We’ve all seen that guy or girl at the beach or pool with the tremendous back. Whether it was the “Christmas tree” in the middle back or that lean and athletic look, our heads turned. If you want to build a bigger, stronger, or leaner back, dumbbells are one of the best pieces of weightlifting equipment to use.
Dumbbells naturally lend themselves to sculpting an aesthetically pleasing and balanced back because they force you to train unilaterally or one-sided. This prevents overcompensation from other, potentially stronger muscles.
Let’s break down the muscles in your back, the best dumbbell back exercises, and several dumbbell back workouts to start you off strong! If you have a dumbbell weight set at home, these back exercises make for perfect dumbbell home workouts.
Breaking Down the Muscles in Your Back
Before we deliver the best dumbbell back exercises, we want you to become familiar with the anatomy of your back. Why?
When you know exactly what muscles your working, you’ll improve your mind-to-muscle connection. This will help you go through a mindful range of motion, exerting full control, and focusing on the target muscle. This improves your chances of seeing better results and progress.
Let’s dive into the back muscles from top to bottom.
Types of Back Muscles
There are three types of back muscles:
Superficial Back Muscles: In a nutshell, these are the glory muscles, the ones you see and target during your workouts.
Intermediate Back Muscles: These are the muscles that are typically involved in movements of the thoracic cage. These muscles aren’t usually targeted during workouts; however, a massage therapist or rehab specialist will address them during treatment.
Deep Back Muscles: These are the muscles that you don’t hear much about, but my goodness are they important. Deep back muscles involve movements of the spine.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on superficial back muscles as this is going to be most relevant for helping you attain for fitness goals.
Better known as the “traps,” the trapezius is a big and flat muscle that’s shaped like a triangle. Looking from above, the connecting muscles on each side of the body form a trapezoid, hence the name.
This is one of the most popular muscles to target during back workouts because of how prominent it is for aesthetics.
Associated with shoulder movements, this one muscle has a lot of responsibility. The upper traps elevate and rotate the scapula when you lift your arm. The middle traps retract the scapula. The lower traps pull the scapula down.
Next on our list as we head down the back is the levator scapulae. This small muscle looks like a strap that hooks up the neck to the scapula. (Obviously not a medically accurate description, guys.) It’s primary function is to lift the scapula.
It gets tricky with the rhomboids because there are two different rhomboids. There’s the rhomboid minor and the rhomboid major. Starting from the top of the muscle, you’ll first find the rhomboid minor.
Both rhomboids share the responsibility of retracting and rotating the scapula but they have different insertion and attachment points.
We finish up with the lats. Unquestionably, everyone knows one back exercise for this muscle: the lat pulldown. You’ll find the lats on the sides of your torso, kinda like a pair of mini wings, especially if your intention is to get them huge.
Originating from the lower back, the latissimus dorsi extends, pulls-in, and rotates the upper limbs. Super important muscle for all back-related exercises.
Best Dumbbell Back Exercises
Just like in our other dumbbell exercise articles, we’re going to break everything down according to muscle group. You’ll see the specific name of the muscle in the back and then the exercises that are best suited to develop it using one of our favorite pieces of fitness equipment, the dumbbells.
The levator scapulae isn’t a muscle you often hear about getting stronger. In reality, most people are looking for ways to stretch it out and release it. While that’s important, we believe it’s also essential to strengthen this muscle to avoid any issues with overcompensation or overuse. For that, we recommend the following four-in-one exercise:
Although it’s an exercise that is primary associated with hamstrings and glutes, the dumbbell Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise for the entire posterior chain. We’d recommend throwing a few sets of this in during your back workouts.
Best Dumbbell Back Workouts
You’re (at least a little more) familiar with your back muscles. You know what muscles are firing during certain exercises. Now, it’s time to put everything together with a few dumbbell back workouts.
We’re going to separate the workouts based on fitness goals. We’ll provide different acute variables based on muscle growth, fat burning, and strength building. If you want all three, rotate each of the following workouts from week to week.
Dumbbell Back Workouts for Muscle Growth
For this dumbbell back hypertrophy workout, we’re going to use the supersetting technique. This is when you perform two exercises back-to-back with no break in between. It’s only after you finish the set of the second exercise that you take a break. For example, you’ll perform one set of dumbbell pullovers immediately followed by a dumbbell shrug, then you’ll take a 60 to 90-second break. To make it easier for you, we’ve paired the exercises together with the same letter in the beginning.
A: Dumbbell Pullover: 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
A: Dumbbell Shrug: 3 x 8 – 12
B: Dumbbell Row: 3 x 8 – 12
B: Farmer’s Walk: 3 x 8 – 12
C: Dumbbell Rhomboid Row: 3 x 8 – 12
C: Pull-Ups with a Dumbbell: 3 x – 12
D: Bent Over Y: 3 x 8 – 12
D: Rear Deltoid Fly: 3 x 8 – 12
Dumbbell Back Workouts for Fat Loss
Next up, let’s get that back shredded. The following back workout is high intensity but doesn’t require a ton of weight. This workout is perfect if your dumbbell weight set is on the lower end.
There are no special tricks with this workout. Complete each set followed by a short break of 60 seconds.
- Prone Dumbbell Lat “Pulldown”: 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 x 15 – 20
- Dumbbell Overhead Carry: 3 sets of 50 feet
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row: 3 x 15 – 20
- Dumbbell YTWL: 2 sets of 10 repetitions (moving through each letter once counts as a single repetition)
Dumbbell Back Workouts for Strength
If you’re looking to throw around some serious weight, this is the workout for you. An important note is that you must focus on the repetition range.
You’ll notice most of the primary mover exercises fall in that 3 to 5 repetition range. Therefore, you should pick a dumbbell that is heavy enough so that you can get no more than 5 repetitions.
With that said, if you want to build up your strength but you’re not trying to compete in Strongman, you can simply lower the weights and aim for a 5 to 7 repetition range. Once you build up to the heavy stuff, you can start using the 3 to 5 repetition range.
- Dumbbell Pullover: 3 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions
- Dumbbell Row: 3 x 3 – 5
- Dumbbell Shrug: 3 x 3 – 5
- Farmer’s Walk: 3 x 3 – 5
- Rear Deltoid Fly: 3 x 3 – 5
- Dumbbell YTWL: 3 x 3 – 5
Build Up Your Back with Dumbbell Back Workouts
Whether you want size, strength, or shred, dumbbell back exercises are the way to go. If you want to achieve all three goals, we recommend rotating each of the workouts above from week to week.