How To Work Out the Lats With Dumbbells: Top 11 Exercises

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How to Work Out Lats With Dumbbells

This is a no-nonsense guide (besides my generic humor) on how to work out the lats with dumbbells using 11 exercises that actually target the desired muscle (latissimus dorsi).

There won’t be any generic filler movements, only the ones that I believe to be exemplary for the job while still offering enough variety to suit your preference.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pullovers and Helms rows are the best dumbbell exercises for lat isolation.
  • The following movements offer an enhanced range of motion, versatile options, improved muscle balance, and better performance in compound lifts.
  • Focus on tucking the elbows, holding the handles loosely, pulling up and back, and maintaining a neutral spine to effectively target the lats.

11 Best Dumbbell Lat Exercises

I’ll always be a fan of simple exercises that:

A. don’t take 5 minutes to set up the equipment, and B. that I can do for years to come and continue seeing progress.

These follow that trend for the most part.

1. Dumbbell Lat Pullovers

Guide to performing the dumbbell pullover:

  1. Lay with your upper back on a flat bench and feet shoulder-width apart, flat on the ground. Raise your hips so the thighs and torso align.
  2. Cup the end of one dumbbell in your hands with the palms facing up and arms extended straight over your chest.
  3. Lower the DB behind your head while sinking your hips toward the floor.
  4. Stop once your upper arms are next to your ears.
  5. Guide the weight up through your elbows to roughly eye level.

Form Cue:

Pinch your elbows throughout the full range of motion as this will favor the lats instead of the chest.

Keep your arms consistently straight also so there’s not too much tricep involvement.


  • Eccentric muscle action:

Pullovers provide greater shoulder flexion in the eccentric (stretching phase), unlike most dumbbell lat exercises that emphasize shoulder extension in the concentric (shortening phase).

This is noteworthy as superior hypertrophy adaptations have been shown when eccentrics are prioritized.

  • Lat isolator:

There’s less chance of making mechanical errors and you won’t experience whole-back fatigue since this is a single joint movement.

This makes maintaining tension on the lats more manageable.


  • Requires a lot of shoulder mobility

The movement pattern relies heavily on the shoulder joint, which could be an issue if you have an impingement or past injury.

  • Unnatural elbow position:

Some trainees might find it difficult to maintain the pinched elbow position, especially with the single dumbbell grip I portrayed in the video.

A decent fix for this is to hold two dumbbells parallel with each other to place the palms in a natural position.

This increases the restrictions however on how much weight you can use.

Programming Considerations

Under any circumstance (unless you like to ego lift) these should be performed using a lighter dumbbell and going for high rep ranges (2-3 sets x 10-20 reps).

This is a superb accessory to implement at the beginning or end of a back workout to promote blood flow.

2. Helms Rows

Guide to performing the Helms row:

  1. Start by setting an incline bench to 45 degrees, then pick up a DB in each hand with the palms facing each other.
  2. Stand facing the edge of the bench and rest your lower chest on it, slightly bend your knees, and raise your glutes until your torso is parallel with the ground.
  3. Extend your elbows underneath your shoulders.
  4. Drive through your elbows to push the weights back and up, retracting your shoulder blades in the peak contraction.
  5. Extend your elbows downwards and forward without letting the scapula fully protract.

Form Cue:

Imagine you’re a skier and the dumbbells are your poles.

Push them back towards your thighs and up towards your hips to fully engage the lats.


  • Emphasis on stretch and isolation:

The lats are gonna get an amazing range of motion in the lengthened position unless you’re really long-armed or have an insanely short bench.

This will enable more powerful contractions to work them completely.

  • Reduces momentum:

The chest will again be supported, reducing the involvement of third-party muscles and leg drive, similar to the inclined row.

But to a lesser degree than the former.


  • Not a muscle mass builder:

These build muscle in the lats of course, what I mean by muscle mass, is that they won’t spark very much hypertrophy in the whole back.

It’s a good idea to mix in some unsupported variations as well to work the back in its entirety.

