You Need This Dumbbell Back Workout If You’ve Been Sitting All Day

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, 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—multijoint 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 biceps 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 biceps curl, an isolation move that really homes 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.

The 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.

Exercises

Triset

  • Single-Arm Row
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Rear-Delt Fly

Superset

  • Renegade Row
  • Alternating Biceps Curl

Directions

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 three or four rounds of the triset, and then go into three or four rounds of the superset.

1. Single-Arm Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in your right hand with your arm at your side. Step forward about two feet with your left foot, and rest your left hand on your left quad. This is the starting position.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back, and bend your left knee, making sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.)
  • Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Pull the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body, and squeezing your shoulder blade for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbow should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s one rep.
  • Complete all your reps on the right side for 45 seconds, and then switch and repeat on the left.

2. Bent-Over Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.
  • With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back, and bend your left knee, making sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.)
  • Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
  • Do a row by pulling the weights up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body, and squeezing your shoulder blades for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbows should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower the weights by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s one rep. Continue for 45 seconds.

3. Rear-Delt Fly

  • Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms resting along the sides of your legs, palms facing in.
  • Bend your knees slightly and hinge over at your hips, making sure to keep your back straight.
  • With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lift the weights up and out to the sides until they’re in line with your shoulders.
  • Lower them with control. This is one rep. Complete for 45 seconds.

4. Renegade Row

  • Start in a high plank, holding a dumbbell in each hand on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you wider than hip-width apart (it’ll help with stability), and your core and glutes engaged. This is the starting position.
  • Pull your right elbow back to do a row, raising the dumbbell toward your chest and keeping your elbow close to your torso. Keep your abs and butt tight to prevent your hips from rocking.
  • Lower the weight to the starting position. Do the same thing with your left arm.
  • Continue, alternating arms, for 45 seconds.

5. Alternating Biceps Curl

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in each hand with your arms in front of your body, palms facing out. This is the starting position.
  • Slowly curl your right hand up toward your shoulder, squeezing your biceps. Keep your elbow tight to the sides of your body.
  • Slowly lower your weight to the starting position. Repeat with your left arm. Continue alternating for 45 seconds.

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