How to Do the One-Arm Dumbbell Row

6 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Weight Training

Exercising your upper back without machinery isn’t easy, but the one-arm dumbbell row does a good job. This exercise also strengthens your biceps and shoulders. Be especially careful if you have lower-back problems.

Performing the one-arm dumbbell row

Follow these steps to perform this exercise:

  1. Stand to the right of your weight bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing in.

  2. Place your left knee and your left hand on top of the bench for support. Let your right arm hang down and a bit forward.

  3. Pull your abdominals in and bend forward from the hips so that your back is naturally arched and roughly parallel to the floor, and your right knee is slightly bent.

    Tilt your chin toward your chest so that your neck is in line with the rest of your spine.

  4. Pull your right arm up until your elbow is pointing to the ceiling, your upper arm is parallel to the floor, and your hand comes to the outside of the ribcage.

  5. Lower the weight slowly back down.

    The one-arm dumbbell row is a great way to work your upper back. [Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak P
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    The one-arm dumbbell row is a great way to work your upper back.

Tips for performing the one-arm dumbbell row

Keep these tips in mind as you perform this exercise:

  • Concentrate on pulling from your back muscles (right behind and below your shoulder). Don’t just move your arm up and down. Although your arm is moving, this is a back exercise. Think of your arm as a hook that connects to the weight and is pulled by the back.

  • Keep your abs pulled in tight throughout the motion.

  • Don’t let your back sag toward the floor or hunch up.

  • Pull your shoulders back and down to set the shoulder blades.

Gym alternative: Seated row machine

Use the seated row machine at your gym as an alternative to using dumbbells for this exercise. Follow these steps to use the seated row machine:

  1. Set your seat height on the seated row machine so that when you grasp the handles, your arms are level with your shoulders.

  2. Sit tall in the seat facing the weight stack with your chest against the pad.

  3. Remaining tall, pull the handles toward you to lift the weight stack.

  4. When your hands are a few inches in front of your chest, slowly straighten your arms to lower the weight.

    Try the seated row machine as an alternative to the one-arm dumbbell row. [Credit: Photograph by Su
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    Try the seated row machine as an alternative to the one-arm dumbbell row.
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