Programming Considerations

This is considered an isolation movement, so stick to higher reps, anywhere from 10 to 30.

Program them at the end of your back training as a burnout exercise for 2-4 sets.

I wouldn’t advise using insanely heavy weights, as that’ll defeat the purpose of the exercise.

3. Single Arm Dumbbell Rows

Guide to performing the single-arm dumbbell row:

  1. Set a dumbbell next to a flat bench on the side you intend to row with first.
  2. Set one hand (arm straight) on the front of the bench with that same knee on the back.
  3. Extend your opposing leg back and out with the foot planted on the floor.
  4. Grab the DB in your free hand with the palm faced inward.
  5. Arrange your torso parallel with the floor by elevating your glutes and retaining a nice flat back and neck.
  6. Stretch your shoulder blade down.
  7. Drive your elbow back to row the weight towards your hip.
  8. Squeeze your shoulder blade.
  9. Release to the starting position.

Form Cue:

Don’t get in the habit of using momentum or swaying.

Use a controlled tempo and feel the muscles working or drop to a lighter weight.


  • Unilateral targeting:

Because you’ll be pulling single-sided, these target the lats unilaterally.

Meaning either the left or right region of your lats is receiving fully focused stimulation depending on the arm you’re using.

The best practice is to start with the weaker or underdeveloped side to give it a chance to catch up to the opposing side.

  • The bench helps keep form:

Using the bench to prop your freehand and knee on creates a base of support and reduces the likely hood of swaying or rounding your lower back.


  • Tendency to lift too heavy:

A lot of trainees focus solely on moving the DB up and down rather than using the proper mechanics and muscles to lift it.

They’ll be able to use tons of weight and think they’re super strong.

There’s no real benefit in reality as all they’re gaining is the mark of an ego lifter or an injury, unfortunately.

Programming Considerations

You may be excited to hear that my recommendation for this dumbbell exercise is to use moderately heavy weights in the 6-12 rep zone for 3-5 sets.

Do it towards the beginning of a session when you’re fresh to maximize intensity and hypertrophy.

4. Dumbbell Bent Over Rows

Guide to performing the dumbbell bent-over row:

  1. Set a pair of dumbbells in front of you.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, crouch down, and grasp the DBs using a neutral grip.
  3. Assume an upright position to brace your scapular retractors and core.
  4. Push your hips back and slightly bend your knees to bend forward until the torso is parallel to the ground.
  5. With your arms extended and aligned underneath your chest initiate the row by pulling the DBs toward your hips and retracting the shoulder blades.
  6. Lower towards the ground.

Form Cue:

Maintaining tight glutes with your chest up reduces the load on your lumbar spine.


  • No bench needed:

The requisite is just a pair of dumbbells, making these a simplistic, yet effective exercise for doing in any corner of a packed gym

  • Great posterior chain engager:

These engage the hamstrings, back, and glutes to prepare your body for the impacts of everyday life due to the bent-over nature.


  • Cumbersome on the lower back:

Not having a bench for stabilization causes the erector spinae (lower back muscles) to work harder.

An issue arises when they become fatigued before your lats which can lead to rounding the spine or having to cut the set early.

The lats are then gypped of their potential.

Programming Considerations

These are great for a high-volume day or to burn out the muscles after your compound movements.

My suggestion is 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps in a lighter weight range.

5. Incline Dumbbell Rows

Guide to performing the incline dumbbell row:

  1. Angle an adjustable bench to 45 degrees.
  2. You can either set the DBs on the floor by the bench and pick them up after laying down, or pick them up before laying down (whatever’s more comfortable).
  3. Lay prone with your chest on the edge of the bench, legs straight back, holding the DBs neutrally.
  4. Hang your arms toward the floor then pull with your elbows to move the weights up and back. Retract your scapula at the top.
  5. Fully extend your arms back toward the floor, allowing your scapula to protract.

Form Cue:

Make sure your stomach is pressed against the bench so the spine stays neutral.


