Traditional lat training revolves around pullups, machines, and pulldown variations.
However, dumbbells offer a great range of exercises to train the lats as well, which is beneficial for anyone training in a home gym or a gym with limited equipment.
Below are the 9 best lat exercises with dumbbells:
- Single Arm Row
- Bent Over Row
- Pull Over
- Seal Row
- Incline Row
- Pendlay Row
- Renegade Row
- Kroc Row
- Dumbbell Yates Row
By the end of this article, you will understand how to effectively use each of these exercises to help train your lats.
The Goal Of Lat Exercises With Dumbbells
The goal of lat exercises with dumbbells will be to train the latissimus dorsi (a wide, flat muscle that runs along each side of the middle and lower back) through differing rep ranges, ranges of motion, and loading using just a pair of dumbbells (or one single dumbbell, depending on the exercise).
The lats help stabilize the back, shoulders, and hips. They also allow you to maintain good posture and support the movement of your arms and shoulders. Having strong lats is important whether you’re an athlete or not.
For bodybuilders or anyone else with physique goals, well-devleoped lats also give off the appearance of a wide back, which is a physical trait that many people admire.
Whether your goals are size, strength, or somewhere in between, there will be exercises and programming recommendations here for you.
How To Target The Lats With Dumbbells
When people think of lat training, they often think of vertical pulling options such as pull ups and pulldown variations. However, dumbbells and horizontal pulling movements can be used and tailored effectively to target the lats.
The key aspect here is how you execute the movement.
Rather than rowing with your elbows flared out to your side, which targets the upper back more, you need to row with your elbows close to your sides and pull them down by your sides, rather than just straight back.
A neutral (hands facing each other) or supinated (palms facing upwards) grip can also help you maintain these positions.
Did you know that deadlifts also work the lats? Find out how in my article Do Deadlifts Work The Lats? (Yes, Here’s How).
9 Dumbbell Lat Exercises
1. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
The single arm dumbbell row is one of my favorite exercises and is a great option for lat training with dumbbells.
How To Do It
- Hold a dumbbell in one hand with a neutral grip and use the opposite hand to support you against a bench or rack. Lean forward so that your torso is close to horizontal – trial from horizontal to 10-15 degrees above it to see which allows you to use your lats most. The dumbbell should be held below you with a fully extended arm.
- Maintaining the position of your torso, row the dumbbell towards your hip by pulling your elbow back and towards where a back pocket would be. Pull until your upper arm is in line with your torso.
- Control the load back to the start position, allowing your shoulder to protract (move forward) and your arm to fully reach forward below you.
- Single arm rows typically use more weight. This makes them a great option for those with strength goals and for training in lower rep ranges.
- Allow you to train unilaterally. Single arm training allows you to develop the strength and size of each side independently. This can help reduce the chances of muscle imbalances or may even highlight pre-existing imbalances in strength.
- Lifters often cheat single arm rows to chase loading. Given that single arm rows typically use heavier loads as a baseline, lifters can often get caught up in chasing load progressions too quickly and end up cheating reps by cutting range of motion or by creating momentum with their torso to aid each rep.
How To Program
Here is how I would program single arm dumbbell rows:
As these are one of the exercises most lifters can typically use heavier loads for, I recommend keeping rep ranges lower:
- 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions. Look to progress loading when you hit 8 reps for each set.
Strengthening your back can also help your bench press. Check out my article Does A Strong Back Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s How) to find out exactly why it helps.
2. Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Dumbbell bent over rows are a staple exercise across training programs from beginner to advanced athletes.
By performing these with a neutral or supinated grip they become a great option for lat training with dumbbells.
How To Do It
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other. Bend forward until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor and hold the dumbbells below you with fully extended arms.
- Row the dumbbells back towards your hip by driving your elbow towards where a rear pocket would be. Keep the elbow by your side throughout the movement.
- Pull until your upper arm is in line with your torso and hold this position briefly.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the start position, allowing your shoulders to protract and your arms to fully extend.
- Equal range of motion each side. While still having the unilateral benefits, dumbbell bent over rows require you to use both sides at once and effectively allow you to see any differences in range of motion from rep to rep. This ensures you are training both sides through the same range of motion in a coordinated fashion.
