How to One Arm Dumbbell Row Correctly & Safely [Video]

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INTRODUCTION: ONE ARM DUMBBELL ROW

The bent-over one arm dumbbell row is one of the most basic yet fundamental exercises in the fitness library.

The dumbbell row strengthens numerous muscle groups including the posterior shoulder, the upper back, and the latissimus dorsi.

As simple as this exercise is, many people perform it incorrectly.

Today’s post will go over the proper way to perform the dumbbell row, and mistakes to avoid.


ONE ARM DUMBBELL ROW FORM VIDEO

BENEFITS OF THE SINGLE ARM DUMBBELL ROW

  • Strengthens the upper back muscles including the rhomboids, the mid-trapezius, the posterior shoulders and the latissimus dorsi, as well as your grip and forearm muscles
  • Helps improve a rounded shoulder position which results from poor posture
  • Places less stress on the lower back then the barbell row since the exercise requires you to have an external base of support

MUSCLES WORKED IN THE DUMBBELL ROW

  • Rhomboids
  • Posterior Deltoids
  • Mid-Low Trapezius
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Forearms/Grip
  • Biceps

PERFORMING THE ONE ARM DUMBBELL ROW WITH CORRECT FORM

  • Grab the desired dumbbell and place it next to a standard weight bench
  • Place your knee and outstretched hand on the bench, and bend forward until your back is parallel to the floor
  • Straighten your back and ensure that you maintain a natural flat posture throughout the entire exercise
single-arm-dumbbell-row-form
  • Reach down to grab the dumbbell, and immediately resume a flat neutral spine posture
  • Ensure that your neck is also neutral (this means looking down, not up or forward)
  • Keep your core muscles activated at all times
how-to-do-one-arm-db-row
  • This is where the most common mistake occurs: Initiate the row by
    • Squeezing your lat muscles
    • Driving your elbow up towards the ceiling
    • Actively retracting your scapula towards your spine
  • If done correctly, the dumbbell should touch your lower chest and your elbow should not go much higher than the level of your back
  • Also, avoid excessive rotation of your torso when rowing the dumbbell up
db-row-form
  • When reversing the movement, do not let your shoulder blade protract all of the way down. Keep some level retraction in your scapula at all times.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

HOW TO TARGET THE LATS MORE 

Alternatively, you can modify the exercise target the lat muscles a but more by changing the angle of your row. 

Instead of rowing the dumbbell to your lower chest as seen above, you can row the dumbbell toward your waistline.

Either approach is fine, and it’s good to mix and match as you see fit.

THE BENT OVER DUMBBELL ROW

  • If you do not have a bench to use as support, simply place your outstretched hand on a sturdy surface. Assume a shoulder width stance with your feet in line with each other, not a staggered stance.
  • The remainder of the exercise should be performed exactly the same as described above
  • Keep your back flat, your neck neutral and your focus on your lats and scapula.

The One Arm DB Row is just one of several compound exercises you should be doing

To see a list of them all, be sure to check out our FREE E-book that goes over all of the best compound exercises for each body part!



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We also go over them all in The Best Compound Exercises of All Time.

COMMON BENT OVER ROW MISTAKES

USING TOO MUCH MOMENTUM

When the weight starts to get heavy, it is inevitable to use a little momentum. With that said it’s really easy to get carried away.

If your back is excessively rotating, or you need a lot of momentum to initiate the movement, then the weight is too heavy.

You can avoid this by forcing yourself to pause at the top of the repetition for a 1 count.

Then slowly lower the dumbbell using a 3-second tempo.

USING YOUR ARMS TO ROW THE WEIGHT

Again, it is important to use your lats and your scapula to bring the weight up, and not your biceps. 

If you don’t actively focus on using your back muscles, then you are wasting your time. 

This is the case if you primarily feel this exercise in your biceps.

If done correctly, the weight should not travel a very long distance.

 

INTEGRATING THE SINGLE ARM DUMBBELL ROW INTO YOUR WORKOUT

Want to know how to use this exercise in your workout?

The dumbbell row is an example of a great horizontal pulling exercise.

We show you how to use it in our WCT Workout Template.

Which you can download for FREE!

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I DON’T FEEL THE  DUMBBELL ROW IN MY BACK

This is a common problem. The dumbbell row is for the back, not your biceps. If you only feel this exercise in your arms, then you are performing it incorrectly.

Squeeze your lats, bring your elbow to the ceiling, and retract your scapula.  Also, focus on rowing the dumbbell closer to your waistline rather than your chest.

Your bicep will inevitably be involved in the movement, but you should also feel your back muscles working.

DO I NEED TO DUMBBELL ROWS ON A BENCH?

The bench is the easiest way to perform the dumbbell row exercise, however, it can be performed on any sturdy surface.

Check out the dumbbell bent-over row above.

ARE DUMBBELL ROWS EFFECTIVE?

Yes, but only if you do them properly. Don’t make the mistake of using a weight that is too heavy.

This will force you to use momentum and too much biceps. Focus on activating and using your back muscles like I described above.

OTHER DUMBBELL ROW VARIATIONS

Chest Supported Row/ AKA Incline Rows

Another variation that you can perform is the Chest Supported Row.  This exercise also requires a bench, but instead, you lay flat on your chest while rowing the dumbbells up towards the bench.

bent-over-row

You can also choose to flare your elbow out 90 degrees rather than tucking it up towards the ceiling.

That dumbbell row variation with flared elbows will emphasize the posterior shoulder more.

TWO ARM DUMBBELL ROW

You can also do this exercise with two arms. One option is to do the chest supported row as seen above, or you can do a standing dumbbell row.

The problem with the second option is, you won’t have anything to hold on to for support. As a result, the two arm dumbbell row will work your lower back some as well.

This may not be a problem for you, but I’d rather focus on the direct upper back work when doing rows, and use deadlifts for lower back work instead.

RENEGADE ROWS/PLANK ROWS

You can also do renegade rows/ aka plank rows. This exercise is primarily a core strengthening exercise, with a little upper back work.

DO DB ROWS WORK ABS?

They do, but not to a large extent. I wouldn’t rely on rowing exercises to train your core muscles effectively.

The exception is the renegade row/plank row shown above.

CAN I DO ONE ARM DB ROWS AT HOME?

Yes, but you will need some type of equipment. To replicate the exercise exactly, you will need dumbbells.

I personally have the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells and I love them. Although they are a but pricey (check Amazon for the current price.)

Alternatively, you can do a lot of other 21 Best Back Exercises You Can Do At Home.

ONE ARM DUMBBELL ROW ALTERNATIVES AND SIMILAR EXERCISES

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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