Chinups, pullups, and barbell row variations are the gold standard for building a rockstar back and spreading your wings. With this dumbbell back workout, you’ll use a significant load to add size and strength to your back muscles. So, why use dumbbells for a back workout ?

Although dumbbells are lighter, they have a few advantages over their bar counterparts. Dumbbells allow more freedom of movement and different grips, which is excellent for a few reasons. First, your upper body joints are not locked into a fixed range of motion, which is great for the experienced lifter whose joints have some wear and tear.

Second, you’re not limited to one type of movement or grip. The freedom to move and change grips allows you to attack your back muscles from various angles, promoting improved muscle development.

Let’s note that even lifting two dumbbells, you are lifting each one separately. This fact helps strengthen imbalances between sides, leading to stronger bilateral lifts. Dumbbells’ versatility and adaptability will take your back development to the next level.

Here, we’ll discuss the primary muscles and movements of the back and a dumbbell workout that covers most of them.

Blessing Awodibu back muscle
Wings of Strength

Back Muscles: Anatomy and Functions

Knowledge is power when building a strong, muscular back. Understanding the main muscles of your back is the first step to targeting them effectively. Let’s explore the key players below.


This muscle forms a large triangle from the base of your skull to your lower thoracic vertebrae and shoulder blades. The traps are your go-to for moving, rotating, and stabilizing the shoulder blades.

Elevation: Lifting your shoulders (think shoulder shrugs).

Depression: Pulling your shoulders down (opposite of a shrug).

Retraction: Bringing your shoulder blades together (like in rows).

Upward Rotation: Rotating your scapula upwards.

Latissimus Dorsi

Known to many as the “lats,” these broad, flat muscles spread across your mid to lower back, reaching up into your armpits. They’re your prime movers for shoulder adduction, extension, and internal rotation.

Adduction: Bring your arms down to your sides from an overhead position (like in pull-ups).

Extension: Pull your arms behind you (think rows and pullovers).

Internal Rotation: Rotating your arms inward towards your body.


Nestled between your spine and shoulder blades, the rhomboid major and minor are crucial for retracting the scapula. Imagine pulling your shoulder blades together – that’s the rhomboids in action.

Retraction: Pulling shoulder blades towards your spine (like in rows and face pulls).

Downward Rotation: Rotating your scapula downwards (assists with pulling exercises).

Levator Scapulae

Running from the cervical vertebrae to your scapula, this muscle elevates the scapula and helps with its downward rotation. Performing shoulder shrugs can keep this muscle in tip-top shape.

Elevation: Lifting the scapula (like upper trap shrugs).

Downward Rotation: Assisting in rotating the scapula downward (essential for shoulder stability).

Erector Spinae

This powerhouse muscle group runs along your spine in three columns (iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis). They’re your primary players for extending the vertebral column and maintaining a solid posture.

Extension: Straightening the back from a bent position.

Lateral Flexion: Bending the spine to the side.

Rotation: Rotating the spine (essential for overall spinal mobility).

Fit man working out at the gym with a dumbbell back workout
USM Photography

Dumbbell Back Workout For Strength and Size

Okay, now the fun part.

Below are two tri-sets that focus on your back and can be used in a couple of ways. First, they’re stand-alone workouts when your back is the focus. Second, you can choose one of the tri-sets and insert it in an upper body or total body workout. Each tri-set will be performed two to four times, with 60 seconds of rest between exercises and two minutes of rest after each tri-set.

1A. Bilateral Bentover Row 12-15 reps

1B. Upper Trap Y Raise: 8-12 reps.

1C. Bench Dumbbell Pullover: 12 reps

2A. Birddog Row: 8-12 reps per side

2B. Seated Dumbbell Shrug: AMRAP

2C. Stability Bentover Reverse Flye: 12 reps per side.