6 Best Dumbbell Lats Exercises (with Photos!)

dumbbell lat exercises

Dumbbells prove to be competitive alternatives to cable machines when performing lat exercises and may be utilized through the following exercises: single-arm dumbbell rows, bent-over dumbbell rows, dumbbell pullovers, dumbbell Pendlay rows, renegade rows, and Kroc rows.

However, the goal of performing dumbbell lats exercises is not limited to equipment availability concerns but also due to the benefits and advantages that machines can’t provide. And though most dumbbell lats exercises put the body in awkward positions, they are fantastic in building that V-shaped body most people covet.

Anatomy and Functions of the Lats

The latissimus dorsi muscle or the “lats” are the widest in the body, located along with the other back muscles. Except for the trapezius, it covers practically all of the back muscles at the posterior trunk.

latissimus dorsi

The lats belong to the superficial layer of the extrinsic back muscles, together with the levator scapulae, trapezius, and rhomboid muscles. The latissimus dorsi is considered a muscle that contributes to both thoracic (chest) and brachial (arm) motion.

The latissimus dorsi has attachments to the spine, ribs, pelvis, scapula, and humerus. It acts on the shoulder joint to extend, internally rotate, and adduct the arm. Furthermore, it is an accessory breathing muscle which means it also aids in respiration by expanding the circumference of the ribs during inspiration.

Other Muscles Worked by Dumbbell Lat Exercises

The pulling motion used in dumbbell lats exercises also engages the traps, rear deltoids, rhomboids major and minor, teres major, teres minor, biceps brachii, and the forearm muscles.

The scapula is connected to a number of smaller muscles on the upper back including the rhomboids, teres major, teres minor, and infraspinatus. The arms can move around the shoulder joint due to the upper back muscles’ collaboration with the lats. In addition, they also help control and stabilize scapular movement when performing back exercises.

The neck, shoulders, and upper back are connected by a broad, diamond-shaped muscle called the trapezius or traps. Exercises that include pulling back or rowing heavily involve the lower traps. 

Benefits of Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Wider Range of Motion

Machines are great as they provide constant tension throughout almost any exercise’s push or pull movements. However, the range of motion available is fixed through a particular path and does not fully challenge the joints’ flexibility.

Perfect execution of dumbbell lats exercises exhibits more rhythmic fluid movements through a broader range of motion than when performing lats workouts on a machine.

Engages More Muscles

Machines with fixed levers or cables provide safer use than free weights and are relatively easy to use without supervision in most circumstances. Still, dumbbells are more versatile in their application and engage more muscles than machines do. Dumbbells recruit more of the smaller helper muscles to support the larger muscle groups in stabilizing the weight contributing to overall muscular gains.

Better Functional Fitness

Due to the fixed path of the lever or cable of a machine, consequently providing stability for the movement, there is less muscle recruitment and a reduced need for the smaller stabilizer muscles to engage, thereby eliminating some muscle coordination. 

On the other hand, dumbbell lats exercises better mimic the neurological patterns of daily activities and sports that engage the back and others, thereby allowing a more significant increase in muscle coordination and work capacity.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises


1. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows performed with just one arm often allow greater weight utilization than rows done with both hands. However, keep in mind that there may be a tendency to cheat by restricting the range of motion or utilizing the torso to increase lifting momentum if load progressions are moving too quickly.

To perform dumbbell rows, one must bend forward at the hips and grasp a weighted object in one hand while letting the other hang toward the ground. The weight is then raised and brought closer to the chest before being lowered back to the starting position.

dumbbell single arm row

The right arm and knee should be on the bench. The left knee should be slightly bent to align the trunk and keep the body almost parallel to the floor. With your left hand, take a dumbbell and lift it a few inches off the ground while keeping your trunk straight.

Lift the weight by moving it closer to your chest by progressively bending the left arm’s elbow and bringing it to the back of the body. At the top of the motion, gradually lower the weight to its starting position.

