Two-Arm Dumbbell Row Exercise Guide
The two arm dumbbell row exercise is used to target the back, primarily the latissimus dorsi or “lats.” This is a basic yet demanding exercise. It works all of the back muscles effectively, the latissimus dorsi in particular. It is an excellent way to thicken the middle muscle fibers in this area and to gain overall strength, as it also gives the torso and legs an isometric workout.
Dumbbells allow a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and a longer range of motion (as opposed to barbell). They also allow you to bring the weight toward the center of gravity (which is safer).
Two-Arm Dumbbell Row Exercise Instruction – Correct Form
Follow these steps to perform this middle back exercise safely and effectively.
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Holding two dumbbells with a neutral grip (and the thumbs forward), stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart while maintaining a slight bend in your knees. Flex your knees about one-quarter of the way and flex forward to position your upper body slightly above parallel to the floor. In other words, your torso forms a 90- to 120- degree angle to the floor. Lift your chest to maintain the natural arch in your back. Allow the dumbbells to hang straight down below your shoulders.
ACTION (MOVEMENT): Pull the dumbbells to your sides as high as possible while contracting your lats and middle-back muscles hard. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top to achieve full contraction in the back muscles. Then slowly lower the dumbbells all the way down to full arm extension. Keep your wrists straight; do not curl the dumbbells in your hands.
Muscles Engaged in Two-Arm Dumbbell Row
This muscle-shaper works your middle back and latissimus dorsi, as well as your biceps, trapezius, rear shoulders, and brachioradialis.
- Main muscles: latissimus dorsi, teres major and minor, deltoid (rear)
- Secondary muscles: rhomboids, biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, trapezius, infraspinatus, (lower back muscles)
- Antagonists: pectoralis major, triceps, deltoid (front)
Two-Arm Dumbbell Row Additional Tips & Key Points
Keep the following tips in mind as you perform the two-arm dumbbell row exercise:
- Avoid turning your head to either side. It’s important to keep your head up and your eyes looking forward as you lift; this reduces strain on your neck.
- Keep your buttocks and thighs steady.
- Always wear a belt to protect your lower back, and don’t try to lift too much weight at first.
- Your upper back should be flat and rigid, not rounded or hunched over.
- Pull your elbow up as high as possible without twisting your torso. In other words, pull your arms along your body, bending them and bringing your elbows as far back as possible. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and maintain the contracted position for one to two seconds; then lower the weights and repeat.
- Avoid jerking the weight upward.
You can do the row exercise using a barbell or just one dumbbell.
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row. Lean over in the same way, but place your right knee and right palm on a flat bench. This will keep your body steady as you lift a dumbbell with your left arm. Raise it from the top of
the bench toward your armpit in a sawing motion. When you’ve finished your reps, reverse and lift with your right arm, placing your left knee and palm on the bench.
- Palm-Rotation Two-Arm Dumbbell Row. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and straighten your arms. Lift the dumbbells to each side of your torso, twisting your palms as you go so your palms face forward at the top.
- Bent-Over Barbell Row. Grab a barbell with an overhand grip and Lean over from the waist so that your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Bend your knees slightly for stability. The barbell is in front of your shins. Lift it straight up until it touches the top of your abs. Hold for a moment, then lower it under control to your shins.
- Bent-Over Reverse Grip Barbell Row. Grasp a barbell with a shoulder-width (or slightly wider) reverse (underhand) grip and follow the same exercise instructions given above.
Make It Easier
- Lift your torso up so that your back is above parallel with the floor.
- Pull the dumbbells to your abdominal region.
- Rest the dumbbells on a low bench between reps.
- Use an underhand grip (palms facing forward) to make it easier to pull.
Do It Harder
- To challenge your balance, stand on one leg. You may want to start with very light dumbbells because the movement is difficult to do.
- Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length, and row them in an alternating fashion.
- Pause at the bottom of the movement, squeeze your scapulas together, and pull the handle to your chest. Hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower.
Replacement Exercises for the Two-Arm Dumbbell Row
To add variety to your middle back workout routine, replace the two-arm dumbbell row with a different exercise that works the same muscles (latissimus dorsi). Use the barbell, cables, a gym machine or your own body weight to perform the rowing motion without a dumbbell.
Let’s look at the best middle back exercises with the rowing motion for building muscle and strength.
- Seated cable row
- Smith-machine bent-over row
- Machine row
- T-bar row
- Supported T-bar row
- Body row
The two-arm dumbbell row belongs in the basic, multiple-joint exercise category because both the shoulder and the elbow joints are mobilized. Rowing with both hands, especially with heavy weights, can put the back at risk. You can reduce this risk by not bending to the often-recommended 90 degrees. Instead, lift your torso only until it is at a 120-degree angle to the floor. Because you may find it easier to feel your upper back muscles work from this position, you may feel stronger using it. The row is easier when you arch your back, but doing so is far riskier for your spine.
If you do not feel your upper back contract well with bilateral rowing, it is wise to switch to unilateral rows considering the importance of strengthening the back muscles.