel the full contraction in the back muscles.
- Hold for a moment, squeeze your back muscles, then slowly return the dumbbells to the start. That’s one rep. Do three to four sets of 10-12 reps.
- Inhale before lifting and exhale after completing a rep.
- Keep your core tight throughout the entire exercise.
- Maintain a flat back and remain bent throughout the movement.
The pullover is a dumbbell compound exercise that simultaneously works on the chest and lat and helps build a defined upper body.3Marchetti PH, Uchida MC. Effects of the pullover exercise on the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles as evaluated by EMG. J Appl Biomech. 2011;27(4):380-384. doi:10.1123/jab.27.4.380
The pullover can be done in three ways: flat, incline, and decline. However, the flat one works best for lats.
Steps to perform a DB pullover:
- Place a dumbbell in the standing position on the ground close to the end of a flat bench, lie on it with your face up and feet firmly on the ground.
- Keep your arms extended behind your head with a soft bend in your elbows.
- Pull the dumbbell all the way from behind your head to over your chest.
- Hold for a couple of seconds then slowly return to the start. That’s one rep. Do 8-10 reps x 3 sets.
- Keep it slow and let your muscles fully engaged.
- Use light dumbbells if you haven’t performed this movement.
4. 45-Degree Incline Row
The incline row hits multiple muscles at once, such as lats, traps, and rhomboids, and helps you build a stronger and more defined back.
Steps to perform an incline DB row:
- Set a bench at a 45-degree incline position and grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip.
- Lie prone with your face down and chest at the end of the bench and arms straight downward.
- Grab the dumbbell with a neutral grip, with your palms facing each other.
- Engaging your back muscles, row the dumbbells upward and then return to the start.
- Do three sets of 8 to 12 reps each with 2-3 minutes rest between sets.
5. Conventional Deadlift
The deadlift is a compound movement that works on several muscles, including the latissimus dorsi.
However, doing a deadlift with dumbbells isn’t as effective as doing it with barbells for your lats.
But since you do not have access to a bar and plates, you can try a standard dumbbell deadlift.
How to do a dumbbell deadlift:
- Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand upright in the hip-width stance.
- Keep your arms straight in front of you with your palms facing inward.
- Push your hips back, slightly bend your knees and lower the weight until your shin and back remain flat.
- Now, inhale and engage your lats, and push into the floor through your feet to return to the standing position. That’s one rep!
Do three sets of 4 to 6 reps each with 2-3 minutes rest between sets.
6. Incline Plank Row
The incline plank row is an excellent way to bolster core and back muscles simultaneously. It also helps improve balance and flexibility in the upper body.
Steps to perform an incline plank row:
- Stand against a flat bench, holding one dumbbell in your right hand.
- Place your left hand on the bench with your arm straight.
- Extend your legs backward until you’re in an elevated position. Make sure your body is straight from top to bottom, and your core is tight. That is starting position.
- Row the dumbbells at your side as many times as you like.
Tips: Make sure you feel the contraction in your lats when you pull the dumbbell at your side.
7. Superman Row
The superman row is a great exercise for developing posterior chain muscles and the latissimus dorsi. It strengthens the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and lats and helps fix poor posture.
However, it is challenging and requires flexibility in your spine.
Here are the steps to perform a superman row:
- Lie on the mat with your legs extended.
- Grasp one dumbbell in each hand and keep your arms straight in front of you with palms down.
- Lift your chest and legs off the floor and pull the dumbbells in until you feel the contraction in your lats.
- Pause for a moment and return your arms to the beginning. Repeat for the desired times.
Tips: Use baby dumbbells and perform each rep in a slow and controlled manner.
8. Alternate Gorilla Row
The Gorilla is a unilateral strength exercise that targets the back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi (lats) and the rhomboids. It also activates the biceps, core, and forearms to some extent and develops a sturdy torso.
Steps to perform an alternate gorilla row:
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Pushing your hips back, bend your knees, and bend forward until your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Keep your core tight, back flat, and arms straight below your chest with your palms facing each other. This is your starting position.
