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12 Dumbbell Lat Exercises At Home- With & Without Bench

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Call me weird, but I think there are two body parts that show whether or not someone is a true hard worker in the gym…

  1. Their legs
  2. Their back

Chest, shoulders, and arms don’t count – everyone likes training those. You can have abs by virtue of being pretty skinny. 

But a solid pair of wheels and a thick back? They have to be earned.

In this list of dumbbell lat exercises, I’m going to show you how to train your lats in a variety of planes of movement. We’ll talk about anatomy and physiology.

We’ll talk about why we’ve selected certain exercises, and why dumbbells are an excellent way to train your lats.

By the end of the article, you’ll be adding dumbbells to your lat training immediately!

Dumbbell lat exercises: Benefits of using them in your training

When you add dumbbell lat exercises into your training, you add an extra dimension to your back work. Here’s three of the benefits of hitting your lats with dumbbells…

Dumbbell lat exercises benefits

Benefit 1: Create that v-shape

Your lats are the muscles responsible for the ‘v-shape’ that so many guys want to achieve. That big lats, narrow waist and broad shoulders combo is the key to creating a great taper in your upper body.

Training your lats with dumbbells gives you the option to work these muscles through a range of exercises that help to build these muscles effectively.

The sheer variety of pulling movements that target the lats will give you a great array of training tools that will stimulate a lot of muscle but also keep you interested. 

The other obvious benefit of the dumbbell lat exercises is the inability to isolate the lats, meaning that you’ll hit a lot of other muscles in the process of training your lats as well.

Benefit 2: Make yourself injury resistant

According to research by Graw and Wiesel in 2008, lower back problems have an incidence rate of between 1 and 30% in athletes.

That’s an astonishingly high figure, especially given that in many cases it can be completely prevented or cured using relatively basic approaches.

One of the most successful interventions is effective core and back training.

The research around back problems frequently shows us that many back issues can be prevented or cured with a back strengthening approach. This suggests it should be a fundamental aspect of athlete conditioning.

The lats are hugely important here, because of their anatomy.

They’re a large muscle, mainly involved in overhead work, but research has also demonstrated that the latissimus dorsi is also active during deep inspiration and with forceful respiratory functions.

This is fundamental, because when lifting heavy, deep and forceful breathing and breath holding is key to preventing back issues.

Strong lats will decrease your injury risk, without question.

Benefit 3: Feel an extra level of control during the lifts

Readers of my writings will know how big a fan I am of dumbbells. There’s a myriad of reasons for this, but a huge one is lifting control.

With each arm working independently, you have a greater level of control than you would with a barbell.

This extra control helps you to focus on building a better mind-muscle connection, which 2016 research by Calatayud et al shows is a very effective way to increase muscle activity during a lift

With a greater degree of movement flexibility with dumbbells as opposed to barbells, you can enjoy the extra level of range of movement, movement direction variety and muscle stimulation.

These exercises will help to train the lats more intensively and with more control, building bigger, stronger, and healthier lats with a better range of movement.

5 Steps to use the dumbbell lat exercises to build bigger, thicker lats

You can put a lot of effort into training, but unless it’s guided in the right direction it’s not always worthwhile. These 5 steps will help ensure the effort you put into your lat training translates to RESULTS!

Dumbbell lat exercises general infographic

Step 1: Use all of the exercises in the list

We know that muscles respond better when they’re trained in different ways. A mixture of movement directions, weights and rep ranges all count towards helping muscles grow and be the healthiest they can be.

The exercises in this list are full of this variety. If you include them all in your lat training, you’ll hit the muscles in a variety of ways and in a range of movement patterns.

You’ll stimulate muscle and strength gains that you wouldn’t normally achieve. 

Don’t just pick your favorite couple and use them forever – you’ll be missing out on the challenge, the interest and the benefits of the rest. Keep your body guessing.

Although it’s a largely anecdotal benefit, with my 2 decades of experience in this world, I can promise you it exists.

Step 2: Lift through a full range

For decades the thinking was that the only way to improve your joint range of movement and flexibility was through stretching. Athletes would spend hours pushing their limbs to end range to increase their movement quality.