  • Reduces reliance on lumbar and core:

The core and lumbar spine don’t have to work as hard since there’s no hip hinge or static upper body lean.

This lessens the likelihood of losing solidity mid-movement and risking injury.

Plus, the extra support provides some pulling leverage, resulting in the ability to lift heavier loads safer.

  • Teaches how to efficiently activate the back muscles:

In correlation with the previous advantage, this also allows you to concentrate on working the mid-upper back muscles.


  • Long limb trainees may not get a full range of motion:

It’s important to get a full elbow extension during the eccentric phase while keeping constant tension.

The weights may touch the ground in this phase for long-armed individuals, however.

Simply stacking a couple of weight plates underneath the side the chest is on can prevent this.

Programming Considerations

The rep/set schemes for the dumbbell incline row are versatile because of the chest support.

You could hone in on the 5 x 4-10 range (strength/hypertrophy), or opt for 3 x 12-15 (hypertrophy/conditioning).

6. Dumbbell Yates Rows

Guide to performing the Yates row:

  1. Standing with your feet hip-width apart grab a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Hinge your hips and lean your torso forward to 45 degrees.
  3. Drive your elbows back, pulling the weights to your waist.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  5. Re-extend your arms and relax your shoulders.

Form Cue:

Don’t over-arch your lower back when leaning forward as this restricts the ability to activate the lats.

Be mindful of keeping a nice flat back and look 10 feet in front of you to retain that 45-degree torso angle.


  • Less taxing on the lower back:

The higher angle won’t put as much gravitational force on your lumbar spine compared to a parallel bent-over row.

Many lifters take advantage of this by overloading their mid-upper back muscles with more weight.


  • Concentrically and eccentrically limited:

It’s difficult to move the scapula into retraction (concentrically) and deep protraction (eccentrically), which restricts lat ROM.

Programming Considerations

I like combining pyramid and back-off sets with these.

The first set is a pretty easy 10 reps for instance just to get the motion down and the lats warm.

Then I’ll make a 20% load increase and do a semi-hard set of 8.

After that is a heavy set which will be a larger jump in weight to hit muscular failure in the 6-8 rep range.

The weight drops back down to the previous from here for a slow set of 6-8 and ends with another decrease to the initial weight I used for 8-10 reps.

There should be approximately 2.5 minutes of rest between sets.

7. Dumbbell Pendlay Rows

Guide to performing the dumbbell pendlay row:

  1. Stand in front of two dumbbells with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Push your hips back and bend forward to parallel, grabbing the DBs with a neutral grip, while keeping them on the floor.
  3. Brace your core and back before explosively pulling them toward the sides of your waist.
  4. Retract your scapula at the top, then lower under control until the weights hit the floor.

Form Cue:

Inhale and tighten your body before initiating each rep while also keeping your trunk statically held flat (don’t sway up or down).


  • Prevents cheating:

The dead stop helps to properly execute the lift as the posterior has to be re-engaged every time.

This ensures solidity and minimizes swaying brought on by tension fatigue.

  • Carry over to compound lifts:

These can help teach you how to brace before and during the action of lifting a load if you have trouble keeping a tight back during deadlifts or squats.


  • End-range concentrated:

These are meant to work the lats in a concentric end range to instill appropriate technique into a trainee’s mind.

Thus eccentric actions are limited by the dead stop.

Programming Considerations

My experience with these has always been in the low end of the hypertrophy rep range (6-10) for 3-4 sets.

Fitness genius Jeff Nippard recommends using lighter loads since there’s no assistance from momentum.

8. Dumbbell Seal Rows

Guide to performing the dumbbell seal row:

  1. Lay prone on an elevated flat bench with your chin dug into it, gazing at the ground.
  2. Your knees should be rested on it too with the legs aligned straight with the upper body.
  3. Grip the DBs so they’re parallel to one another.
  4. Drive your elbows straight up, keeping them tucked at your sides.
  5. Pause before slowly lowering.

