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One-arm or single-arm rows are a unilateral exercise that strengthens each side of your back individually to mitigate strength and muscular imbalances.
I will give you all the details on how to do one-arm dumbbell rows with the correct form in today’s article.
This includes pulling in different ways to emphasize your upper back or lats more, along with variations that may be better suited for your workout routine.
|Target Muscles||Trapezius/Rhomboids or Latissimus Dorsi/Teres Major|
|Secondary Muscle Groups||Core, Arms, Shoulders|
|Equipment Needed||Dumbbell, Weight Bench (optional)|
|Requisite Fitness Level||Beginner|
|Movement Pattern||Horizontal Pull|
|Set/Rep Schemes||4 x 6-12 (Hypertrophy), 4 x 12+ (Endurance)|
Table of Contents
One-Arm Dumbbell Row Video Tutorial
Pay attention to the different angles of my elbow during these demos.
This is the factor that determines which muscles are the prime movers.
Upper-Back Focused Version
This upper back-focused single-arm row is excellent for strengthening the muscles that inhibit scapular control when underdeveloped.
It recruits the middle traps, rear delts, and rhomboids with less reliance on the lats as it predominantly uses retraction and abduction.
Step 1: Body and Grip Position
You will use a primarily pronated grip with the pinky turned outwards.
This creates more elbow flare to manipulate the line of pull for achieving greater horizontal/vertical abduction and scapula retraction.
- Set your right hand and knee on a flat exercise bench.
- Plant your left foot out to the side.
- Position your back parallel to the floor.
- Grab the DB in your left hand using a pronated grip.
- Grip the center of the handle.
- There should be about a 70-degree gap between your upper arm and torso.
Form Tip: Contract your glutes and core isometrically to protect your low back.
Step 2: Concentric Action
To feel your upper back muscles at the top of the movement, I want you to emphasize squeezing the shoulder blades together as you flex your elbow up in a straight line.
- Start with your arm extended beneath your chest.
- Inhale and bend your arm to move the weight toward your outer chest.
- Drive your elbow up and around your back to fully engage the scapula while exhaling at the end of the movement.
Form Tip: Puff your chest while pulling for a deeper contraction.
Step 3: Eccentric Action
You’re going to allow the upper back to round downward to achieve a greater range of motion and deepen the muscle stretch during the eccentric.
- Protract your scapula and straighten your arm toward the floor under control.
- Lower the weight inward until your arm is fully extended to the starting position.
Form Tip: Re-brace your glutes and core after inhaling to keep your back in the proper position before pulling again.
- Too much elbow flare:
There will be excessive stress on the tendons and shoulder when you row with your elbows flared past 90 degrees to your lateral waist.
Align your elbow with your mid-lower chest when flaring it.
- Not pulling high enough:
The traps and rhomboids won’t achieve a full concentric contraction if you’re not pulling high enough.
Drive your elbow behind your body until your scapula is as tight as possible.
Try pulling your elbow above your rear delt as a general rule of thumb.
- Facing forward:
Facing forward hyperextends the neck, putting the nerves and cervical spine in an unsafe position.
Direct your gaze toward the floor and have a flat back and neck so the entire spine stays fairly neutral.
Enhances Scapular Retraction
The traps and rhomboids are prime controllers and stabilizers during scapular movement.
One of the most notable is retraction, or squeezing the shoulder blades together.
This position helps extend the thoracic spine during exercise, ensuring proper form.
The traps promote healthy neck extension, protecting it during strainful activities.
Easier To “Feel” the Muscles
Most people don’t have a problem feeling their upper back during rows as the straight-line movement pattern is straightforward compared to a lat-focused variation.
Puts the Wrist and Elbow in an Uncomfortable Position
The partially pronated (overhand) grip and flared elbow can be less comfortable on the wrist and shoulder joint since it’s unnatural.
The traps are a slow twitch dominant muscle (respond better to high reps) while the rhomboids are primarily fast twitch (respond better to lower reps).
However, both muscles consist of each fiber type so I suggest doing this row toward the beginning of a workout for 4-5 sets of 8-15 reps.
Do 2-3 of the sets with lighter weights for higher reps (12-15) and finish off with a set or two of lower reps (8-11) using heavier weights.
