10 Top Dumbbell Lat Exercises (Instructions Included!)


10 Top Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Everyone has their own personal goals when working out in the gym. Whether it’s building strength, losing weight, or toning their physique, there’s always a goal in mind. No matter what your personal goals may be, strengthening your back will make the process easier. A strong back, including strong traps, lats, and rhomboids, will help you in nearly every other area of fitness. And all you need is a good set of dumbbells to get started today.

The top 10 lat exercises include Single Arm Dumbbell Rows, Dumbbell Bent Over Rows, Lat Pullovers, Seal Rows, Incline Rows, Pendlay Rows, Renegade Rows, Kroc Rows, Yates Rows, and Reverse Dumbbell Flyes. Lats are the large V-shaped muscles that connect your arms to your spine. Exercising lats effectively yields better posture, greater back strength, and improve shoulder mobility.

Great back strength starts here. Grab a set of solid dumbbells and read on for tips on how to get started now!

How Can I Work My Lats with Dumbbells?

Working your lats with dumbbells is easy. Most exercises that specifically target your lats will look similar at a glance. You’ll either be standing, hinged at the hips with your arms dangling, or lying prone on a bench. From either of these positions, you grip the dumbbells, using a neutral grip, and row it to the body.

There are many different angles and positions to perform this basic movement. However, the rowing motion is what will employ your latissimus dorsi most effectively. In addition, you get some work done with your arms, the rest of your back, and your core.

Of course, make sure you move through the movements slowly, especially at first. Controlling the movement is essential to yielding the most results. You should also start light on the weights until the form feels right.

What Are 3 Exercises for the Lats?

There are many exercises that target your lats, but they can mostly be categorized into 3 movements.

Rowing is one of the basic exercises that target the lats. Movements will include the single arm row, bent over row, Pendlay row, Kroc row, and more. Basically, by pulling weight towards the body from a specific angle, your lats are engaged more than other exercises. Rows are the unrivaled champs of lat building exercises, especially with dumbbells.

Pullovers are another of the basic exercises that target the lats. While rows are fairly straightforward, pullovers are a little more complicated because of the positioning. Pullovers also rely on shoulder mobility, as the range of motion might be difficult for less flexible individuals.

Flyes are the third and final type of exercise that target your lats. While regular flyes target the chest, reversing the movement helps build a strong back. Assuming the bent over row position and getting in a set of reverse flyes is a fantastic way to hit the back.

Try mixing these 3 types of exercises together in a set to get the best results. Variety is the spice of life, but it’s also crucial for muscle confusion and stimulating growth.

How Can I Work My Lats at Home?

A pulldown machine is great at the gym. At home, however, it’s unlikely that you have such a big and specialized piece of equipment just lying around. At home, you’ll need to get a little more creative to keep the gains coming.

A great set of dumbbells works well at home. Using just two dumbbells at any given time, you can hit your lats from numerous angles. This will help you build lat strength, overall back strength, and encourage hypertrophy.

Top 10 Lat Exercises

You don’t need special equipment to get a great lat workout. A simple set of dumbbells will do. Here are our picks for the best lat exercises you can do with just dumbbells.

1) Single Arm Dumbbell Rows

The single arm dumbbell row is a fairly common movement you’ll see at the gym. It can be done by leaning forward over your knee, but it’s much easier if you also happen to have access to a bench or chair.

Here’s how to properly perform the single arm dumbbell row:

  1. Pick up one dumbbell with a neutral grip and place your free hand on the bench or chair in front of you. If no bench is available, take a wide lunging stance and lean over your knee instead. Your chest should be near horizontal and your back should be flat.
  2. Let the dumbbell dangle in front of your body with your arm fully extended.
  3. Pull the dumbbell up toward your body. Squeeze at the top of the movement.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.
  5. Switch arms and repeat the set. Rest.

As with any bent over row, refrain from jerking your body to move the weight. If you can’t move the weight by pulling with your arms and squeezing your back, you are likely going too heavy. You’re better off using a lighter dumbbell to get a controlled rep and good contraction than swinging the weight wildly.

Always prioritize your form over lifting heavier weight.

2) Dumbbell Bent Over Rows

Just like barbell bent over rows, these are great at targeting your back and hitting those lats. Unlike the barbell, however, you can choose to row with a pronated or neutral grip depending on what feels best to you.

Here’s how to do dumbbell bent over rows with good form:

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and lean forward. Your chest should be almost parallel with the floor. Your back should be flat, neck straight, and knees slightly bent. Hinge at your hips and let the dumbbells dangle with your arms fully extended.
  2. Pull the dumbbells up to your body, keeping your elbows tight and the bar paths straight. Squeeze at the top of the contraction.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

The bent over rows will work your upper back and lats but be mindful of your lower back. If you lose the form and round your back, it will put undue stress on your lower lumbar and could lead to injury. Make sure you are hinging at the hips and holding your core tight throughout the set.