- Easy to set up to suit you. Rather than trying to fit to a machine or bench setup, dumbbell bent over rows allow you to position yourself in the best way for your leverages and overall feel of the movement. Trial slightly differing torso angles or grips to target the lats as best you can.
- Requires lumbar loading and stability. While this on its own is not an issue, lumbar loading throughout a program needs to be managed. For example, powerlifters that squat and deadlift more frequently may want to avoid lumbar loading during their lat training.
How To Program
Here is how I would program dumbbell bent over rows:
Due to the lumbar loading, I prefer to keep slightly higher rep ranges to help limit loading.
- 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. Push each set close to failure, one to two reps in reserve and progress load as you hit 15 reps. Alternatively, if you want to keep load fixed, look to shorten rest periods, add a pause or a controlled eccentric (lowering) phase.
Looking for a set of dumbbells for your home gym but afraid about dropping them? Check out my recommendations for the best 7 dumbbells you can drop without breaking them.
3. Dumbbell Lat Pullover
While most dumbbell lat exercises tend to be horizontal rowing exercises, the lat pullover is a great option beyond this.
How To Do It
- Lie with your upper back on a bench and hold your hips up off the floor in a glute bridge position (i.e. your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees bent and your thighs parallel to the floor). Hold a dumbbell up above your chest, but hold the head of the dumbbell rather than the handle. The easiest way to do this is to make a diamond shape with your index finger and thumb and to hold the weight of the dumbbell in your palms.
- Keeping your arms straight, lower the dumbbell backwards overhead. Keep lowering until you are in line with your head or until you no longer feel the load in your lats.
- Pull the dumbbell back up to around your eyeline. I recommend stopping here, as I find this keeps tension in my lats rather than shifting to my chest.
- Provides an option beyond rowing movements for training the lats with dumbbells. The lat pullover allows you to train the more commonly used vertical pulling movement (in reference to the body position) while still using dumbbells.
- Great for training the lats with less mid or upper back involvement. The lat pullover isolates the latissimus dorsi far more compared to many of the other exercises discussed in this article.
- Heavily reliant on shoulder mobility. Those with limited shoulder mobility, or pre-existing shoulder issues, may struggle to perform this movement through a full range of motion.
- You cannot use much weight. The range of motion and positions of the lat pullover limit the amount of load you can use. Those with strength-related goals may be better off choosing exercises that allow more load.
If you have limited shoulder mobility, check out Front Squat Mobility: 17 Must-Do Exercises. Many of the mobility drills in this article can help you improve your shoulder mobility.
How To Program
Here is how I would program dumbbell lat pullovers:
Due to the nature of the exercise, I recommend keeping these higher reps to maintain an appropriate level of difficulty without needed extra loading.
- 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions + 1 drop set with 50-70% load. Take these close to failure and push the drop set to failure. This will help you keep relative intensity high without having to push loading.
4. Dumbbell Seal Row
The dumbbell seal row is another of my favorite exercises. Performing these with dumbbells adds even more benefits to an already great option.
How To Do It
- Lie face down on a bench – a specific seal row bench is ideal, but you can also elevate a standard flat bench onto two boxes. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and your arms fully extended.
- Row the dumbbells towards you by driving your elbows back and close to your sides – think of dragging your arm along the side of your torso.
- Pull until your upper arm is in line with your torso and then lower the load until your arms are fully extended again.
- Lying face down prevents cheating. You cannot use torso momentum or leg drive to cheat the movement. This ensures all the loading and movement is controlled by your back.
- There is no loading through the lower back. This makes it a great option for lifters looking to reduce how much they are loading their lower back.
- You will likely need someone to pass you the dumbbells while in position. While this is not inherently an issue if you have training partners, solo lifters may not want to rely on others to help them with setting up for each set.
- Smaller lifters may struggle rowing around a bench. If the lifter is smaller than the width of the bench, this will put them in a compromised position to row from.
Related Article: 15 Best Seated Row Alternatives (With Pictures)
How To Program
Here is how I would program dumbbell seal rows:
Seal rows are great for a variety of rep ranges. However, I personally like pushing them for those low-mid rep ranges as it’s a movement I cannot cheat and can really see where strength progress is being made.