- Upper back single-arm row
- Sets: 5
- Reps: 8-15
- Overhand grip dual bent-over row
- Sets: 3
- Reps: 6-10
- Sets: 1
- Reps: 15-20
Lat Focused Version
The lat-focused version mainly works shoulder extension (moving the upper arm to the side of the waist from in front of the body).
This directly engages the lats and teres major, which are critical for glenohumeral joint function.
Step 1: Body and Grip Position
The parallel body angle won’t change from the former version.
Your elbow will be tighter to the torso though with the thumb facing forward to promote vertical shoulder extension.
- Position your left knee and hand on a flat bench.
- Plant your right foot out to the side.
- Position your body horizontally above the bench.
- Neutral grip the DB handle with your pinky against the rear.
- Allow 15-45 degrees of spacing between your upper arm and waist.
Form Tip: Have a rounded forward shoulder position on the working side, to begin with the lat in a stretched position.
Step 2: Concentric Action
The concentric is going to be more of a swing up and back, rather than a straight-line pull.
You should begin with your right arm extended with the back of the dumbbell underneath your shoulder.
- Inhale and flex your elbow to drive the DB toward your hip.
- Tighten your scapula and scarcely rotate your torso as you row.
- Exhale at the top.
Form Tip: Stop pulling once your upper arm reaches the side of the body.
This prevents excessive scapular retraction so the traps and rhomboids don’t take control during the peak contraction.
Step 3: Eccentric Action
The dumbbell should move down and slightly forward during the lowering phase to maintain tension and prime the lats stretch-shortening cycle.
- Begin to protract your scapula.
- Extend your arm to lower your hand below the front of your shoulder.
Form Tip: Remember to engage your core and glutes and also face the floor to keep your neck and spine in a neutral position.
- Excessive torso rotation:
The most common mistake I see trainees make with any rowing exercise is twisting their hips for extra momentum to lift the load.
This engages the obliques more and limits the amount of tension on the back.
It is okay to use slight momentum to break past the concentric resistance curve.
- High torso angle:
When the torso is angled above 30ish degrees to the floor, working the lats through a full range of motion is inhibited.
Lean your torso as close to parallel as you can comfortably.
- Pulling too high:
End the concentric when your upper arm is in line with your waist as pulling too high will transfer tension to the traps and rhomboids.
Isolates Your Lats Without Much Weight
This exercise won’t require crazy heavy loads since stimulation is emphasized towards lat growth with restricted assistance from the upper back musculature.
This version utilizes shoulder extension via the lats and teres major since the elbows are tucked.
These two muscles are important for humerus stability.
When they’re strengthened, the upper arm bone becomes more mobile and less injury prone.
Healthier Wrist Position
The neutral grip (palms facing each other) is how the wrists naturally rest next to the body.
Awkward Line of Pull
This exercise can be hard to perform properly once fatigued due to the up-and-back swinging motion of the weight.
Trouble “Feeling” the Muscles
Again, the line of pull is awkward and if mental focus is lacking or you don’t have a good connection with your lats in general, it is difficult to feel them working.
These are meant to focus the lats, however, they’re a multi-joint movement, meaning other muscles are still relied upon.
Place them toward the end of your workout after heavy compounds to isolate the slow twitch fibers.
Opt for high reps (12+) using a lighter weight so you don’t impede your ability to perform the up-and-back dumbbell motion with good form.
- Kroc row
- Sets: 5
- Reps: 8-10
- Lat/teres major single-arm row
- Sets: 3
- Reps: 12-14
- Dumbbell pullover
- Sets: 2
- Reps: 10-12
One-Arm Dumbbell Row Muscles Worked
No matter what modifications you make, one-arm dumbbell rows are a compound exercise that hit more than one muscle.
The major muscles involved are the:
- Rhomboid Major
- Teres Major
The trapezius is a big upper back muscle and prime mover during scapular retraction and abduction, which are critical for the first row version.
The lats are a massive yet surprisingly stingy muscle to grow.
They cover the middle and lower spine to perform anatomical functions like shoulder extension and adduction and assist lumbar movement.
These bad boys hold the scapula in place on the ribcage and work with the traps during retraction.
I often confuse soreness in my teres major with the lats since this little muscle sits directly above them, acting congruently to adduct and extend the shoulder.
