13 Best Dumbbell Lat Exercises

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: August 24, 2022

Dumbbells are a universal piece of fitness equipment. Whether you work out at a fancy fitness club or a bare-bones basement gym, you can get your hands on a pair of dumbbells.

But most lifters only know two or three basic dumbbell exercises for lats. And you probably run out of ideas long before you’ve exhausted your back muscles.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of the 13 best dumbbell lat exercises. So you can beef up your back workout and build bigger, stronger lats.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises

What Are Dumbbell Lat Exercises?

Dumbbells come in many shapes and sizes. You have your old-school rusty iron and newer rubberized versions. Plus, there are adjustable dumbbell bar sets where you can add weight plates.

Whichever equipment you use, dumbbell lat exercises are rowing, pulling, or lifting movements that work the major muscle groups of your back.

Benefits of Dumbbell Lat Exercises

You can get a complete back workout with limited gym equipment using dumbbell lat exercises. And you can quickly change exercises because you don’t have to wait for machines or racks to open up.

Many of these dumbbell lat exercises are compound movements that recruit multiple muscle groups, which is superior for building strength. In addition, they burn a ton of calories compared to machines or cables.

Lastly, dumbbells allow you to control the movement path and work each arm independently. This freedom allows you to target specific parts of your back and lats.

  • Perform a complete lat workout at home with minimal equipment
  • Free weights like dumbbells activate more muscle groups
  • Burn more calories compared to machines or cables
  • Able to work each lat independently or both lats simultaneously
  • More body position options for targeting specific parts of the lats

Muscles Worked by Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Before getting into the dumbbell lat exercises, it’s vital to understand back muscle anatomy. This way, you’ll know which exercises to use to target specific areas of your back and lats.

The back comprises several muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), erector spinae, traps, teres major/minor, and rhomboid. In addition, many back exercises also recruit the rear delt and biceps due to the pulling motion.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises Muscles Worked

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

First, the largest muscle group on your back is the latissimus dorsi or lats. These muscles attach to the back of your upper arms. And they run along the length of your spine from your mid to lower back.

The primary function of the lats is pulling your arm down and back around the shoulder joint. Therefore, it’s vital to use a combination of rowing and pulling movements to hit every part of your lats.

Upper Back Muscles

Several smaller muscles on your upper back are connected to your shoulder blade. These muscles include the rhomboid, teres major, teres minor, and infraspinatus.

Functionally, the upper back muscles work together with the lats to move your extremities around the shoulder joint. But they also stabilize and control the movement of the scapula during back exercises.

Trapezius (Traps)

The trapezius or traps are a large diamond shape muscle connecting your neck, shoulders, and upper back. And you can think of the trap muscles as having an upper and lower part.

The lower traps get used extensively during rowing or pulling back exercises. At the same time, the upper traps’ primary function is elevating the shoulders during exercises like deadlifts or shrugs.

Best Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Now that you understand the anatomy of all the back muscles let’s get into the best dumbbell exercises for lats. I’ve grouped these exercises into rowing movements, pulling movements, and lifting movements.

Rowing Dumbbell Back Exercises

These dumbbell lat exercises include rowing movements at various angles, loads, and intensities to build your back strength and size.

1. Single Dumbbell Row

The single dumbbell row is probably the most popular dumbbell back exercise. Most of the time, you will see this exercise performed while kneeling on a bench as illustrated in the image below.

However, you can also do the single dumbbell row with both feet on the floor and your hand resting on the bench or another sturdy support. This body position enables you to use more leg drive or change the angle of your back to work more upper or lower lats.

Related: Best Exercises to Target Lower Lats

Whichever stance and body position you use, begin with your arm extended so that your shoulder blade is stretched. Then pull the dumbbell up towards your rib cage and focus on squeezing your shoulder blade back.

2. Bent Over Dumbbell Row

The bent over row is another popular back exercise that is excellent for building the lats. Usually, you would do this exercise with a barbell, but you can also use dumbbells.