- 3-4 ascending sets of 8-10 reps. Work up in load set to set, starting with a comfortable set of 10 and leaving 3-4 reps in reserve. Increase load closer to failure until you can do 8 reps over 3-4 sets while leaving 1 rep in reserve for each set.
Dumbbell seal rows are a great option for after deadlifting. Check out my article What Else Should I Do On Deadlift Day? (5 Examples) to find out why I recommend them as a deadlift accessory.
5. Incline Rows
Incline rows are another great chest-supported row option and act as an alternative for those without access to a seal row machine.
These offer a lot of the same benefits while working the lats at a different angle.
How To Do It
- Set up an adjustable bench to 30-45 degrees. Lie face down on the bench and hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
- Drive your elbows back towards your hips until your elbows come in line with your torso. Aim to keep your elbows by your sides as you pull.
- Control the weight back to full extension of the arms, allowing the dumbbell to pull you into a full stretch.
- Lying face down prevents cheating. You cannot use torso momentum or leg drive to cheat the movement. This ensure all the loading and movement is controlled by your back.
- The incline helps reinforce pulling towards your hip. I find rowing on the incline reinforces me pulling directly towards my hip rather than straight back. This makes it a good option for those struggling to feel their lats in other rowing movements.
If you struggle to feel your lats when you do pull-ups, check out these 5 tips for activating your lats more during pull-ups.
- Range of motion may be an issue. Those with longer arms may find themselves hitting the floor before their arms are at full extension. A quick fix for this is to stand leaning into the bench rather than fully sitting into it. However, be sure not to use your legs to create momentum.
How To Program
Here is how I would program incline rows:
With these being similar to the seal row, I recommend programming them the same way.
- 3-4 ascending sets of 8-10 reps. Work up in load set to set; starting with a comfortable set of 10 (3-4 reps) in the tank and increase load towards and near failure set of 8 (1 rep left in reserve) over 3-4 sets.
Related Article: 10 Best Cable Back Workouts And Exercises For Muscle Mass
6. Dumbbell Pendlay Rows
The dumbbell Pendlay row is a variation where you allow the weight to come to a dead stop between each rep.
Learn more about the Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row for pros, cons, and differences.
How To Do It
- Stand holding two dumbbells with a neutral grip, lean forward while maintaining a straight back, and rest the dumbbells on the floor. You may want to place a bumper plate or small box on each side if it is impractical to reach the floor.
- From here, row the dumbbells towards your hip while keeping your elbows close to your sides.
- Pull until your upper arms are in line with your torso, then lower the load back to the floor. Allow the dumbbells to come to a dead stop before starting the next rep.
- Reinforces a full range of motion. Due to rowing from the floor, each rep ensures that you complete a full extension of the arm and starts from a consistent position.
- These are easy to cheat. Pulling from a dead stop and lower torso angle can make it more tempting to cheat the load to make the start of each rep easier. Aim to maintain a consistent torso angle throughout the movement.
How To Program
Here is how I would program dumbbell Pendlay rows:
Seeing that these are easier to cheat to work through a full range of motion, I prefer to keep these higher reps and slightly lower loading to reduce the chances of people simply chasing heavy loads to their own detriment.
- 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions. Start with a load you can do for 12 reps and add load for each set that you hit 12 reps. For example, if you only hit 12 reps on your first 2 sets, increase the load for those 2 sets the next time you do this exercise, but keep the weight for your last 1-2 sets the same as the previous session. Keep each set 2-3 reps from failure.
For Pendlay row alternatives you can do with bands, barbells, or machines, check out these 11 highly effective Pendlay row alternatives.
7. Renegade Row
The renegade row is a great option for those looking to introduce more core training without having to do a ton of core-specific exercises.
How To Do It
- Set up in a plank position with your toes on the floor and your body in a straight line while holding onto the dumbbell handles. Have these placed about shoulder-width apart with your palms facing each other.
- Row one dumbbell towards your hip while keeping you elbow close to your side. Maintain the plank position while rowing and keep your torso straight; don’t rotate with the row.
- Lower the dumbbell back down to the ground and repeat with the other side.