You want to fully extend your elbows at the bottom preferably.

You can stack weight plates or boxes under both ends to heighten your bench if it’s too low to the ground.

Just hone in on the end range of motion if you don’t have anything to stack it on.

Form Cue:

Flex your glutes to protect your lower back.


  • Lower back longevity:

It’s easy to squeeze the glutes in this type of prone position, which takes stress off the spine.

  • Removes leg drive:

The feet are completely off the ground so there won’t be any chance for them to help cheat.


  • Requires additional equipment:

This exercise is the only exception on this list in terms of being simple to set up.

Because frankly, it’s a pain in that regard if you decide to stack boxes or plates beneath your bench.

Programming Considerations

You can reserve these for pull days, or if you’re feeling frisky do them with bench press as an agonist-antagonist paired set (APS).

To do so you’d perform a set of bench, rest for 1.5 minutes, then perform seal rows, rest another 1.5 minutes, and continue this sequence for 3-5 sets of 4-8.

9. Dumbbell Renegade Rows

Guide to performing the dumbbell renegade row:

  1. Assume a high plank position with a DB in each hand using a neutral grip.
  2. Spread your legs to shoulder width apart.
  3. Shift your body weight onto the right hand and row your left arm toward your armpit.
  4. Squeeze before lowering and alternating.

Form Cue:

Keep your hips and shoulders square with the ground.


  • Challenges stabilizer muscles:

The renegade row integrates abdominal and oblique stability to prevent torso rotation.


  • Biomechanical errors:

It’s common to fatigue quickly, yielding a tendency to cheat or break form.

Programming Considerations

This is a functional movement so stick to lighter weights for 8-12 reps on each side.

10. Dumbbell Deadlifts

Guide to performing the dumbbell deadlift:

  1. Place the DBs over your toes.
  2. Grasp them with an overhand grip, and stand upright, flexing your lats and core.
  3. Hinge back and lean forward until you feel the hamstrings tense, then bend your knees, bringing the DBs to the floor.
  4. Reverse to the upright position.

Form Cue:

Move your shoulder blades out and forward to spread your lats while also pulling your stomach in towards your spine.


  • Strong and thick posterior:

Nearly the entire posterior musculature is required to properly execute the lift.

Making this a fantastic compound exercise for low-volume hypertrophy or strength.


  • Easy to mess up:

These may not be the safest movement to do for your lower back’s sake if you don’t yet have the technical ability to brace your entire body simultaneously.

Programming Considerations

This deadlift iteration isn’t reserved for strength, but rather for hypertrophy, making it less taxing on the nervous system.

Moderate rep ranges of 5-10 are suggested at the beginning of workouts.

11. Kroc Rows

Guide to performing the Kroc row:

  1. Stand facing the inclined portion of a bench set at about 70 degrees.
  2. Grab a DB in one hand (palm facing in) and take a split stance with the leg of the nonworking arm in front.
  3. Place your free hand on the bench and bend your torso to 15 degrees.
  4. Drive the DB to the side of your chest.
  5. Re-extend, allowing the shoulder blade to stretch downward.

Form Cue:

Squeeze your shoulder blade as you drive your elbow up but don’t pause at the top.


  • Unilateral strength gains:

This single-arm row variant uses forceful rowing with heavy weights, allowing you to equally strengthen both sides.

  • Bigger upper back:

The dumbbell moves straight up rather than swinging back, putting greater emphasis on the upper back while still decimating the lats.


  • Novices beware:

I’d say avoid these for now if you’re new to training.

They’re fast-paced and should only be done after developing the lat connection with slower tempo movements.

Programming Considerations

Intensity is key during this movement and taking a pyramid approach will accomplish that.

Perform 5 sets of 6-20 reps (big gap I know) at the beginning of your workout, increasing each set’s load.

Complete as many reps as possible on your heaviest set.

Related: Ultimate Lats Dumbbell Workout To Build a V-Taper

Overviewing the Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, better known as the lats among us gym bros (and sis’s) is the biggest and baddest of all the back muscles.

