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How to do a single-arm dumbbell row

a photo of a woman with strong back muscles
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

While strong back muscles might not be as desirable as a six-pack, or chiselled arm muscles, there are a number of benefits to working on your back strength. Strong back muscles can help improve your posture, reduce back pain, and help secure the spine. 

Yet if you’re still working out from home, or you’re a beginner and find pull-ups daunting, we’ve got good news — dumbbell rows are a brilliant alternative. As well as targeting the muscles in the back, a single-arm dumbbell row hits your shoulders, your arm muscles, and your core. In other words, it’s a brilliant compound exercise on days when you’re looking to work your upper body. 

But how do you do a single-arm dumbbell row and how can you modify the move to make it easier or more challenging? Read on to find out more about mastering the dumbbell row. Looking for more workout motivation? We’ve found the best exercises to strengthen your back, the best ab workouts you can do from anywhere, and one of the best exercises for targeting your arm muscles using just your bodyweight

a single arm dumbbell row

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to do a single-arm dumbbell row

To do a single-arm dumbbell row, you’ll need at least one dumbbell. If you’re shopping for gym equipment to use at home, we’ve found the best adjustable dumbbells for all your weightlifting workouts here. 

For a single-arm dumbbell row, you’ll need something to lean on, like a chair, box, or just the side of a coach. Start by placing a dumbbell on the side of your platform, and kneel your left leg and right hand on the bench, so that your upper body is parallel to the ground. Reach down and pick up the dumbbell with your right hand. Keep the grip neutral, so that your palm is facing your body, and keep your arm outstretched. Slowly, and with control, bring the dumbbell up towards your chest, hinging at the elbow. The movement should come from your back and shoulder muscles, not from your arm. Pause at the top of the movement, before lowering the dumbbell back to your starting position. Do all your reps on one arm before you switch to the other side. 

The benefits of a single-arm dumbbell row 

There are a number of different row variations, but the single-arm row is better for working your back than the bent-over barbell row, as working on one arm at a time allows you to focus on the muscles targeted during the exercise. Working one side of the body at a time also highlights imbalances you need to work on. What’s more, the single-arm row with a dumbbell allows for a greater range of motion than bent-over rows. 

A single-arm row works the muscles in the upper and lower back, as well as the shoulders and biceps in the arm. The move also targets your abdominal muscles and your hips, as your mid-section works to stabilize your body during the move.

Dumbbell row variations to try 

If single-arm dumbbell rows feel too difficult, try practicing the movement with a lower weight to work on your arm strength and ensure you’re getting the form right. Don’t rock during the movement — your body should be still on the bench, and you should be rowing from your shoulder, not your arm. 

If you’re looking for some more challenging variations, remove your legs from the bench and try a symmetrical stance single-arm dumbbell row. To do this, stand facing the bench or surface and hinge at the hips to perform the row with just one hand on the bench. This forces your core muscles to work harder to stabilize your body. 

If you have a pair of dumbbells, you can also try doing a dumbbell row with both arms. For this exercise, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and hinge forward at your hips, keeping your back straight. Your torso should be at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades and bring the dumbbells up in unison until they reach waist height, before lowering them back to the starting position. 

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.