- Pull your right elbow behind you until your lat is engaged.
- Pause for a moment, extend your elbow to the start, and repeat on the opposite side.
- Do as many reps and sets as possible.
9. Renegade Row
The renegade row is a dumbbell compound workout that increases strength and mobility and builds lean mass throughout the upper body muscles.
It isn’t one of the best lat exercises, but it provides variety to the training and helps improve back muscle definition.
Steps to perform a renegade row:
- Start in a plank position with your hands on dumbbells, your feet shoulder-width apart, and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Brace your core, maintain a flat back, and row one side of the dumbbell up to your side while maintaining a plank position.
- Lower the weight back down to the starting position, then repeat the movement on the other side.
- Continue alternating sides for the desired number of reps.
Tips: Maintaining good form while performing this movement is important to avoid imbalance and ensure that you are targeting the correct muscles. Keep your core tight and back straight throughout the exercise, and avoid letting your lower back arch or your hips sag.
10. Pendlay Row
The Pendlay row is one of the best exercises to enhance speed, strength, and balance. It bolsters many muscles at once, such as traps, rhomboids, posterior delts, arms, and especially the lats.
It looks similar to other rowing exercises, but it is somewhat different. Because the Pendlay row requires you to lift the weight off the ground after each rep and uses more leg and core stability.
It is also done at a quick pace, holding light pair of dumbbells compared to other dumbbell rowing exercises.
Steps to perform a Pendlay row:
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the hips and knees, lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
- Keep your core tight, back flat, and arms straight below your trunk.
- Pull the dumbbells until they reach to sides of your chest.
- Lower the dumbbells on the ground, then repeat.
- Do as many reps and sets as needed.
Tips: Keep your back straight and your elbows close to your body throughout the movement. And it is good to wear a weightlifting belt to support your lower back from injury.
11. Yates Row
The Yates row is another effective dumbbell exercise for targeting back muscles.
It requires you to grip the dumbbells with an underhand grip, unlike an overhand and neutral grip, which makes this exercise slightly different.
Steps to perform a Yates row:
- Holding a dumbbell in each with an underhand grip, stand upright with your feet hip-width apart.
- Slightly bend at the waist, lean forward, and keep your arms straight at your sides.
- Pull the dumbbells up to your sides until your lats are engaged.
- Lower your arms to the start and repeat for the desired times.
Tips: Maintain a tight core and neutral spine position throughout the exercise. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the exercise to engage the lats and mid-back muscles effectively.
12. Seal Row
The dumbbell seal row is a part of military training that bolsters the back and biceps and builds up a sturdy upper body. It can also be a good addition to your dumbbell lat workout.
Steps to perform a seal row with dumbbells:
- Place the feet of the bench on the elevated object.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and lie on the bench with your face down. This is your start.
- Pull the dumbbells at your sides until you feel the full contraction in your lats.
- Pause for a couple of seconds then extend your arms. That’s one rep.
- You can perform as many reps and sets as possible.
Tips: Hold the dumbbells that are heavy enough to lift with a full range of motion.
13. I-Y-T Raises
The IYT raises exercise is unknown but one of the most effective workouts for the back muscle.
How To Do Incline Dumbbell I-Y-T Raises
This is quite simple to perform. It includes three steps. In the first step, you need to make an “I” shape with your torso, then a “Y” in the second step, and a “T” shape in the third and final step.
Below are the instructions on how to perform this exercise.
You need a pair of light dumbbells and an incline bench to perform this exercise.
- Lie on your stomach on a 30-degree incline bench.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and keep your arms straight underneath your shoulder, palm facing inside.
- keep your feet on the ground and fix your torso on the bench. That’s starting position.
- To form the letter “T” raise your arms upward until your arms reach forehead height. Hold for a couple of seconds and then slowly return the dumbbells to the beginning position.
- To form the letter “Y” raise your arms at a 45-degree angle (Assume superman pose) while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for a couple of seconds at the top and then slowly return the dumbbells to the lower position.
