When you think of back training, many lifters think of deadlifts, barbell rows, and pull ups first. After a few seconds, a few more may come to mind.
One of those moves on the second tier will likely be the one arm dumbbell row.
On the surface it’s a simple move, right? Pull, lower, repeat. Up and down for as many reps as the program calls for. That isn’t too complicated.
While normally basics are best, you will find that with exercises like the one arm row, a few different tweaks and adjustments can unlock loads of muscle building potential.
The nine tips that follow will range from beginner to advanced, and can include techniques on how you row, where to pull, and what position your body or hand should be in.
Read on to see how you can make large gains in small ways thanks to this old-school move.
One Arm Dumbbell Row Tips for Beginners
1. Plant Yourself to the Floor
The best way to move any weight is if your base is solid. This applies to almost every free weight movement across the board and the one arm row is no different. If you’re new to the one arm row then you likely will be doing this on a bench.
So before you perform your first rep check the stability of your body. Make sure your foot is planted firmly on the floor and won’t move. Your opposite knee should be on the bench and again, won’t move throughout the set.
Place your hand on the bench and drive it in like you’re trying to touch the floor underneath it. Once you’re set, then grab the weight and prepare to begin.
2. Pull Shoulder Blade First
When the dumbbell is in your hand and your arm is hanging, your shoulder should be pulling toward the floor. Pull the shoulder up and bring your shoulder blade in towards the middle of your back. This helps you activate the lats so when you pull, the lat will do more work than the rear delt or other back muscles.
After you pull the weight in, lower it slowly until the arm is straight and your shoulder drops. If you haven’t been doing it this way before now, you’ll feel the difference.
3. Use Straps When Necessary
I am all for improving the grip strength but you shouldn’t have to neglect the gains your back is making because you have trouble holding on to the weight. If this applies to you, don’t be afraid to use straps to help you hold on to the dumbbell.
Now don’t let that be a cue for you to use extremely heavy weight that you wouldn’t normally be able to use. All that does is increase the chances of injury. Straps are for assisting your grip, not replacing it.
One Arm Dumbbell Row Tips for Intermediates
4. Stand and Lean against Something Solid
As you progress and get stronger, you may want to step up the challenge of the one arm row. You have probably seen bodybuilders standing with both feet and leaning against a rack when doing this movement. The benefit is that you have a greater range of motion than you would using the bench, which can be handy if you’re using those bigger dumbbells.
If you want to try this, remember that both feet need to be firmly planted into the floor. Place your hand on a rack or solid object so that you’re still leaning around 90 degrees. Also, remember to maintain control of the weight throughout your reps. You’re going to be tempted to swing but don’t do it.
5. Row, Don’t Pull
If you have to ask what the difference is between rowing and pulling, then you’re not ready to call yourself an advanced lifter. Pulling is focusing on getting the weight up. Rowing is controlling the motion and working the lats as hard as possible.
For the one arm row, you should focus on bringing the weight up and towards your hip. This can help you work more of the lower lats and is actually easier on your shoulder joint.
If you have trouble doing this without swinging, try this variation to help you master the move. Lie chest down on an incline bench. Hold the bench with one arm and have your feet planted wide so you can maintain balance. The working side should be slightly off the edge of the bench so you can row without hitting the bench or yourself. Use lighter weights than you usually do so you can feel the back working better.
6. Do Dead Stop Rows
For those of you that want to focus on strength, this one is a good alternative version. You should still control the negative portion of the rep but instead of allowing the weight to hang, slowly lower it all the way to the floor.
After a brief pause, pull the weight up and in as hard as you can. Try to hold the rep at the top for a greater contraction. Keep in mind that you should stop the weight on the floor. Don’t bang it against the floor and try to generate momentum. It won’t have the same effect.
One Arm Dumbbell Row Tips for Advanced Lifters
7. Turn the Dumbbell
Perhaps you want to work more on the middle of the upper back instead of only the lats. You can turn the dumbbell so it’s horizontal and it will help you with that area. You can use an overhand grip to get more rear delts or an underhand grip to get more of the mid-traps.
Keep in mind that the underhand grip will also recruit the biceps so don’t go too heavy and risk a biceps injury.
8. Hold the Handle Different
Did you know that you don’t have to hold the center of the handle in the dumbbell to use it? I know, mind-blowing, right?
Seriously, the position of your hand on the handle can slightly change how the back works and feels while doing the one arm row.
If you hold the top of the handle, you might find it’s slightly easier to hold and the top half of the dumbbell is higher. This will work more of the upper lat.
Conversely, holding the bottom half of the dumbbell so the top of the dumbbell is pointed down will activate more of the lower lats. This will also be a little harder on the forearms so don’t be afraid to break out the lifting straps if you need to.
9. Rotate the Body
Before I get into this one, keep in mind that if you are a beginner you shouldn’t try this one yet until you have a better understanding of how to work the back and can execute proper form with the other variations.
If you’re advanced and are looking to hit every last muscle fiber, then you can do this version which is popular among guys who focus on strength as well as bodybuilding. When you pull the weight up, slightly rotate your body and pull the weight higher.
This exaggerated range of motion will light up everything on the side of the back you’re working. You have to do slower reps with this so you don’t risk injury to your lower back or anything else. Three to four seconds both up and down are what this calls for.
Do you have a different way of doing the one arm row that you found helps you? Let us know in the comments what works best for you.