Odds are they partook in the process of lifting a heavy box or extending your shoulder backward if you’ve ever tried.

How Frequently Should You Train Them?

Lat workouts can be done 1-3 days per week for a combined total of 10-20 sets depending on your recovery needs and experience.

Beginners should aim for the low end while intermediate to advanced trainees may see better results with more frequent training.

Good Reasons To Do Lat Exercises With Dumbbells

Range of Motion

Dumbbells aren’t restricted by your torso like a barbell is, so you can control the line of pull much easier in comparison.


There are so many different ways to use dumbbells, you can hold one or two, or even put one between your legs and do dumbbell pull-ups.

Reduced Muscle Compensation

Each dumbbell is held independently, preventing assistance from one side to the other when rowing.

Mitigating the chance of developing imbalances.

Exercise Carry Over

The lats are involved in many exercises (squat, bench, deadlift) as primary/secondary movers, or as synergists to protect the spine.

How To Actually Feel the Lats With Dumbbells

Tuck the Elbows

Focus on keeping your elbows tucked by your sides when pulling.

Hold the Handles Loosely

Hold the dumbbell handles just enough to not drop them, grabbing too hard will cause bicep overactivation.

Pull Up and Back

You want to drag the weight up and back towards your hips by leading with the elbows for most rowing exercises.

Hold a Neutral Spine Position

Avoid exaggerated arching and fully avoid rounding your lower back as these restrict lat tension.

Sample Upper Body Pull Workout

This isn’t just a dumbbell lat workout.

It’s an upper-body pulling workout with exercises for the lats/back, rear delts, and biceps.


The bare minimum you want to do is what’s called a specific warm-up prior to a training session.

This is where you’d perform functional movements to get the blood flowing into the joints and muscles that will be used in the primary portion of the session.

You can do a general warm-up as well, time permitting of course, which commonly consists of 5 minutes of low-intensity cardio.

Ultimately the goal is to prevent injury and prepare your body to execute at its best.

  • Cardio of your choice: 5 minutes
  • Dumbbell internal/external rotations: 1 set x 15 reps each
  • Dumbbell Superman pull-ups (demo): 1 set x 12 reps


ExerciseRepsSetsRest (minutes)
Dumbbell Pullover10-1231
Incline Row4-1052.5
Dumbbell Reverse Fly15-2031.5
Spider Curls12-1541.5

Can You Build Lats With Just Dumbbells?

You can build your lats with just dumbbells by prioritizing horizontal pulling and rowing exercises like the:

– Pullover
– Incline row
– Helms row
– Single-arm row
– Bent-over row

What Is the Best Workout for Lats?

The best workout for lats is one tailored to your training age.

Pick a combination of 2-3 vertical pulling and rowing movements if you’re a novice-intermediate.

Start with lat pulldowns for 3 sets of 12 then do single arm rows for 4 sets of 10 and finish off with the helms row for 3 sets of 15.

How Do I Work My Lats With Dumbbells?

Do the bent-over row to work your lats with dumbbells:

1. Grasp a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip.

2. Lean forward so the upper body is parallel with the ground and the arms straight.

3. Drive the weights up and back toward your hips, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower and repeat.

How Do I Make My Lats Bigger?

The best lat exercises to make them bigger are vertical pulling (e.g. pull-ups and pulldowns) and free-weight dumbbell and barbell exercises (e.g. row variations, pullovers).

How Do I Activate My Lats?

To activate your lats via a back exercise keep a light grip (try thumbless) on the handles and always aim the elbows at your hips during the motion.

Press your shoulder blades together and down in the concentric phases also.

How Do You Hit Lats at the Gym?

One of the greatest exercises to hit your lats at the gym is the medium-width overhand grip machine lat pulldown.

What Hits Lats the Most?

The best lat exercises to hit them the most include:

– Lat pulldown variations
– Straight arm pullovers
– Pull-ups
– Helms rows
– Barbell rows


Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!