- And to perform the final and last step, raise your arms fully out to the sides until they form a 90-degree angle.
- Hold for a couple of seconds at the top and then slowly lowered them back toward the ground. That’s one complete IYT rep. Do 8-10 reps x 3 sets.
- Keep your neck at the corner of the bench and face outside the bench so that you perform in a better range of motion.
- Keep it slow and let your muscles fully engaged.
- Use light dumbbells, so that you can complete eight to ten reps in each set.
14. Staggered Stance Row
The staggered stance row is suitable for those who don’t have a workout bench. It requires you to pull the dumbbell in a staggered position and helps forge back muscles.
The position of this exercise also enhances core stability and increases overall balance.
Steps to perform a one-arm row:
- Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, stand in the split stance (like you do in a lunge position).
- Keep your chest up, core tight, back flat, and arm straight at your side. It’s the start.
- Pull the dumbbell up to your side, keeping your elbow close to the body.
- Once you feel the contraction in your lats, extend your arms and repeat for the desired times.
Tips: Keep your front foot firmly on the floor and your abdominal muscles tight throughout the movement.
15. Incline Reverse Superman
The reverse superman is another good way to hit your latissimus dorsi with dumbbells. It requires you to lie prone on the bench and pull your arms back to contract your lats.
It may be not as effective as other dumbbell lats exercises but it is worth trying.
Steps to perform a incline reverse superman:
- Set the bench to 30-degree height, grab a pair of dumbbells with an underhand grip, and lie on the bench with your face down and arms straight below your shoulders.
- Slightly lift your chest off the bench and raise your shoulder blades. That’s the start.
- Pull your arms back until you feel the work in your lats.
- Pause for a moment then return your arms to the start.
- Do as many reps and sets as possible.
How to Integrate These Exercises into Your Training
Most of the above exercises mentioned above are identical to each other, so you don’t need to do them all. Instead, you can pick four to five different exercises that hit your lats from multiple angles.
You can include dumbbell lats exercises as part of your upper body, full body, or pull day workout.
You can also dedicate an entire workout to lats training, depending on your goals and schedule.
Here’s how you can incorporate them into your program:
1) Dumbbell PPL Split (Pull Day)
|Bent Over Row||10-12||3|
|Alternate Biceps Curl||10-12||2|
2) Upper/Lower Split (Upper Body)
|Bent Over Row||10-12||3|
|One-arm Tricep Extension||10-12||2|
Replace lat exercises in the subsequent weeks.
3) Dedicated Lat Workouts with Dumbbells
|Bent Over Row||10-12||3|
Frequency: Once/twice a week.
Please Note: Perform warm-up exercises before your lats workouts to help reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance. You can do light cardio and some light weight lifting, for example.
You can do as many as fifteen dumbbell lat exercises to forge your back at home. However, most exercises are identical to one another.
That’s why it is best to pick four to five different exercises that can help you target your lats from every angle. For example, you can perform unilateral rows, superman rows, pullovers, bent-over rows, and pendlay rows.
Whichever exercises you do, make sure you maintain proper form to elicit maximum contraction in your lats.
You should also increase the intensity, load, and reps over time to grow your strength and muscle mass.
It would also be great if you train your lats with others equipment to maximize your results. Here are some alternatives to dumbbell lats workout.
- Bodyweight Lat Exercises at Home (No Pullup)
- Barbell Workouts For Lats to Smoke Your Back Gains
- Kettlebell Lat Exercises for Stronger Back
- Resistance Band Lat Exercises for Wider Back
- 1Best Back Exercises by Holly Edelburg, B.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Clayton Camic, Ph.D., Attila Kovacs, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D., with Daniel J. Green – American Council of Exercise
- 2Fenwick 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):350-358. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019
- 3Marchetti PH, Uchida MC. Effects of the pullover exercise on the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles as evaluated by EMG. J Appl Biomech. 2011;27(4):380-384. doi:10.1123/jab.27.4.380