You can’t build a good workout (or a true beach body) without doing plenty of rows.
The dumbbell row builds big back, a vice grip, safeguard your shoulders and improve your posture.
Sure, vanity muscles like pecs and arms are impressive, but a wide, thick back is the real hallmark of a high-performance body.
That’s what makes heads turn.
Specifically if you’re a man–building a muscular v-tapered back screams power & dedication in the gym while also making your shoulders look wider and your waist smaller.
The good news?
You don’t need any machines or complicated exercises to score one; all you need is the one arm dumbbell row.
The dumbbell row is the best “horizontal pulling” exercise you can do–even better than barbell rows.
Because you’re using one limb at a time, you’ll train around muscular imbalances, protect your lower back (compared to barbell rows)–> and train your lateral sub-system…a handful of muscles that can help prevent unwanted movement through your trunk to help you build a stronger core.
However, the dumbbell row isn’t as simple as grabbing a dumbbell and ripping it like you’re pull starting a lawn mower.
There are 6 common mistakes you need to avoid when doing dumbbell rows.
1. Rely on your biceps.
Check out my arm angle here. Notice how my upper arm and forearm are less than 90 degrees here?
I’m overemphasizing my biceps and not pulling with my traps and lats–limiting how effective the row is.
When doing your rows, you want to keep a roughly 90 degree angle between upper arm and forearm.
This will help you more effectively train your back, avoid OVER-pulling on your rows…more on that later, and still provide additional muscle building volume for your back.
2. “Starting A lawnmower→ Having No Control On Your Lifts.
Across the board, one of the biggest mistakes 90% of people make in the gym is NOT paying attention to lifting tempo.
The eccentric phase–the lowering phase–of the dumbbell row–is the incredibly important for building lean muscle.
Your reps should be smooth→ Not like you’re trying to pull start a rickety old lawnmower.
Control the negative/eccentric. Take 3-4 seconds to lower the weight under control.
This will improve your mind muscle connection–how hard you feel your muscles contract.
This will increase your time under tension–a crucial component for muscle growth.
And it will help you do more with less–creating a bigger muscle building response with less weight.
Stop cheating on your reps. There are no 1 arm row olympics and if anything, you’re making your training less effective this way.
3. No pause at peak contraction.
If you can’t feel a muscle, you’ll struggle to make it grow.
One of the biggest complaints lifters have with training their back is they can’t “feel” their lats contract.
This is a huge issue. While many lifters have no issue “Feeling” their biceps, chest, or other mirror muscles when they train, they often struggle to feel their back–And it shows with poor muscular development and computer guy poster.
To make the most of your one arm dumbbell row, pause at the top.
When I do my one arm dumbbell rows, I initiate the MOVEMENT by pulling with my elbow as if I was rowing more towards my hip.
This creates a hard contraction in your lats.
To take it up a notch, imagine wrapping the dumbbell around your rib-cage every so slightly–without rotating your spine.
You’ll notice the muscle fibers of your lats are angled–pulling within this angle at end range will help you feel your lats like never before.
4. No stretch at the bottom.
Lats are a notoriously tight muscle.
Using a shortened range of motion makes this worse, and is less effective for muscle lean muscle.
To get a muscle to grow it’s often desirable to first stretch it under tension and then forcefully contract it immediately following.
This is why your hamstrings are DEMOLISHED after exercises like romanian deadlifts or, why you can hardly peel your ass off the toilet following leg day with bulgarian split squats.
The same concept is true when it comes to training your other muscles…and on exercises like the 1 arm dumbbell row.
While keeping your lower back neutral and core braced, Stretch your scapula and let it spread apart as far as possible.
On dumbbell rows, allow for a big stretch on the bottom of the lift, allowing your scapular to spread apart WITHOUT losing position of your spine.
Then, initiate the movement by pulling with your elbow and contracting your lats as hard as possible.
As a bonus, this increases the duration of each rep, creating more time under tension to build lean muscle.
5. Letting grip be a limiting factor.
Dumbbell rows are a great way to build grip strength.
Problem is, GRIP strength becomes a limiting factor for many people when they’re lifting.
When your grip is a limiting factor, it prevents you from training your target muscles like your lats as effectively as you could.
In this case, it’s okay to wear straps when you’re using rows because the primary goal is building your back, not the strongest grip in existence.
Use straps on your hardest sets. This will allow you to use more weight, train with more volume, and maintain technique–all creating a bigger muscle building response for your lats.
Of course, you’ll still want to improve grip strength long term.
Only use straps for your hardest sets.
Consider adding 1-2 high rep sets of When needed, use straps. Add in high-rep finishers to build pulling strength.
6. Overpulling at the top→ anterior humeral glide.
Generally speaking, horizontal rows like the 1 arm dumbbell row are great for your shoulders and posture.
But if you OVERPULL on your row, you actually beat up your shoulders and biceps tendon.
When you pull or row too farm, you can experience anterior humeral glide.
When you overpull, you return to the same, kyphotic COMPUTER nerd posture you’re trying to eliminate with proper training.
Your scapular can tilt forward, closing down subacromial space in your shoulder joint, and your humeral head crashes forward..irritating your biceps and causing shoulder impingement.
When you perform a dumbbell row, don’t overpull.
Pull until you get a great contraction in your lat, pause, and move to the next rep.