The lats, or “latissimus dorsi” to use the official name, is one the largest muscle groups in the body and plays a vital role in heathly movement.
Developing stronger lats helps to create a “V” shape in the back (which often has aesthetic connotations)… but it’s the benefits of better spinal support, injury prevention, stability of the shoulders and arms, improving posture, and aiding any sort of pulling motion in the upper body, that are why you should really get excited about your next lat workout.
Luckily, all you need is a pair of dumbbells to create effective workouts that will strengthen your lats… ideal for those without access to a gym or machines like cable pulleys.
Whether you’re looking for the best dumbbell lat exercises because you don’t have any other equipment or because you’re looking at ways to enhance your existing lat workout with new movements, the exercises listed in this article all help build muscle and strength in the lats and back, and are great for anyone to include in their fitness routine.
In this guide, we outline everything you need to know about the best exercises for lat workouts using dumbbells, including how to perform each exercise safely and tips for including such movements into a workout routine efficiently.
Dumbbell Lat Exercises
- Dumbbell Row on Bench
- Dumbbell Bent Over Row
- Dumbbell Spiderman Pull Ups
- Dumbbell Pull Up
- Dumbbell Deadlift
- Dumbbell Renegade Row
- Dumbbell Reverse Fly
- Isometric Dumbbell Row Hold
Dumbbell Row on Bench
The dumbbell row on a bench is a fantastic exercise to engage the lats, and it is also beginner friendly. To start with, select a lighter weight and once you feel comfortable, progress to heavier weights. The dumbbell row on a bench is all about technique and form, so go slow and steady and don’t rush the movement.
To make the most out of the exercise you want to really squeeze the lats and keep your back straight. You also want to engage your core throughout the whole movement to create stability and ensure you don’t wobble from side to side as you lift the dumbbell. To really make the lats work harder you can try and hook your hands under the dumbbell without gripping them with your thumb, which will mean your forearms and biceps take less of the weight, resulting in your lats quite literally doing all the heavy lifting.
Dumbbell rows on a bench can also benefit from negative or eccentric repetitions whereby you do the lowering of the dumbbell slowly, resulting in increased muscular development.
To do dumbbell rows on the bench, lean on a bench with your left knee and left hand placed on the bench. With your back straight and your right foot anchoring your body on the floor, hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Bend at the elbow to bring this dumbbell up by squeezing your right lat and hold for a moment before slowly lowering the dumbbell back down. Make sure you don’t lift your elbow beyond the height of your back.
Repeat this movement for repetitions before doing it with the left arm. Try to aim somewhere between 6 and 15 repetitions per set.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
The dumbbell bent over row is very similar to the dumbbell row on the bench, except we’re going to be standing for this exercise. This means it becomes more of a functional movement as opposed to just focusing on the lats, as your posterior chain is going to be engaged to provide extra stability. This movement also replicates a lot of real world situations, meaning that it often has practical benefits for everyday living too.
As with the dumbbell row on a bench, a successful dumbbell bent over row is all about technique and form. We want to avoid any quick reps that involve any sort of jerking or swinging motion and instead use slow and controlled movements.
To do the dumbbell bent over row, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hinging at the hips, lean forward so your back is parallel to the floor. Your back should be straight for the duration of the exercise so avoid any arching of the back. You will also need to engage your glutes and core to provide stability in this position and to stop you falling forwards. Bending your elbows, bring the dumbbells towards your chest and pause for a moment, before slowly lowering them back down until your arms are straight.
Repeat this for repetitions and for sets.
You could also do the movement one at a time if you prefer. This may be more relevant if you are lifting heavier weights, but again, make sure your back is straight at all times and you don’t try to use momentum to lift the dumbbell.
You can also change your grip and hold the dumbbells parallel to your body as well.
Similarly, you can also use wide dumbbell bent over rows to put more emphasis on your upper back and shoulders as well as the lats if you prefer. This involves the same movement but you hold the dumbbells slightly further away from your body and pull your arms wider as you lift the dumbbell. To hold the dumbbells in this wider stance will require your lats to be engaged for the whole movement so it is a great way to hit the lats hard at the end of a workout.
Dumbbell Spiderman Pull Ups
Spiderman pull ups are a fantastic exercise to do at home. They are a functional movement that can be incorporated in to all sorts of workout routines. It’s a beginner friendly movement yet you can add progression to really challenge yourself too.
By holding a pair of dumbbells you can turn Spiderman pull ups from a basic bodyweight movement into a difficult strength training exercise.
As well as engaging the lats, dumbbell Spiderman pull ups will also improve lower back strength and shoulder strength. It can often be used in mobility drills and ROM workouts.