3) Dumbbell Lat Pullovers

Dumbbell lat pullovers are similar to skull crushers, and that’s exactly what will happen if you let the weight slip from your grip. Be sure to use a weight that is appropriate and that you can handle so you don’t find out firsthand how it earned that name.

Here’s how to do dumbbell lat pullovers properly:

  1. Lie on a bench with feet flat and hips elevated in a glute bridge position. Your upper back should be in contact with the bench while you hold one dumbbell with both hands over your face.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, bring the weight back behind your head. Continue the movement until you are in line with your head.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

Those familiar with skull crushers will be familiar with the positioning, but there are some differences. For instance, you want to elevate your hips during pullovers, but this is not necessary with skull crushers.

In addition, your arms move as a unit during pullovers, whereas you hinge at the elbow for skull crushers. That’s why skull crushers are great for tris, while pullovers target the lats most.

4) Dumbbell Seal Rows

We’re not entirely sure why these are called “seal” rows. You don’t particularly look like a seal or sea lion at any point. I guess you could seal the set with a kiss or stamp your seal of approval on it. Otherwise, we’re stumped.

That doesn’t make it any less effective, however, as lying prone keeps you from using your torso to assist the movement. Lying flat eliminates your ability to cheat reps, which means you’ll get a great workout despite yourself.

Here’s how to do dumbbell seal rows:

  1. Lie flat on a bench. You will likely need to elevate the bench using two boxes so that your arms do not touch the floor. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and let the arms dangle.
  2. Pull your arms up to your body in the rowing motion. Squeeze at the top of the contraction.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

Basically, it will look like a lazy bent over row. However, as stated before, the lying position is crucial in keeping the reps focused on your arms and lats. It’s an overall great exercise to implement in your rotation immediately.

5) Dumbbell Incline Rows

The dumbbell incline row looks kind of like a lat pulldown but flipped upside down. Using an incline bench, you basically lie flat on the back pad and row the dumbbells up to your body. Just like with the lat pulldown, you pull the weight into the body and squeeze the lats.

Here’s how to do a set with great form:

  1. Set an incline bench at the correct angle and sit down backwards. You want to push your chest and stomach into the back pad so you’re essentially lying flat on the back pad.
  2. Allow your arms to dangle in front of your body with a dumbbell in each. Your grip should be neutral or pronated.
  3. Pull the weight up toward your body in a rowing motion. Squeeze your back at the top of the movement.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

These are especially great if you wanted to get in a set of lat pulldowns but someone else is on the machine. Instead of cooling down while you wait, set up a bench and get the set in anyway.

6) Dumbbell Pendlay Rows

Look fast and you might not notice if you just saw someone doing a bent over row or a Pendlay row. Pendlay rows, named for the famous coach Glenn Pendlay, look similar. However, the key difference is that the weights come to a full stop between reps

Here is how to properly perform the dumbbell Pendlay row:

  1. Lean forward while holding a dumbbell in each hand until you can place them on the floor in front of you. A bumper plate or box may be used if you cannot reach the floor from a standing position.
  2. Pull the dumbbells up from this position, rowing toward your hips. Keep your back flat, neck straight, and a very slight bend in your knees.
  3. Return the dumbbells to the floor and release tension before the next rep.
  4. Repeat as needed.

Losing tension completely between reps forces you to re-engage each muscle every single time. Instead of using momentum, you’re going from a dead stop into an explosive motion over and over again. It’s one of the best ways to build explosive pulling power and back strength.

7) Renegade Rows

If you’ve been looking for a full upper body blaster that requires minimal equipment, look no further. Renegade rows combine push-ups with dumbbell rows for an extremely effective and efficient exercise. You’ll hit your arms, back, and chest, all while holding a tight core and strong legs.

Here’s how to properly do a set of renegade rows:

  1. Get into the push-up position while holding two dumbbells.
  2. Lower your chest to the floor slowly. Keep your elbows close to the body during the motion.
  3. Push your body back up into the starting position.
  4. Row one dumbbell up to your chest, keeping the elbow tight.
  5. Row the other dumbbell up.
  6. Complete steps 1 through 5 as needed.

Renegade rows are absolutely vicious. The important thing to remember here is not to rush through. When the reps start to become more challenging, and they sure will get challenging, keep things controlled. Check in with your form as often as is needed to make sure you’re not rushing to the end. You’ll get better results if you take it slow and controlled.

8) Kroc Rows

Remember everything we’ve been saying about controlling the motion completely and avoiding momentum? Great. Now throw it out the window.

The Kroc row is designed to allow for momentum to assist. It’s useful for helping get past strength plateaus, similar to how kipping pull-ups and jerk lifts will help us get better at their strict variations.