To begin, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Then pick up a pair of dumbbells and bend forward so your back is at about a 45-degree angle.

Start with extended arms, so the dumbbells hang just below and in front of your knees. Then squeeze your shoulder blades and pull both dumbbells up and back towards the sides of your waist.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises Bent Over Row

3. Dumbbell Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is a variation of the bent over row initially developed by US Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. One of the distinguishing features of the Pendlay row is that your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor.

Another unique aspect is that each rep starts from the floor. The idea behind this posture is to maximize back muscle activation. As well as improve your explosive power off the floor for other Olympic lifts.

In the starting position, your knees should be slightly bent. And your back should be relatively straight, with your eyes looking straight down at the floor.

Quickly pull the dumbbells straight up from the floor towards your sternum. As you pull, your elbows should flare out to your sides at about a 45-degree angle to your body.

4. Incline Dumbbell Row

The incline dumbbell row is a bent over row variation where you lay face down on an incline bench while performing the exercise.

The idea is to remove your legs from the equation so you can’t use any momentum to move the weight. And with no momentum, your lats and back muscles must do all the work to move the weight.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises Incline Row

5. Dumbbell Seal Row

The seal row is similar to the incline row, except the bench is set parallel to the floor. You must elevate the bench on boxes or other sturdy objects for this exercise to allow your arms to hang straight down.

The purpose of the seal row is to eliminate momentum, which targets the lats. Also, the horizontal body position isolates the lats and uses less upper back and traps.

To begin, lay face down on the flat bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms extended straight down. Now lift the dumbbells up towards your sides by retracting your shoulder blades and pulling your elbows back.

6. Renegade Row

The renegade row is basically a single dumbbell row performed in the push-up position. The prone stance forces you to use more stabilizer muscles and your core to hold your body steady as you perform the row.

Begin with both dumbbells on the floor. Grab the dumbbell handles and hold yourself in the push-up starting position. Now lift one dumbbell off the floor and pull it towards your side while holding your body up with the other hand.

You can complete a designated number of reps with each side or alternate sides with each rep. Another option is performing a push-up between each rep. This is like a superset for a back and chest workout.

7. Kroc Row

The Kroc row is a super heavy single dumbbell row performed with your back at a slight angle of 15-25 degrees. Unlike other rows, you can use momentum during the Kroc row.

With both feet on the floor and loose form, the Kroc row enables you to pull the heaviest dumbbells. And the purpose is to develop strength in the upper back and forearms for other heavy pulling movements like deadlifts.

To do a Kroc row, start by leaning one hand against an incline bench or other sturdy object. Now pick up the dumbbell in the other hand and hold it at arm’s length with your shoulder blade stretched forward.

Use your legs to initiate momentum from this starting position and pull the dumbbell straight up towards your side. Also, focus on completing the full range of motion by squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top and trying to touch your rib cage with the dumbbell.

Pulling Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Next are dumbbell lat exercises involving pulling movements like a pullover or pull-up. These exercises are also excellent for building the stabilizer muscles of the upper back.

8. Dumbbell Pullover for Lats

The dumbbell pullover is a versatile exercise that can target multiple muscle groups. Some people use this exercise to work their chest and serratus muscles, but I’m going to show you how to do it to build your lats.

First, start by laying with your back on a flat bench. Or lay perpendicular across with just your shoulders on the bench. I prefer the latter as it gives you greater stretch and range of motion, plus you can lower your hips to offset a heavier dumbbell.

The next step is wrapping both your hands around the inside of one end of the dumbbell. Then, with your back on the bench, raise the dumbbell to arm’s length over your chest.

Hold the dumbbell straight in front of your face with your hands on the inside of the top plate. Now slowly lower the dumbbell over your head while bending your arms slightly.

Continue lowering the weight until you feel a stretch through your lats. Then pull the dumbbell back up to the starting position by squeezing your lats.