The reality is that time wasn’t wasted – it’s a great way to improve flexibility and reduce injury risk.

HOWEVER (yes, caps are worthy here)… in a snappily-titled piece of work from 2021, Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Afonso et al discovered that strength training with a full range of movement was as effective as stretching at increase muscle flexibility.

So lift through a full range with every rep and you’ll help your range of movement and joint health. This has several benefits…

  • Increases time under tension (and therefore results)
  • Improves joint health
  • Reduces injury risk
  • Improves athleticism (as a result of the three above combining)

Lift through the full range with good form every time. You’ll transform your results.

Step 3: Focus on lift quality, not just weight

One of the more difficult things to get across to people I train is the need to focus on lift quality, not just weight.

I blame years of indoctrination from magazines telling us heavier is better. Then there’s the ego questions… ‘What do you bench? What’s your deadlift PR etc?’

When it comes to bodybuilding, you’re trying to increase mechanical tension. You do this most effectively when you lift a weight well.

Picking up the heavier dumbbells won’t help you if your form looks like a drunk guy trying to do gymnastics.

Lift WELL first. Lift HEAVY when you’re capable of lifting well. But NEVER let lifting heavy come at the expense of lifting well. 

With lat exercises feel the muscles elongate where you can stretch fully. At the point of contraction, make sure your shoulder blades are back and down.

Contract them as best as you can, squeezing every last drop of effort out of the rep.

Get the reps right, and your results follow.   

Step 4: Stretch the lats

Your lats are large muscles that attach to many bones. When they get tight they can restrict you in two ways – your ability to move your core and torso, and your overhead and arm mobility.

Personally, I notice when my lats are tight it impacts how my shoulders feel as well. 

One of the stretches I use often is a passive hang. It really helps to stretch the lats fully. It opens up the chest (if your hands are wide enough), and as a bonus, it works on your grip too!

I find that this movement also helps to transfer benefits to other lifts. If you look at the video below, see how the lats are involved in so many movements…

In particular, the humerus extension has carryover in the front squat and chin up. The lats are also heavily involved in the stabilization and movement of the core.

Thanks to their role in moving the arms, they play a role in almost all of the upper body movements.

I know this idea of stretching the lats might seem contradictory to what I said in tip number 2, but I think when you double the effects of the stretching and the strengthening, you benefit twice.

I’d urge you to add stretches into your lat training.  

Step 5: Quality over quantity

When you’re training your back (or any body part for that matter), focus on quality over quantity. Of course, you need to train your body frequently, but you must train it well.

If you want to build muscle in a healthy, safe and sustainable way you can’t just beat yourself up. Hitting rep after rep, set after set on the same body part too frequently will be a one-way ticket to the physical therapist.

You need to ensure you’re giving your body time to rest and recover between workouts.

It’s also a reason why we mix up the exercises. If you repeat movement patterns too frequently you can end up with repetitive strain injuries.

These are usually to the connective tissues, so take significantly longer to heal than in muscle tissue. 

Hit these exercises a couple of times per week, or if you’re particularly trying hard to build your back put 3-4 of them in a full body workout 4-5 times per week.

Just don’t spend 4 or 5 days per week hitting these same exercises without a break.

Variety is the spice of life in this case.

Equipment needed for these exercises

Primary equipment:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

Secondary equipment:

Note: If you want to add a back machine to target your lats and the rest of your back muscles, our in-depth best back machine buying guide can help you with that.

Dumbbell lat exercises: The list

These are the exercises I like to use the most in my training, and the training of my clients. They combine the benefits of movement pattern variety, with the additional pluses of using dumbbells, such as additional range of movement.

There are 12 exercises in the list, and I believe they are all effective and capable of helping anyone train their lats.

Some are harder than others, but that’s OK –

It gives you something to strive for and work toward if you’re not already there!

Dumbbell lat exercises infographic part 1

1. Dumbbell seal row

The dumbbell seal row is one of my favorite dumbbell row variations. I love it for a number of reasons, from the range of movement to the excellent stretch you can get with the dumbbells dangling at the bottom of the rep. 