Here’s how to perform a Kroc row properly:

  1. Start in a position similar to the bent over row, but at a less extreme angle. Stabilize your offhand while gripping one heavy dumbbell in the other with a neutral grip.
  2. Row the weight towards your hip, allowing your torso to turn and assist the movement. Be sure to lift with your back and not your bicep.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.
  4. Repeat for your other arm.

Remember– just because we’re breaking our “no momentum” policy doesn’t mean to go crazy. You still want to show some degree of control during the motion and not totally throw inhibitions to the wind. Flailing or jerking too wildly could lead to injury.

Be cautious when performing a set of Kroc rows.

9) Dumbbell Yates Rows

Named for former Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates, this row variation features a more upright posture versus other variations. The result– excellent attention to your full back while providing some relief to the lower back.

Here’s how to perform a set of dumbbell Yates rows:

  1. Stand at a 45-degree angle with a dumbbell in each hand. Your back should be flat, neck straight, and eyes forward with a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Row the dumbbells back towards your hips keeping the elbows tight during the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

This more upright position should be easier to maintain versus the bent over row. It’s still a great option too, hitting the whole back from a more natural, almost standing position.

10) Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

From the bent over row position, you can also fly the dumbbells out to each side and get a nice contraction in your back. This helps build better back strength, including the traps, rhomboids, and lat muscles.

Here’s how to perform a set of reverse dumbbell flyes:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Hinge at your hips to lean forward while keeping a flat back. Let your arms dangle in front of you. Bend slightly at your knees and elbows. Keep your neck straight.
  2. Bring your arms up and out simultaneously, squeezing your back at the top of the motion. Be sure to keep your neck straight. Do not jerk the weight up or cock your neck during the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

The reverse dumbbell fly can also be performed while lying prone on a bench. Standing makes the movement a bit easier, but also requires a strong lower back and tight core to perform properly.

Lat Exercises for Women

Let’s toss in this crucial disclaimer first and foremost–

The above exercises are gender neutral. Any exercise that benefits a man will also benefit a woman. There are no gender-specific exercises that women should use that men should not and vice versa.

With this in mind, any of the above will work wonders for your lats, male or female. Lat pulldowns are exceptional, but you must have the machine at home or be in the gym to use it. Therefore, dumbbells are a great alternative.

Try working through each of the above exercises in one set. Aim to do 10 repetitions of each movement with some rest in between, then rest and repeat as needed.

Lower Lat Exercises

The lats are a relatively large muscle which can be separated into the upper and lower lats. Squeezing a contraction on most lat-focused exercises will help you work the entire muscle. That said, there are some exercises or variations that target the lower lats more.

If you’re looking to hit the lower lats hard for a perfectly chiseled back, look no further. Here are our recommendations and tips for tweaking lat exercises so that they target the lower lats.

Pulldowns pull it off.

There’s a reason the pulldown machine is so popular. If you’re at the gym and you have access to the pulldown machine, starting here is a great way to get going. The pulldown machine lets you do a wide grip or close grip. It lets you try a pronated, supinated, or neutral grip. You could use a straight bar, curved bar, or V-bar.

There are a lot of options and variations when using the pulldown machine, all of which will supplement your efforts. For more targeting of the lower lats, try a straight bar, close grip, supinated grip combination. This will hit your lower lats more.

In fact, just to expand on that…

Don’t underestimate the underhand.

Say “what’s up” to the supinated grip. Gripping the bar or the dumbbells with an underhand grip and palms facing you will target the lower lats more than the overhand or neutral alternatives.

Performing dumbbell rows might feel strange using an underhanded grip. However, it’s essential if you’re trying to cultivate the perfectly sculpted back you see in magazines. Try switching your traditional pronated grip sets for supinated grip sets every other session for the best results.

Row, row, row your bod.

Beyond pulldowns, pullovers, and the occasional set of reverse flyes, the rows are your best weapon for back-building glory. You’ll get amazing results from the top to the bottom of your lats by regularly rowing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using dumbbells, a barbell, or even a household object. Rowing will get you where you need to go for building overall lat size and strength.

Make sure your form is tight, you squeeze your contractions, and you complete the full range of motion. Rows that bring the weight to your hips will be especially effective for the lower lats. Start light at first and squeeze the contraction hard at the end of the movement.

You can always scale to greater weight later on once the form feels comfortable. Start light, start slow, and you will realize great results in due time.

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Christopher Covello

Christopher’s personal fitness and nutrition journey began in 2009 when he was working as a short order cook and came to recognize that his habits were unhealthy and unsustainable. He educated himself on mindful eating and balanced nutrition and has prioritized healthy living ever since. Today, Christopher writes in the fitness and nutrition niche, and is often found running, hiking, rock climbing, Spartan Racing, training at his CrossFit box, or practicing yoga.

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