If you want to work your upper body at home, a dumbbell back workout is the perfect thing to add to your routine. That’s because strengthening your back muscles—think your lats, rhomboids, and traps—help improve muscle imbalances and posture.
Thanks to all of the sitting we do—especially now, as we’re hunkering down at home and many of us are working from the couch—our back muscles tend to be weak, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, founder of Strong With Sivan in Baltimore, MD, tells SELF. This lack of proper tension in your muscles can make rounding of your shoulders or a hunched position more likely.
Weak back muscles coupled with lots of sitting can also impair the mobility in your upper back, making it difficult to move your shoulder blades effectively. “A lot of times people will start to get shoulder injuries from that,” she says. “They don’t have enough mobility and strength in the upper back, and when they do any kind of exercises that target the ‘pushing’ muscles, like the shoulder or chest muscles, that’s when we get into trouble.”
That’s why it’s important to show your back muscles some love. And this dumbbell back workout from Fagan will do just that.
Bonus: Each of these exercises has a core-stability component—your core will need to fire since you’re not supported on the ground or a bench—so you’ll seriously work your abs, too.
First, you’ll start with two compound moves—multi-joint exercises that work multiple muscle groups—in the single-arm row and bilateral bent-over row. Both of these are “pulling” movements that will not only get your lats and rhomboids firing, but will also activate your biceps, too. You’ll finish out your first triset with a rear delt fly, which works the back of your shoulders and is “super important for back health and posture,” says Fagan.
Then you’re on to your last superset: a renegade row and bicep curl. The renegade row is also a pulling movement, but it’ll work your shoulders, too—you’ll be holding in a high-plank position—and your core, as your body resists rotating to stay stable as you row with each arm. You’ll finish with a bicep curl, an isolation move that really hones in on the biceps, which serve as a supporting muscle in your bigger compound pulling moves.
Ready to strengthen your back muscles? Get started with this dumbbell workout.
What you’ll need: One pair of heavier dumbbells (for the first two exercises) and a lighter pair (for the last three exercises). Dumbbells can be hard to find in online stores right now, though some specialty stores like SPRI and Perform Better still have some in stock. You can also use household equipment like water bottles or jugs, laundry detergent bottles, or soup cans.
- Single-Arm Row
- Bent-Over Row
- Rear-Delt Fly
- Renegade Row
- Alternating Bicep Curl
Perform each exercise for 45 seconds. (For the single-arm move, you’ll do each arm for 45 seconds before moving to the next exercise.) Focus more on quality reps for each exercise—going slow and feeling the muscle-mind connection—rather than how many reps you can crank out, says Fagan.
Go through each exercise without resting (Of course, take a break if you need it). Complete 3-4 rounds of the triset, and then go into 3-4 rounds of the superset.
Demoing the moves are Rachel Denis(GIFs 1 and 2), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York State powerlifting records; Cookie Janee(GIFs 3 and 5), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies.
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