The Best Lat Exercises With Dumbbells, According To Trainers

The Best Lat Exercises With Dumbbells, According To Trainers

It’s easy to forget to work your back muscles. Sure, they might not be as fun as glute exercises, but they’re still important to your overall fitness game. Don’t worry, though – you can just incorporate a few moves that target this area into your workout routine with nothing more than a set of dumbbells – and no trip to the gym required.

“As the largest muscle in your upper body covering most of your back, the lats are extremely important for posture and stabilizing your posterior chain from your neck to your hips,” says Nikka Saadat, personal trainer at Vitruvian. The latissimus dorsi, as they’re officially called, are the muscles under your shoulder blades that run down your spine to your pelvis and across the width of your back, so they play a major role in keeping you upright – that’s why it’s totally worth giving this area some extra love.

Lats also play an important role in any strength training program, adds Rob Wagener, an NASM-certified personal trainer. “In addition to building muscle, lat exercises also help improve your flexibility and range of motion,” he told Bustle. “As a result, they can help prevent pain and injury in the lower back, shoulders and hips.”

While there are specific machines that focus on lats in the gym — like the lat pulldown — you can still hit that zone with a set of dumbbells, says Lalitha McSorley, PT, physical therapist and personal trainer at Brentwood Physio. “The dumbbells allow you to move through a greater range of motion than the weight machine, which may result in a better muscle-building workout,” she told Bustle. “They’re also great for engaging the surrounding stabilizer muscles.”

Read below for a list of lat exercises with dumbbells to try.


curved row

This is one of the most fundamental dumbbell exercises for the lats, says TJ Mentus, a certified personal trainer. “The lats work to pull the elbows out to the sides and keep the shoulders back,” he tells Bustle, “which is exactly what this exercise does.”

– Hold a dumbbell in each hand.

– Lean forward at the hips so that your chest is facing the floor.

– Let your arms hang down to the ground.

– Keep your shoulder blades pulled back.

– Row the dumbbells up by pulling your elbows up and to your sides.

– Open your chest as you tighten your lats.

– Keep your shoulders back.

– Lower the dumbbells by extending your arms.

– Repeat 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.


Standing around the world

“The standing around the world exercise is a great compound movement with a strong focus on the lats,” says Wagener. Here’s how:

– Stand straight.

– With a light dumbbell in each hand, slowly raise each arm up and out, as if doing a side raise.

– Keep your elbows slightly bent.

– Instead of stopping when the arms are level, continue the rotation and lift both arms above your head, all in one continuous motion.

– Once at the top, reverse the same circular motion downwards.

– For a challenge, slowly count to five going up and down again.

– Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps each.


Inverted flight

Another option is the reverse fly, a move that targets the side muscles by working them in an eccentric contraction, McSorley says. “That means the muscles get longer as they work.”

– Grab a pair of dumbbells.

– Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees bent.

– Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing each other.

– Lean forward so that your torso is at a 45 degree angle to the floor.

– Keep your heart engaged.

– Inhale and slowly lift your arms up and back until they are aligned with your shoulders.

– Exhale and return the weights to the starting position.

– Repeat 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.


Pendlay Row

Fancy a challenge? “The Pendlay row allows you to use heavier dumbbells than other back exercises,” says McSorley. As a bonus, this move also targets your rhomboids, biceps, glutes, hamstrings, and rear deltoids.

– Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

– Hinge forward at your waist with your knees bent.

– Keep your torso parallel to the ground.

– Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip.

– Keeping your elbows tucked in, flex your trunk and slowly pull your elbows back and up.

– Bring the dumbbells down to your chest.

– When the dumbbells touch your chest, focus on contracting your back muscles for a few seconds.

– Slowly lower the dumbbells down.

– Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.


One arm dumbbell row

You can also focus on one side of your body at a time. Pro tip: “Rather than rowing with your elbows flared and pointing to the side, which targets your upper back, keep your elbows close to your sides to target your lats,” says Saadat.

– Start by holding a dumbbell in one hand with a neutral grip, palm facing your body.

– Keep your arm straight at your side.

– Lean forward so your torso is parallel to the floor.

– Use your other arm for support by leaning gently on a bench.

– Engage your core to stabilize your torso.

– Keeping your upper arm close to your side, push your elbow down and toward your hip until your arm is aligned with your torso.

– Keep your shoulder blades pulled down and back. (Imagine putting them in your back pockets.)

– Keep your arm close to your side.

– Slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position.

– Do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps per side with moderate weight.


row of renegades

Julie Bobek, trainer at FlexIt, recommends this exercise to work the back muscles. She says it also adds ground work into the mix.

– Start in a high plank position with your shoulders over your wrists.

– Hold a medium-weight dumbbell under one hand.

– Place your feet hip-width apart.

– Exhale and engage your heart.

– Bring the dumbbell up to your waist.

– Keep your shoulders and hips level.

– Lower the weight to the floor.

– Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per side.


Lat Sweater

To work your lats as well as your biceps, triceps and pecs, try a lat pull – a move McSorley is a fan of for upper body strength.

– Sit on a bench.

– Hold a dumbbell at one end.

– Lean back on the bench and extend your arms straight above your head.

– Lower the dumbbell behind your head.

– Use your side muscles to bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.

– Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Referenced studies:

Aerenhouts, D. (2020). Using machines or free weights for resistance training for novice men? A randomized parallel trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21).

Fenwick, CM. (2009). Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and movement, load and stiffness of the lumbar spine. J Resistance Cond Res. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019.

Jeno, SH. (2022). Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 January–. PMID: 28846224.

Lehman, GJ (2003). Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi strength training exercises: an experimental study. Dynamic Medicine: DM, 34.

OnlineVishwakarma, V. (2019). Effect of Latissimus Dorsi muscle strengthening in mechanical low back pain.


Nikka Saadat, personal trainer at Vitruvian

Rob Wagener, NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Lalitha McSorley, PT, Physical Therapist, Personal Trainer at Brentwood Physio

TJ Mentus, Certified Personal Trainer

Julie Bobek, trainer at FlexIt

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