- Adds in core training. This combines your back and core training, which can save you time or just help with the adherence of doing your core training as it is built into your back training.
- You cannot use much weight. The positions and core demands of the renegade row limit the amount of load you can use. Those with strength-related goals may be better off choosing exercises that allow more load.
How To Program
Here is how I would program renegade rows:
I prefer these with higher reps and less loading due to the difficulty of maintaining positions and proper execution with excess loading.
- 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. If you struggle maintaining the plank position for these higher rep sets, break them down into more manageable clusters. For example, try doing a set of 12 split into 2 sets of 6 reps with a short 15-20 second rest period in between.
For renegade rows, I recommend using hex dumbbells instead of round dumbbells. Learn more about the differences between the two types of dumbbells in Hex Dumbbells vs Round Dumbbells: Which Are Better?
8. Kroc Row
While this might look like someone is simply cheating to use more load, the Kroc row is an exercise that deliberately uses momentum.
How To Do It
- Set up as per a single arm row, holding a dumbbell in one hand with a neutral grip and supporting yourself on a bench or rack with the other hand. Start with your torso at a 10-20 degree angle.
- Initiate the movement by rowing the weight towards your hip, but allow your torso to move upwards and create momentum to aid each rep.
- Stop when your upper arm is in line with your torso and control the weight back to the start position. Allow a full stretch of the lats at the bottom of each rep.
- Great for breaking strength plateaus. Find your strength progress has stalled on single arm rows? Kroc rows may be what you need to break through and build momentum again.
- Allow for heavier loads. While these are great for breaking through plateaus, they are also great for general strength development of the lats and allowing you to lift more load than other movements.
- It can be difficult to be consistent with how much momentum you are using. To be consistent week to week we want to standardize technique. Introducing momentum to each rep can make it hard to keep consistent.
How To Program
Here is how I would program Kroc rows:
We want to take advantage of these allowing for some momentum and heavier loads, so I recommend keeping these to lower reps.
- 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions. Push these close to failure and increase load if you hit 8 reps on any given set.
Looking for even more alternatives for your lat training? Check out my article 13 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable).
9. Dumbbell Yates Row
The dumbbell Yates row is named after Dorian Yates, a retired bodybuilder and former Mr. Olympia champion. It is used to train the back overall while reducing lower back demands.
How To Do It
- Stand shoulder-width apart, holding two dumbbells with an underhand grip – palms facing upwards/away from you. Lean forward to 45-55 degrees – more upright than most other row variations.
- Row the dumbbells back towards your hips. Think about pulling your elbows into your back pockets. Pull until your upper arm is in line with your torso.
- Lower the dumbbells back to full arm extension, allowing the shoulders to retract and get a full stretch of the lat.
- You can typically use more weight. This makes them a great option for those with strength goals and for training those lower rep ranges.
- Train the lats at a different angle to most rows. Due to the more upright position of the Yates row, you are taking the lats through a slightly different range of motion and angle.
- These have a shorter range of motion. While the more upright torso has its benefits, it also cuts the range of motion you can train the lats through. Therefore, I recommend pairing it with another rowing movement with a longer range of motion.
How To Program
Here is how I would program Yates rows:
Similar to the Kroc row, you want to take advantage of being able to use heavier loads.
- 3-4 ascending sets of 8 repetitions. Start with a load you could do for 10-12 reps, and work up to a near max set of 8 reps, leaving 0-1 reps in reserve.
Still unsure if you are doing enough for your lat training? Check out my article Are Rows And Pull Ups Enough For Back And Biceps? to find out if you should be doing more back exercises.
Other Dumbbell Exercise Guides
- How To Workout Forearms With Dumbbells (10 Exercises)
- 12 Dumbbell Chest Exercises Without A Bench (With Pictures)
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press: How To, Pros, Cons
- 7 Best Dumbbell Chest Fly Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 8 Best Dumbbell Pullover Alternatives (With Pictures)
While lat training is traditionally focused on vertical pulling movements, dumbbells can be a great option to target your lats in a differing range of motion and often with higher loads.
Just like any other muscle, training from a variety of angles, ranges, and loads if key. Consider implementing dumbbell exercises into your training if you want to further improve the strength and size of your lats.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.