In our last iteration of Exercise of the Week, I talked about cable rows. This is an important to step to mastering the next progression in this movement sequence, which is dumbbell rows.
Dumbbell rows are a great exercise when performed correctly. Pulling strength is important to overall body function, and this exercise develops that strength during the movement. However, many people struggle with the proper technique when performing dumbbell rows, and as such may not be getting the most bang for their buck when utilizing this fantastic exercise.
Like I said, this is one of the best rowing exercises you can put into your program for overall functional development. Not only is it great for improving lat, posterior deltoid and rhomboid strength (all necessary for optimal upper body health), it also develops anti-rotational stability in your obliques and hips as well as scapular stability for shoulder health and posture. Needless to say, this is a fantastic exercise!
There are, however, some common struggle points with this movement that take away from its effectiveness. I want to review them one at a time so you can break your technique down and rebuild it for maximal use.
Having strong traps is important to the function of your upper body. And most of us probably incorporate shrugs into our programs to build big Goldberg traps. And this isn’t a bad thing, as long your balancing out your posterior upper body with lower trap/rhomboid work as well.
See, as a society we tend to hold our shoulder’s up and forward. This is simply a product of our every day life and development of stress. And holding your shoulder’s in this way develops tension in your upper traps. When you perform a dumbbell row and pull the weight close to your armpit, your adding on to the tension that is already there. At TF, we tell our members to pull the weight to their pockets (or more towards the hip). By doing this you’re putting more emphasis on lower trap/rhomboid development, which then supports better shoulder health.
Another problem that I see often is hip movement. The dumbbell row is meant to be a pull with the arm. And a lot of people transition from a pull with the arm to a thrust with the hips.
As you’re performing the movement, it should be a nice steady transition from the arm-extended position to the weight-in-the-pocket position. When you put too much emphasis in thrusting your hips to get the weight up, you’re not allowing the proper muscles to perform the movement. This, in turn, keeps those muscles from being developed properly overall. Keep the hips still and pull with your arm.
This one may seem counter intuitive, especially after my last point. When you are first getting started with the dumbbell row, it is important to start light to allow your core musculature to develop. This way your lower back isn’t taking the brunt of the pressure. Many people, though, don’t take the next step. They sort of hover around that comfort zone and don’t push themselves forward once they’ve adapted properly.
The dumbbell is a tiring movement that takes effort, especially when you are using a decent amount of weight relative to your strength level. Don’t be afraid to try a new weight for a set or 2 to see where your comfort level is.
Upper back and mid-back strength is important. And one great way to make those areas stronger is performing the dumbbell row. Just make sure you’re pushing yourself upward and not staying stagnant. After all, if you’re not progression, you’re regressing…because the rest of the world is moving forward.