It’s a fantastic way to train the lats and allows you to maintain great control throughout. Set the bench carefully (you don’t have to use plyo boxes – stacked plates will do just fine) and work through a full range.

Make sure you can only just reach the dumbbells when they’re on the floor, and the bench is set flat.

Equipment needed for seal rows:

  • 2 dumbbells
  • Bench
  • Plates or plyo boxes

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do seal rows:

  • Set the bench into position – use plates or boxes to elevate off the floor. The bench needs to be flat
  • Position your chest on the end of the bench, arm either side of the bench and your head clear of the end of the bench
  • Holding the dumbbells in a neutral (palms facing) grip, lift the dumbbells to your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do so
  • At the top of the movement, pause for a second and lower the dumbbells back down
  • Go to a full extension – feel the lats stretch at the bottom
  • Repeat as necessary

2. Dumbbell gorilla rows

The gorilla row is a real favorite of mine and features heavily in my training and that of the programs I write. I like it for a number of reasons…

It’s a single limb exercise, it’s a variation on a row, you can lift big weights, it’s functional and useful in both low and high rep workouts and it trains anti-rotation, which is a big bonus.

Overall, they’re a fantastic back exercise. It’s a great exercise for getting the heart rate up as well, so you get a couple of benefits from the one single movement pattern.

Equipment needed for gorilla rows:

  • 2 dumbbells

How to do gorilla rows:

  • Hold the weights with a neutral (palms facing) grip
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull one of the weights up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blade in at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the dumbbell, but don’t let it touch the floor
  • Repeat the same movement on the opposite side, alternating for as many reps as required

3. Dumbbell weighted chin ups

The chin up is the pull up with an underhand grip. Although the movement pattern is exactly the same, the underhand grip activates the bicep more, which has a couple of benefits – it builds the arms, so you don’t need additional bicep work.

The other one is that it is slightly easier than pull ups because of the bicep help, so you can add more volume. 

Adding the pull ups and chin ups to the workout makes it both challenging and effective, plus it’ll help you improve your strength and shoulder flexibility dramatically.

Equipment needed for dumbbell weighted chin ups:

  • Pull up/chin up bar
  • Dumbbell

How to do a dumbbell weighted chin up:

  • Place a dumbbell between your feet or ankles, (whichever is more comfortable). Grip it firmly
  • Jump up and grab the pull up bar with an underhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do
  • When your chest reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself down to a full extension of the arms
  • Repeat the movement as required

4. Dumbbell deadlifts

Deadlifts aren’t an obvious lat exercise, but the fact that they hit so much of the back means the lats are engaged throughout the movement too. They’re a hinge movement, and the lats are a big part of that.

They’re also important in spinal stability, and the deadlift requires that too. 

Deadlifts are often seen as the king of exercises, and it’s a claim with plenty of support. You probably won’t be hitting crazy numbers here, but it’s a good variation on an exercise.

I couldn’t have a list of dumbbell lat exercises without including the deadlift!

Equipment needed for dumbbell deadlifts:

  • Heavy dumbbells

How to do dumbbell deadlifts:

  • Assume an overhand grip on the dumbbells, about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your legs, keep your back straight and your chest up
  • Drive through your legs, keeping your arms straight as you lift – this will lift the dumbbells to hip height
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together and push the hips forward slightly
  • Reverse the movement on the way down – start by pushing the hips back and lowering the weights down by bending your legs, keeping your chest up and back straight throughout
  • Repeat as many times as required

5. Dumbbell bent over rows

This is the classic horizontal row exercise and has been a staple of training programmes for years.

It’s a way to not only train the back and biceps, but it also activates the glutes and lower back as it requires them to work in order to keep the torso stable whilst lifting a heavy weight.

With such a lot of benefit from a single upper body exercise, it had to be included. 

The benefits of dumbbells are of course the fact that both sides have to work independently.

They also allow you to focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top of the lift.

