The single-arm dumbbell row is not an advanced movement, nor does it require a lot of weight to be effective, but it's an excellent exercise for strengthening and growing the upper back. I especially like it because it can be used by people at every level—from the hardcore bodybuilder to the middle-aged gym newb.
However, like many of the exercises I see people doing in the gym, the single-arm dumbbell row can also be done incorrectly. Without proper control and form, you leave yourself at risk for an injury. Poorly-done exercises are also unproductive.
If you want to get the most out of your back day, check out these guidelines for the perfect single-arm dumbbell row!
Megna's Lifting Lessons Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Watch the video - 4:44
Set-up to Succeed
You can do this exercise using a bench, but I prefer to lean against the dumbbell rack. Stand close enough to the rack that you can reach it without stretching too far—but not so close that you can't have a good flat-back position. Separate your feet, bend your legs, and lean down into the rack. Lean forward and imagine you're falling into the rack.
Look down toward the ground and keep your neck from arching. Your head, neck, and back should form a straight, flat line. Try not to flex your spine; keep it flat with a slight arch in your lower back. Your goal is to maintain this body position throughout the set.
Retraction, Retraction, Retraction
Now it's time to grab the dumbbell. Before you row with it, though, make a conscious effort to retract your shoulders and keep them there. Your shoulders should never protract (pull down and forward) as the weight comes down. Your arm can come down, but your shoulder shouldn't follow suit.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Keep your shoulder blades retracted and your upper-back tight as you pull the dumbbell up. Don't pull with your biceps—think about pulling your elbow up toward the ceiling. You don't have to bring your elbow way up above your body. Pull until the weight comes to about hip level.
Row the weight, hold it at the top for a beat, and then slowly let it down. Your torso may move a little from side to side, but don't allow your entire body to rock. If you need to use that much extra energy to row, your dumbbell is too heavy. The less control you have, the more likely things will go wrong.
Remember your intention. If your intention is to row with perfect form and control, then put all of your focus and energy into doing exactly that.
Get More Lift Education
Just as performing single-arm dumbbell rows correctly can help you build a killer back, performing other core lifts properly, like the back squat, biceps curl, and lat pull-down will ensure you get the most bang for your muscle-building buck. Check out those lifting lessons and drop your questions in the comments below.