Other Movers and Stabilizers
- Posterior deltoids: move the shoulder through horizontal abduction.
- Spinal erectors and core: encourage proper posture in the bent-over position.
- Forearm flexors: bend the elbow and grip the dumbbell.
One-Arm Row Variations and Alternatives
These horizontal pulling exercises boast unilateral benefits with some putting priority on different muscles from the two above.
- Kroc Row
- Renegade Row
- Plank Row
- Dual Bent-Over Row
- Meadows Row
1. Kroc Row
The Kroc row is a single-arm dumbbell row variation that utilizes a heavy dumbbell with high reps and a fast tempo.
This is a great exercise for developing the upper back and improving grip strength, especially useful to improve deadlift lockouts and mitigate unilateral strength imbalances.
For best results, do 3-4 warm-up sets of 8-10 reps then a heavy set for as many reps as possible.
2. Renegade Row
Renegade rows are a great way to build functional strength, and hip and core stability if you struggle with your torso twisting too much with the one-arm row.
If you’re a combat sports athlete or partake in another activity that uses a lot of small stabilizer muscles try these for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
3. Elevated Plank Row
Elevated plank rows are similar to the former exercise, however, your body will have an upward angle to the floor to increase the ROM.
I recommended starting on a flat bench doing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps and progressing to a stability ball for a greater challenge.
4. Dual Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
This simple exercise saves time since you’re rowing with both arms together.
The trade-off is that you’ll need greater lower body and abdominal strength since you don’t have a stable surface to lean on.
It’s also a bilateral horizontal pulling movement, which is less effective for imbalance prevention.
If you suffer from lower back pain, you can angle your body at 45 degrees to the floor instead of parallel.
Aim to do 3 sets of 10 reps per workout, using slightly heavier weights each time.
5. Meadows Row
These use pretty much the same movement pattern as the upper-back-focused single-arm row, but you’ll be using a barbell and a landmine (or corner wall) instead of a dumbbell.
Make sure your elbows are flared to direct emphasis onto the correct muscles by using an overhand grip.
The bar sleeve tends to get slippery, especially if you’re a sweaty boy like me, so I recommend equipping wrist straps or chalk so your grip doesn’t screw you out of getting extra reps.
John Meadow’s suggestion is to perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps at the beginning of a workout.
What Is a One-Arm Dumbbell Row?
A one-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral back exercise to prevent or fix imbalances in strength and muscle development.
It consists of bending your upper body to a horizontal floor position while holding a dumbbell in one hand, pulling it to the side of your body, then re-extending toward the floor.
What Does the One-Arm Dumbbell Row Work?
The one-arm dumbbell row works the muscles of the back including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboid major, and trapezius.
It also recruits the forearm flexors and shoulder muscles including the biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, and teres major and rear delts.
Is the One-Arm Dumbbell Row Good?
The one-arm dumbbell row is a good exercise for building evenly developed, strong back and core muscles to promote good posture by stabilizing the shoulder girdle and spine.
How To Do One-Arm Dumbbell Rows Without a Bench?
To do one-arm dumbbell rows without a bench:
– Extend your left leg back into a high lunge position.
– Hinge your hips to angle your torso horizontally with the floor.
– Grasp a dumbbell in your left hand with the palm faced inwards and the arm extended below your body.
– Prop your free hand on your right knee.
– Pull the weight to belly button height and squeeze your shoulder blade before releasing to the starting position.
How To Do One-Arm Dumbbell Rows on a Bench?
To do one-arm dumbbell rows on a bench:
– Place one knee and hand onto the bench.
– Neutrally hold a dumbbell in your other hand and plant the corresponding foot onto the floor just behind your glutes.
– Position your torso parallel over the bench.
– Bend your arm to pull the weight to the side of your waist while retracting your scapula.
– Straighten your arm toward the floor and repeat.
Do the One Arm Row To Grow!
Remember this is a unilateral movement so it can help close the gap if you have any weaknesses in either side.
Just be mindful of which side you row with first.
Always begin with the weaker side and never perform extra reps or use more weight on the stronger side as this defeats the purpose of fixing the imbalance.
If you’re looking to build a fuller, stronger back, with everything above in mind, give the one-arm dumbbell row exercise a go.