Are Dumbbell Rows Effective?

The dumbbell row is a great exercise to work the upper and lower back, your shoulders, biceps, and hips. It especially helps with improving your back posture and developing back muscles. With many alternative exercises to build back muscles, you might find yourself wondering: are dumbbell rows effective?

Are Dumbbell Rows Effective?

Yes, in terms of building a specific muscle group, dumbbell rows are very effective. Dumbbell rows are effective because they target a specific muscle group called latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle in the upper body and has many functions such as extension, adduction, transverse extension, flexion from an extended position, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint. 

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Close up of man performing dumbbell exercises

Dumbbell rows especially work your arms if you do them properly with one arm at a time. That way, you can focus more on posture and slowly lift the weights higher instead of simply lifting two at the same time. 

However, there are a couple of drawbacks especially if you are a beginner. If you are trying to start with heavy weights, you might have a harder time. Lifting heavy dumbbells will really work your core. You will also likely twist your torso to generate momentum upon a movement which is an improper posture. 

Do Dumbbell Rows Work Lower Back?

As mentioned before, dumbbell rows work your lower back and build the muscles around it. They also allow you to focus training on your lats and mid-back. You don’t have to expend energy on your legs and lower back just to maintain proper posture when doing dumbbell rows. 

Dumbbell rows also prevent lower back fatigue because the lower back is well conditioned and well-rested so you can have the extra energy to do other lower back exercises like squats and deadlifts

It also lowers the risk of injury on your lower back since it’s always supported if you do dumbbell rows property and with correct posture.  

How Many Dumbbell Rows Should I Do?

Naturally, a normal person can do 6 to 8 reps of dumbbell rows. Start doing dumbbell rows with lighter dumbbells. If you just started with working out, you should do around 3-5 reps if you can for 3 to 4 sets on each arm. 

Man trying to lift dumbbells with each hands

Increase the load every time you do dumbbell rows and make sure to rest at least a whole day every week. There are many ways you can increase the intensity of your dumbbell row workouts: 

  • You can increase the reps by an increment of 3 to 5 for every session.
  • You can also use heavier dumbbells compared to what you previously used. 
  • Increasing the sets by an increment of 2 to 3 sets for every dumbbell row workout. 

Is Barbell Row Better Than Dumbbell Row?

Although they might sound the same, these two exercises actually have a lot of differences. Generally, there is no overall better option and it will solely be on what you want to focus on your workouts. 

If you are going for overall strength size, then the barbell row is the better exercise. It involves heavier weight and works more muscles in the body at once. Barbell rows are great for maximum strength and gaining muscle mass for powerlifting. 

Dumbbell rows are better at isolating the lats and generally better for higher volume training (for bodybuilding). They’re also a better choice for beginners who want to build back strength or correct muscle imbalances and for people who have back problems when handling barbells. 

Where Should You Feel Dumbbell Rows?

Dumbbell rows work the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, lower traps, and erector spinae. It also requires stabilization around the rotator cuff. This generally is the upper back area of your body. You should feel the muscles between and below your shoulder blades working when doing dumbbell rows.

If you ask people at the gym, most of them will tell you that they feel it working their elbows, biceps, wrists, shoulders, neck, hairline, glutes like almost every part of the body except the lats. The lats play a major role in the lower back and sacral segmental stabilization

What is a Good Weight for Dumbbell Row?

Man performing dumbbell exercises

Whether you are a beginner or experienced fitness junkie, it is important that you master the proper technique for doing dumbbell rows. That’s why you should use lighter dumbbells when doing your first dumbbell row. 

This is only to master the proper form and it will normally take 2 to 3 sessions to get used to it. By then you can pick dumbbell weights that you can perform 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps (6 to 8 reps for beginners). The overall experience should be challenging and work your back muscles yet easy enough to do one or two more sets. 

Afterward, you can set personal goals and increase the dumbbell weights depending on your goals. Just keep in mind that you should be able to complete the given sets. 


Dumbbell rows are an effective workout. They are especially good for beginners who want to start with bodybuilding yet don’t want to start with barbells right from the start. Dumbbell rows are great for improving your muscles, especially around the upper back area. 

Robert Lemus has been a natural competitor for 6 years, starting in Men’s Physique, then Bodybuilding, and then into Classic Physique. He is the Orange County Bodybuilding champion in 2016 for the Musclemania Organization. In 2018, he received his Pro Card with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Classic Physique.