8 Best Lat Exercises With Dumbbells (Have a Thicker Back)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: March 11, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Our content is meticulously researched and reviewed by an expert team of fact checkers and medical professionals. They ensure accuracy, relevance, and timeliness using the latest reputable sources, which are cited within the text and listed at the end of the article. Before publication and upon significant updates, we confirm factual accuracy, committed to providing readers with well-informed content. Learn more.

It may be challenging to build your lats by solely relying on pull-up bars, lat machines, and similar gym equipment.

That's why you should start performing dumbbell lat exercises to boost your lat hypertrophy and build more strength. Plus,  these exercises are versatile and can be done anywhere.

Based on our firsthand experience and after testing numerous dumbbell lat exercises, we singled out the best ones for building muscle. After the testing phase, I concluded that the dumbbell lat exercises below are the most effective.

Keep reading to learn about the best dumbbell lat exercises with dumbbells, how to warm up before every session, how to progress, and more.

Quick Summary

  • To effectively build and strengthen lat muscles, incorporate dumbbell exercises like bent-over rows, single-arm rows, and Kroc rows into your workout routine.
  • Among the most effective exercises for targeting the lats is the bench-supported dumbbell row, which allows for focused muscle isolation due to the stability provided by the bench.
  • According to research found on the National Institute of Health website, the latissimus dorsi is the largest back muscle and plays a crucial role in various movements and exercises, necessitating a diverse range of exercises for optimal development.
  • In my view, the inclusion of diverse dumbbell exercises for lats is essential for a well-rounded back workout, catering to both beginners and advanced individuals.

8 Best Dumbbell Exercises for Lats

Lifting dumbbell for back workout

Strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscles enhances posture by aligning the spine, shoulders, and hips, and aids in daily activities like lifting by providing better support and stability.

My team and I tested all dumbbell lat exercises from the list to ensure injury-free movements and the best possible muscle-building effects.

Beginners may do all exercises from the list below without worrying about having sufficient experience.

Read our guide on the best lat pulldown machines for home gyms to pick a high-quality lat machine without compromising durability, material, and functionality.

Keep reading below to learn the best dumbbell lat exercises.

"Many people think the best way to train your lats is with vertical pulling exercises like the pull-up, chin-up, and lat pulldown. And while there’s no denying that these are among the best lat exercises, only doing vertical pulling exercises is not the best way to make your lats wider."

- Mike, Certified Personal Trainer & Bestselling Author of Bigger Leaner Stronger

1. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

Bent-over dumbbell row is among the best compound exercises, and dumbbell lat exercises follow a horizontal pull movement pattern. It will build a strong back and lats while challenging your rear deltoids and bicep muscles. This exercise is ideal for those looking to improve their upper-body strength.

How to Perform a Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

  1. Pick a dumbbell of appropriate weight in each hand and ensure you can perform at least 8 repetitions.
  2. Find 1 square meter of free space and assume a standing position with your feet a little narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lean forward and transition to a bent-over position by bending forward in your hips, where your body becomes almost parallel to the floor (arms straight, pointing towards the floor).
  4. Start the exercise by rowing two dumbbells towards your hip while maintaining 90 degrees of flexion in your elbow.
  5. When you maximally extend your shoulder and dumbbells arrive at hip level, hold the position for 1 second.
  6. Return to the starting position by extending your elbows and flexing your shoulder joint.

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Performing single arm dumbbell row

The single-arm dumbbell row is among the most functional dumbbell lat exercises.

It follows the same movement pattern and effectively targets your lats, traps, rear delts, and bicep muscle. It's also great for improving unilateral strength and balance.

How to Perform a Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

  1. Pick one dumbbell of appropriate weight and hold it in your right arm. Ensure you can perform between 6-8 repetitions of this exercise.
  2. Find at least 1 square meter of free space and assume a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend your torso forward, so it becomes parallel to the floor while maintaining slight flexion in your knee joint.
  4. Start the exercise by rowing with your right hand towards your hips while maintaining elbow flexion of 90 degrees.
  5. When the dumbbell reaches the hip level, hold that position in isometric contraction for one second.
  6. Reverse the whole range of motion to return to the starting position.
  7. After you finish up to 8 repetitions, switch the working arm.

3. Dead-Stop Dumbbell Row

The dead-stop incline dumbbell row is a variation of the traditional bent-over row, perfect for more athletic endeavors.

It is among themost dumbbell lat exercises for building explosive strength in your lats, traps, and rear delts, so you can punch faster, throw the ball further, and similar.