Equipment needed for bent over dumbbell rows:

  • Dumbbells

How to do bent over dumbbell rows:

  • Hold the dumbbells with the a neutral grip
  • Set your body position – straight, stiff back. Chest pointing towards the floor, perhaps with a slight incline, slight knee bend
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the dumbbells, but don’t let them touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

6. Dumbbell weighted pull ups

The Everest of bodyweight exercises for many. Pull ups combine the huge muscle building benefits of training a lot of muscle in one go, with the physical challenge of being pretty damn tough.

They also train grip and at the bottom, they stretch the lats. This stretch helps with shoulder health.

This is included for people who can hit 10 chins ups without any weight. Start by holding a really light dumbbell, then increase as you become stronger. This demands a lot from your lats, so they’ll push them hard!

Equipment needed for dumbbell weighted pull ups:

  • Pull up bar
  • Dumbbell

How to do dumbbell weighted pull ups:

  • Place a dumbbell between your feet or ankles, (whichever is more comfortable). Grip it firmly
  • Jump up and grab the pull up bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do
  • When your chest reaches the bar, slowly lower yourself down to a full extension of the arms
  • Repeat the movement as required

Dumbbell lat exercises infographic part 2

7. Dumbbell deadlift to bent over row

I love exercise complexes. Not only are they super efficient (training lots of muscle in one go), they’re also a way to challenge your technique and understanding of an exercise.

With the deadlift to row, you’re hitting the whole back in one movement. It’s both a hinge movement, and a pull movement in one go.

Use heavy dumbbells for the row, because you’ll easily be able to deadlift anything you can row. This exercise is one of those that adds up very quickly and is surprisingly tough.

Equipment needed for dumbbell deadlift to bent over row:

  • Dumbbells

How to do a dumbbell deadlift to bent over row:

  • Take hold of a pair of dumbbells in an overhand grip, then stand upright
  • Pushing your hips back and keeping your back straight, lean forward until you reach a point where your torso is pointing to the floor
  • With your arms pointing directly towards the floor, pull the dumbbells back up to your torso
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, then lower the dumbbells back down until your arms are straight
  • When your arms are straight, stand back upright by driving your hips forward and keeping your back straight throughout
  • Repeat as necessary

8. Chest supported dumbbell rows

This is a horizontal row pattern that allows you to lift a lot of weight. There’s also no need for the lower back to support a heavy weight, because the bench takes care of that for you. 

The ability to move freely and adjust grip are also benefits of the exercise. In addition, the fact that it’s unilateral means that both arms will work as hard as each other, minimizing any imbalance in effort and strength/muscle gain.

Equipment needed for chest supported dumbbell rows:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

How to do chest supported dumbbell rows:

  • Set the bench to an incline and lie chest down – you should be able to reach dumbbells placed on the floor
  • Hold the dumbbells with the grip of your choice – overhand, underhand or neutral
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your chest, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top
  • At the top of the movement pause then slowly lower the dumbbells, but don’t let them touch the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required

9. Single dumbbell arm row

Single arm rows are very effective because they force each side to work independently. They require shoulder and trunk stability to maintain good torso position throughout the lift too.

With the single arm row you can lift some serious weight – this forces the lats to engage hard in order to maintain spinal stability and prevent over-rotation throughout the lift.

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell rows:

  • Dumbbell
  • Bench

How to do a single arm dumbbell row:

  • Place a hand and knee on a bench, with the other leg on the floor for stability.
  • Hold the dumbbell in the free hand, with your arm straight down. 
  • Pull the dumbbell up to the rib cage, bending the elbow behind you as you do.
  • Once the dumbbell is at rib height, pause and lower to the start position.

These exercises are designed to target the mid back. Of course there’s benefits to other areas, but that’s nothing but a good thing. You’ll also be hitting the biceps and rear delts, so it’s all good news.

10. Dumbbell pullovers

The dumbbell pullover is an excellent lat exercise for two reasons – the first is that it forces a deep stretch of the lats and thorax. The second is that it helps to activate the stabilizing muscles where the lats and shoulders meet.

It offers a unique contraction angle of the muscles, adding variety to the workout.

