The advantages of using dumbbells in a resistance workout are virtually endless. You can achieve greater range of motion, mimic sports or real-life movements, and get a complete workout at home without spending thousands of dollars on exercise machines. Although many people prefer cables, bars and machines for most back exercises, entire back workouts can be performed by using nothing more than dumbbells. The key to maximizing efficiency of these workouts is to combine exercises so all areas of the back are targeted throughout the workout.
The following exercises may be combined in a variety of ways to get an efficient back workout. Try mixing the combinations, always including at least one exercise that targets the posterior deltoids, rhomboids and trapezius, one that focuses on the latissimus dorsi, and one that hits the erector spinae.
Upper Back: Posterior Deltoids, Rhomboids and Trapezius
The posterior deltoids are the rear part of the shoulder muscle, and they are most commonly used for transverse extension and shoulder hyperextension. The rhomboids connect the scapula with the vertebrae of the spinal column, and they are responsible for retraction movements. The trapezius muscle runs from the neck to the shoulders and nearly halfway down the back and is used to retract, medially rotate and depress the scapula.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees slightly bent. Grasping a dumbbell in each hand, bend at your waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor, making sure to keep your back straight. Drop your arms straight down from your shoulders, turn your palms to face each other and slightly bend your elbows. Raise your arms up to the sides by pulling your shoulder blades together. Slowly lower back to the starting position.
Incline Reverse Fly
The incline reverse fly is much like the bent-over dumbbell lateral raise, but you will lie face down on an inclined bench to do the movement. Again focus on pulling your shoulder blades together before slowly lowering your arms back to the starting position.
Middle Back: Latissimus dorsi
The latissimus dorsi is the broad muscle in the middle of the back that, when the latissimus dorsi on the right and left sides are viewed together, resembles a “V” shape. These muscles are commonly referred to as lats, and are key players in a pull-up exercise. The lats are responsible for a number of movements including extension, adduction, transverse extension and internal rotation of the shoulder. They are also used in flexion and extension of the spinal column.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees slightly bent. Keeping your back straight, bend at your waist until your torso is parallel to the floor. Grasping a dumbbell in each hand, lower your arms straight down toward the ground from your shoulders. Contract your lats and bend your elbows to raise the weights to the sides of your body. Return to the starting position.
One Arm Row
This exercise is much like the bent-over row, but you will be isolating one side at a time. Stabilize your left knee and arm on a bench, as you keep your back straight in a bent over position. Focus on contracting your right latissimus dorsi as you bend your right elbow and retract your right shoulder to slowly pull your right hand up by your side. Lower your hand back to the starting position.
Lower Back: Erector Spinae
The lower part of the back is comprised of a group of muscles and tendons known as the erector spinae that support the vertebral column. This group functions to flex and extend the back at the waist.
Stand with your feet hip width apart. Place one dumbbell behind your neck and hold it with both hands, or hold one dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your shoulders. Be careful to not hunch your back as you bend at the waist to lower your torso so it is parallel to the ground. Contract your erector spinae, keep your back straight, and raise your body back to the starting position.
Otherwise known as stiff legged deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts are performed with the legs nearly straight and the knees locked in position. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and position them in front of your body. Bend at your waist, keeping your back straight, and lower your torso until the dumbbells are near the floor. Contract your erector spinae to pull your body back to the starting position.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees unlocked. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms relaxed in front of you. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower the dumbbells toward the floor. Contract your erector spinae, hamstrings and glutes to raise yourself back to the starting position.
When performing back workouts with dumbbells, pay close attention to your form. Watch yourself in a mirror, have a buddy critique your technique, or consult a personal trainer for coaching. Performing various combinations of these exercises will give you a strong, sculpted back, but executing them wrong can injure you.