How to Perform a Dead-Stop Dumbbell Row

  1. Find a dumbbell of appropriate size and hold it in your right hand. Make sure you can perform up to 4 or 5 repetitions with each hand.
  2. Place a flat bench in front of you and your left or non-working arm on it to support your body weight.
  3. Your body should be parallel to the ground, your left arm on the bench, and your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees flexed slightly less than 180 degrees.
  4. Start the exercise by rowing the dumbbell from the floor to your hip level.
  5. Immediately put the dumbbell back on the floor without stopping and repeat the same process.

4. Cross-Bench Dumbbell Pullover

Doing cross bench dumbbell pullover

The cross-bench dumbbell pullover is an excellent and functional exercise that builds stability in your core and lower body.

It is one of the most effective dumbbell lat exercises for isolating the latissimus dorsi.

How to Perform a Cross-Bench Dumbbell Pullover

  1. Pick a dumbbell in both hands to perform at least 8 repetitions.
  2. Place a flat bench behind you and lie with your shoulder blades on it, so your head hangs off the bench.
  3. Bring your hips up in the bridge position while holding the dumbbell with both your hands right above your chest (elbows fully extended),
  4. Start the exercise by lowering the dumbbell behind your head while extending your elbows fully.
  5. When the dumbbell reaches the line of the bench, return to the starting position by reversing the whole movement.

Also Read: How To Do Dumbbell Pullover Properly

5. Kroc Row

The Kroc row is a variation of a single-arm dumbbell row. The exercise is performed in a split stance, and your non-working arm supports your body weight by being placed on an elevated surface, for example, a bench.

How to Perform a Kroc Row

  1. Pick a dumbbell of appropriate size in your right hand and find a flat bench or a plyo box at least the height of your hips.
  2. Put your non-working arm on the box, bend your torso forward, so it is almost parallel to the floor, and place your feet shoulder-width apart while maintaining your knees slightly flexed.
  3. Start the exercise by working the dumbbell with your right hand towards your hip.
  4. When you reach the hip level, hold for one second and slowly return to the starting position by flexing your shoulder and extending your elbow.

6. Three-Point Dumbbell Row

Doing a three point dumbbell row

The three-point dumbbell row is a single-arm row variation where your non-working arm supports your body weight, and your feet remain parallel.

It is one of the most effective dumbbell lat exercises for building your lats and strength in your pull movement pattern.

How to Perform a Three-Point Dumbbell Row

  1. Find a dumbbell of the appropriate size to complete at least 8 repetitions.
  2. Place your non-working arm on the bench or a ply box at the height of your hips and keep your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel while maintaining your knees flexed.
  3. Start the exercise by rowing the dumbbell with your working arm towards your hips while maintaining your elbows’ angle at 90 degrees during the mid- and end portions of the exercise.
  4. When the dumbbell reaches the level of your right hip, hold the position for a second and then return to the starting position by extending your elbows and flexing your shoulders.

7. Bird Dog Row

The bird dog row is one of my favorite rowing dumbbell lat exercises since it requires enormous stability in your core.

It will effectively build your lats, traps, rear delts, and bicep while also improving the function of your core musculature. It is similar to a renegade row but better for building a more stable trunk.

How to Perform a Bird Dog Row

  1. Pick a dumbbell of slightly lighter weight than usual and find a flat bench.
  2. Assume kneeling with your left leg on the flat bench and keep the dumbbell in your left arm.
  3. Your right hand should support your body weight by being placed on the bench, and your right leg should be fully extended in the air and parallel to the floor.
  4. Start the exercise by inhaling, bracing your core, and rowing the dumbbell to your left hip.
  5. When you reach the level of your hips, hold the position for one or two seconds, and then reverse the whole motion to return to the starting position.

8. Bench-Supported Dumbbell Row

Using bench to support dumbbell row

The bench-supported dumbbell row is the easiest way to isolate lats.

You can focus on only contracting your lats since the bench will provide enough stability to not spend extra energy on keeping your body balanced.

How to Perform a Bench-Supported Dumbbell Row

  1. Pick two dumbbells of the appropriate size and find an adjustable bench. Set the inclination of an adjustable bench to a height that will be enough to row the dumbbells without them touching the ground.
  2. Lie on the adjustable bench on your stomach and keep your feet on the ground to provide additional support and enable you to isolate necessary muscles. Also, keep your arms straight and pointing towards the floor.
  3. Start the exercise by rowing the dumbbells towards your hips to isolate lats and ensure to squeeze your shoulder blades at the top portion of the movement.
  4. When the dumbbells reach the level of your hips, begin the eccentric phase by lowering them toward the ground, extending your elbows, and flexing your shoulder.