Equipment needed for dumbbell pullovers:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

How to do dumbbell pullovers:

  • Lie on bench so your arms are able to reach behind you in an overhead position
  • Take a dumbbell and hold in both hands, with your arms fully extended directly in front of your head
  • Maintaining straight arms throughout, extend the dumbbell overhead and behind you, towards the floor
  • Keep going until you feel a stretch in the lats, but no further – if your lower back starts to arch, you’ve gone too far
  • At maximum stretch, hold for a second and return the dumbbell over your face to the start position
  • Repeat as necessary

11. Renegade rows

The renegade row comes in different variations (some with push ups etc), but this one has the most rear delt focus. Just like the side plank thread the needle, it requires stability on one shoulder, and movement on the other.

This is a great workout for the core too, so it’s a very efficient exercise to include in your rear delt dumbbell exercises list.

Equipment needed for renegade rows:

  • 2 Dumbbells

How to do renegade rows:

  • Hold the weights with a neutral (palms facing) grip
  • Assume a plank position – arms fully extended, supporting your body weight
  • Keep your core rigid and your back straight (no sagging)
  • Lift one dumbbell off the floor and towards your chest, whilst your body weight is supported on the opposite side
  • When you reach your chest, lower it down towards the floor and repeat on the opposite side

12. Dumbbell Pendlay row

The dumbbell Pendlay row is a fantastic power exercise for the lats. Unlike a standard bent over dumbbell row, the Pendlay forces a longer range of movement because the dumbbells touch the floor between reps.

You have to lift the whole weight each rep, and not benefit from any momentum.

As long as you can maintain a good hinge position at the hips, keeping your back flat and your spine strong, you can hit a great Pendlay row.

Use this fantastic power movement to really hit good weight and power moves through your lats.

Equipment needed for dumbbell Pendlay rows:

  • 2 heavy dumbbells

How to do dumbbell Pendlay rows:

  • ​​Bend your knees slightly. Your legs should be straighter than a deadlift, but there needs to be an obvious bend at the knee.
  • Push your hips back and keep your back straight and flat. 
  • You should keep this position throughout.
  • Use an overhand grip throughout the reps
  • Pull the dumbbells up powerfully until you reach your chest.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the floor, making sure they rest on the floor for a second between reps. You want to remove all momentum from the lift. 
  • Repeat as many times as necessary.

Across these 12 exercises, I believe you have the range of movements and exercises necessary to build a great set of wings. They’ll challenge you, they’ll change how you view your training and if you do them properly, they’ll deliver excellent results.

Bonus tips for your dumbbell lat training

Here are a few additional pointers that will help you get the most from these exercises…

Dumbbell lat exercises bonus tips

1. Take your time with each rep

Back training isn’t inherently dangerous, just as long as it is done correctly. You can lift heavy weights with your back, but make sure you don’t rush, or perform jerky movements.

Take your time, lift well and you’ll reduce the risk of injury by an order of magnitude.

Backs can be vulnerable if they’re not trained properly, so always lift well.

2. Mix up your sets and reps

To get the most out of almost any type of training, you have to mix your sets and reps, just like you do your exercises. Some days, you’ll want to go heavy and perform a small number of sets.

On other days you’ll want the higher volume.

There’s room for both, so experiment and add them both in.

3. Warm up shoulders and core as well as your back before lat training

Your lats cover a lot of real estate on your body, so make sure you warm up your back, core, and shoulders before hitting them hard.

I think a great exercise to do this with is the American kettlebell swing because it covers almost all of the lat movement bases.

Start light and build up, as you would with most warm-ups.

Dumbbell lat exercises: The bottom line

It’s probably true that most of your lat and general back training has been done with a barbell up to this point. I’m hopeful that in reading this article and studying these exercises, you’ll see the value in using dumbbells too now.

The goal here isn’t to get you to replace all of your barbell back training with dumbbells. It’s to educate and inform. Show you there’s a wide variety of options out there. You could and should be mixing up your training to get the best results.

Re-read the article, learn the bits you missed the first time, study the exercises and get them into your training. You’ll be glad you did!

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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