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9. Dumbbell Weighted Pull Ups

Pull-ups are one of the best lat exercises you can do. But as you progress, you may be able to do 10, 15, or even more pull-ups. At that point, you may want to add some resistance to build more strength and size.

One way to make pull-ups more challenging is by holding a dumbbell between your feet. Or you can use a dip belt to hang a dumbbell between your legs while doing pull-ups.

Related: Pull-Up Calculator Based on Gender, Bodyweight, and Age

10. Superman Pulls with Dumbbells

The Superman pull is like a horizontal pull-up. So, unlike traditional pull-ups, the Superman pull doesn’t require you to lift your entire body weight.

Instead, this exercise involves retracting your shoulder blades as you lay on your belly and perform a pull-up motion. This external rotation of the arms engages the stabilizers of the upper back and the lats.

While the Superman pull is challenging even without weights, you can hold a pair of light dumbbells to add resistance. I’ve also used this exercise to correct muscle imbalances associated with upper cross syndrome.

11. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is an exercise commonly used to train the rear delts. However, you can also use it to work your upper back and lats.

One key to targeting the lats during a reverse fly is holding the dumbbells with your palms in. So at the bottom of the movement, your palms face each other. And at the top, they face the floor.

Another trick is thinking about pulling your shoulder blades together while keeping your arms relatively straight.

Lifting Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Finally, we have dumbbell exercises that involve lifting from the floor. These include deadlifts and block pulls for working the lats, spinal erectors, and traps.

12. Dumbbell Deadlift

The deadlift is a posterior chain exercise that works almost every muscle on the back side of your body, including the lats. And the dumbbell version is no different.

However, many people start the dumbbell deadlift with the weights at their sides. This variation is also called a suitcase deadlift and closely resembles a trap bar or hex bar deadlift.

Related: Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift for Back

The problem with that starting position is that it utilizes more leg drive and less back. So when doing dumbbell deadlifts for lats, keep the dumbbells in front of your legs as if you’re using a barbell.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises Deadlift

Tip: When doing dumbbell deadlifts for lats, think about hinging at the hips instead of bending at the knees. Keep your hips up and don’t drop them like the guy in the picture above.

13. Dumbbell Block Pull

Another potential problem with dumbbell deadlifts is that you start lower to the floor than a traditional barbell deadlift. Essentially, it’s like a deficit deadlift where you’re starting in a hole.

To remedy this, you can elevate the dumbbells on blocks (aka block pulls). Or you can elevate the dumbbells to start with your hands just below your knees. This is basically a variation of rack pulls, which is better for targeting your lats.

Related: When to Use Rack Pull vs Deadlift

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Dumbbell Lat Workout

I recommend including at least a couple of these dumbbell lat exercises in your next back workout. But, if you want, you could do an entire back workout with only dumbbells!

One advantage of this workout is that you can rapidly change exercises, which saves time. In addition, you can burn more calories by using compound movements and working each arm individually.

I’ve included a mix of compound and isolation exercises in the following dumbbell lat workout. You’ll also notice the rep range varies from 8-20, which balances strength and hypertrophy training.

Dumbbell Lat Workout

  • Dumbbell Deadlift – 3 sets, 15-20 reps
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Row – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Pull Ups – 5 sets, as many reps as possible
  • Dumbbell Incline Row – 5 sets 8-12 reps
  • Dumbbell Pullover – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Reverse Flies – 3 sets, 10-15 reps
Cable Shoulder Workout

More Back Exercises

The dumbbell lat exercises you just learned are excellent for working your entire back with limited equipment. But, if you can, you should also include some barbells, cables, or machines.

So click the links below for lat exercises that go above and beyond dumbbells alone.

7 Lower Lat Exercises for a Thicker Back

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip

15 Types of Deadlifts for Any Gym Setup

Machine High Row vs Low Row Muscles Worked

13 Easy Lat Stretches for Overhead Mobility

If you feel you’ve got a good handle on back exercises, check out some of my other fitness-related content below. These articles include topics covering all things bodybuilding, nutrition, and supplements.

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By |August 24, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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