The Latissimus Dorsi Muscles

Showing back muscles

Latissimus dorsi, or a long-back muscle, is located at the back of your upper body. It is the most significant back muscle by surface. It is connected to the vertebrae of your spine and inserts at the front of your humerus — upper arm bone.

According to WebMed, the latissumus dorsi primarily acts as a shoulder adductor, meaning its main function is to bring your arm towards the midsection of your body [1]. 

Its secondary function is shoulder medial or internal rotation. This is because the lats are inserted at the front of your humerus bone, effectively rotating your shoulders inward.

According to the National Institute of Health, the latissimus dorsi, as the largest muscle in the back, is essential in numerous movements and exercises, requiring a varied exercise regimen for its full development [2].

How to Progress Your Lat Training?

Flexing back muscles

To progress your lat training, you must implement the principle of progressive overload into your workout sessions.

In my experience as a personal trainer, I've found that progressive overload is key to enhancing lat muscles, achieved by increasing weight, reps, or sets each session.

With my clients aiming for endurance, I always recommend over 12 reps in multiple sets, encouraging minimal rest between them.

For those focusing on hypertrophy, I advise sticking to 6–12 reps for 3–4 sets, ensuring rest periods stay under 90 seconds.

When training for strength, I guide my clients to perform 1–5 reps across up to 4 sets, taking more than 2 minutes of rest between sets.

And for power, I suggest doing 1-3 reps in 3 sets, resting as much as necessary to maintain consistent effort.

"When we want those wings, we have to train into a pretty serious stretch. We need to train using a heavier load, especially when performing pull-ups."

- Dane Miller, Owner & Founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance

How to Warm up Your Lats

Here is what you may do to warm up for your lat workouts:

  1. Raise your body’s temperature - Run on a treadmill for up to 4 minutes, and ride the elliptical or jump rope. The purpose of doing steady-state cardio is to warm up your body before the dumbbell lat exercises, which is effective since your muscles will be more elastic and less prone to injury.
  2. Complete dynamic warm-up - If you are an athlete, the dynamic warm-up will be sport specific. If you are a weight lifter, do some upper body movement such as quadrupled or arm swings to activate muscles around the joint when performing dumbbell lat exercises.
  3. Activate - It encompasses activating the same muscle you will use during your workouts. You may perform up to two sets of scapular pull-ups, resistance band rows, or similar.

An effective warm-up prepares your body for an intense workout session, increases your performance, and lowers the risk of potential injuries.

Dumbbell Lat Workout

Holding dumbbell on shoulder level

Here is an example of a lat workout you may perform today:

  1. Dead-Stop Dumbbell Row - 3 sets, 3-5 reps
  2. Single Arm Dumbbell Row – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  3. Dumbbell Deadlift – 3 sets, 15-20 reps
  4. Dumbbell Incline Row – 5 sets 8-12 reps
  5. Dumbbell Pullover – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  6. Bench-Supported Dumbbell Row - 4 sets, 8-12 reps

You may alternate sets and reps to suit your personal preferences but remember to always use the principle of progressive overload for the next session.

FAQs

What Exercise Hits the Lats the Best?

The exercise that hits lats the best is a bench-supported dumbbell row. This is because the bench provides enough stability so you can focus on isolating your lats better.

Are Dumbbell Rows Good for Lats?

Yes, dumbbell rows are good for lats. Dumbbell rows are essential for growing your lats since you can use greater loads and induce more considerable hypertrophy effects.

How Do I Make My Lats Bigger?

To make your lats bigger, use the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload means increasing your sets, reps, or external road to induce more significant muscle-building effects.

Are Lats Slow to Grow?

Yes, latissimus dorsi muscles (lats) can be slow to grow due to their large size and the complexity of effectively targeting them. Consistent, varied workouts focusing on the lats are essential for noticeable muscle development and growth.


References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/3-best-exercises-for-a-lats-workout
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/
Was this article helpful?
YesNo

About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

You May Also Like

Man performing straight lat pulldown exercise
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 2 days ago
Straight Arm Lat Pulldown 101 Guide - Proper Form & Benefits
your guide to close grip lat pulldown
By Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC 2 days ago
Close Grip Lat Pulldown 101 Guide - Proper Form & Benefits
your guide to standing lat pulldowns
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 2 days ago
Standing Lat Pulldown 101 Guide - Proper Form & Technique
Guy performing wide grip late pulldown
By Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC 2 days ago
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown 101 Guide - Proper Form & Benefits
Alternative Workout for Lat Pulldown
By Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC 3 days ago
7 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Dumbbells & Barbells

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our scoring system is the result of objective testing data and subjective expert analysis by a team of fitness coaches and medical experts. Our scoring factors are weighted based on importance. For more information, see our product review guidelines.