The back is kept straight during the lift by keeping the core engaged throughout the whole range of motion. Once the required number of repetitions has been completed, repeat the action with the right hand.

2. Bent Over Dumbbell Row

This exercise is usually done with a barbell. However, performing it with a dumbbell would be a more challenging workout since it would engage more of the smaller stabilizer muscles in keeping synchronicity of motion between both arms.

To perform this exercise, stand with the feet about shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip and lean forward so the body is at about a 60-degree angle. Push the buttocks out and tighten the abdomen.

Next, begin the movement with the arms extended and the dumbbells hanging below and in front of the knees. Pull both dumbbells up and back toward the sides while keeping the elbows’ distance close to the sides of the body. This way, the lats are engaged more than the rear delts.

3. Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is a great exercise for engaging the lats with lesser mid- or upper-back involvement.

Place a dumbbell upright on the bench before getting into position. Lie perpendicularly on the bench with only the upper back and shoulders resting. The feet should be directly below the knee and hip-width apart.

dumbbell pullover

Grab the top end of the dumbbell with both hands, holding it like performing a diamond push-up but with one hand on top of the other. Hold the weight with arms extended and just above the chest.

Tighten the core and slowly push the buttocks down while lowering the dumbbell with extended arms over the top of the head. Stop when the top end of the dumbbell is about the same height as the forehead.

Bring the dumbbell slowly back to the starting position keeping the arms extended while lifting the hips back up. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions

4. Dumbbell Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row was developed by US Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay and is a variation of the bent-over dumbbell row. The Pendlay row starts with the weights laying on the floor and is performed with the body almost parallel to the ground. The exercise’s design aims to maximize back muscle recruitment and improve explosive power for other lift exercises. 

Stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, and the knees slightly bent to begin this exercise. With a neutral grip on a pair of dumbbells, slant the torso forward until it is nearly parallel to the floor. Next, push the buttocks out and tighten the abdomen.

Quickly pull the dumbbells straight up from the floor and the elbows moving away from the sides of the body at about a 45-degree angle. Then lower the dumbbell back to the starting position, resting on the floor. Repeat for the desired number of reps to complete a set.

5. Renegade Row

The renegade row is a great option for those trying to save time by squeezing core training with single-arm dumbbell rows. This exercise is fundamentally a single-arm dumbbell row in the push-up position. However, this engages the core and uses more stabilizer muscles to maintain body stability.

dumbbell renegade row

Begin with dumbbells on the floor. Grab the handles with a neutral grip and bring the body to a push-up position. The feet should be shoulder-width apart to provide stability. Next, lift one dumbbell off the floor until the elbow is behind the body and bring it back down. You can perform a set for each hand or alternate arms with each rep.

6. Kroc Row

This single-arm dumbbell row variation is intentionally designed to take advantage of the torso’s rotational power to create momentum to lift heavier weights and develop more explosive lifting power. The Kroc row utilizes an extremely heavy single dumbbell row performed with the back at a slight angle of 10-20 degrees.


To perform a Kroc row, start by placing the left hand against a chair or an inclined bench. Next, lean forward until the body is parallel to the floor and grab the dumbbell with a slightly pronated grip using the right hand.

The starting position should be that the left shoulder sits a few inches higher than the right shoulder.  Quickly pull the dumbbell up while rotating the torso a bit, adding momentum to the lift. Repeat until a set is completed.

Final Thoughts

Dumbbells may be a terrific alternative to focus on your lats in a different range of motion and frequently with larger loads although lat training is generally centered on vertical pulling activities. Just with any other muscle, training variation is essential to achieve muscle gain goals efficiently.

  • Aerenhouts D, D’Hondt E. Using Machines or Free Weights for Resistance Training in Novice Males? A Randomized Parallel Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(21):7848. Published 2020 Oct 26. doi:10.3390/ijerph17217848
  • Jeno SH, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. [Updated 2022 Apr 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/