Spiderman pull ups will also test your core strength and stability, as the position is naturally unbalanced. As your legs are also raised off the floor as well as your arms, your glutes and hamstrings will also be engaged for the whole movement.
Dumbbell Spiderman pull ups will be tough so you’ll probably want to opt for lighter dumbbells to begin with and see how you get on.
To do dumbbell Spiderman pull ups, begin by placing the dumbbells in front of you on the floor. Lay down with your stomach on the floor, face down with your arms extended straight in front of you and your legs stretched back.
Grab hold of the dumbbells and lift your chest, arms and legs off the floor. Bending at the elbows bring the dumbbells towards your body until they are parallel with your chest. Pause for a moment before extending your elbows to push the dumbbells back in front of you.
Dumbbell Spiderman pull ups are quite unique compared to other exercises on this list in that they are both a pulling and a pushing movement which means not only will your lats/back and biceps be engaged to pull the dumbbell toward you, but your shoulders, chest and triceps will also be engaged to push it back away from you. This is great for those with limited time who want to focus on exercises that pack a punch in terms of benefits and muscles engaged.
Dumbbell Pull Up
The humble pull up is arguably still the best exercise to strengthen your lats. A simple way to add progression is to hold a dumbbell between your feet as you perform a pull up. This extra weight will make it more challenging and will mean you need to work harder to maintain stability during the movement.
Our guide on negative pull ups explains how you can focus on the eccentric part of the pull up to get started, or to even use it to make the movement more challenging.
Depending on your preference, you can mix up your grip to focus on certain muscles more than others. If the aim is to engage the lats then an overhand grip is best. In fact, to go one step further, try to hook your fingers around a bar without using the thumb to grip, as this will mean you put even more emphasis on the lats as you limit the forearms from being engaged.
To do a dumbbell pull up, stand underneath a pull up bar with a dumbbell in front of you. Start with a lighter dumbbell and see how you get on before increasing the weight. You’ll probably find it easier to use a dumbbell with a larger end plate so that you can hook your feet underneath it.
Gripping the dumbbell between your feet or thigh, grab the pull up bar and lift yourself up, bending at the elbows. Pause for a moment before lowering yourself back down. Repeat for repetitions.
No list about the best exercises for your lats would be complete without a variation of the deadlift. This compound movement will engage a variety of muscles, particularly your posterior chain. It brings with it a whole host of benefits specifically around strength and muscular development.
Variations like the sumo dumbbell deadlift put more emphasis on the glutes, so because we want to focus on the lats, we’ll stick with the traditional dumbbell deadlift.
Compared to some of the other exercises in this list, such as dumbbell Superman pull ups, for deadlifts you’ll probably be able to lift heavier weights. Nevertheless, it’s always best to start with lighter weights so you can get used to the movement and ensure you feel comfortable before you try and lift anything too heavy.
To do dumbbell deadlifts, place two dumbbells in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder width part. Keeping your chest upright, facing forward and back straight, bend at the knees so that you can hold each dumbbell. Activating your gluts, quads and hamstrings, forcefully push up into an upright position keeping your arms straight. Lower yourself back down and repeat for repetitions.
Your lats will be engaged to keep the dumbbells stable during the movement.
Dumbbell Renegade Row
The Renegade row is another fantastic lat exercise that you can do at home that will engage a whole host of other muscles, helping to create a very effective workout. Renegade rows benefit from using dumbbells that have a flat edge (also known as “hex” dumbbells), however, if you don’t have such dumbbells you can use a yoga mat or cushion to provide stability as you lift the dumbbells.
Just like the Bent Over Row and Dumbbell row on a bench, the Renegade row engages the lats by bringing (or “pulling”) a dumbbell towards your body. This is ultimately a very effective way of strengthening the lats using dumbbells.
To do the dumbbell Renegade row, place two dumbbells on the floor facing forwards. Adopt the plank position but hold each dumbbell. Straight away you’ll notice that your core is heavily activated just like a normal plank. Next, lift your right hand up whilst holding the dumbbell, bringing it towards your body by bending at the elbows. Placing it back down on the floor and repeat this with your left hand. Repeat this for repetitions and sets.
As you lift each hand off the floor whilst holding the dumbbells, you’ll notice that this creates instability which forces your core to work even harder. If you’re just getting started, you can also do Renegade rows without a dumbbell just to get used to the movement and so that you feel comfortable lifting your arms off the floor.
Keep your back straight for the whole movement and avoid rotating your torso as you lift the dumbbells up.
Dumbbell Reverse Fly
The dumbbell reverse fly is another great exercise that targets your lats. It’s beginner friendly and you can do it at home. Like with any back exercise, technique is everything and to execute the dumbbell reverse fly safely, you need to keep a straight back for the whole movement.
Start with a lighter dumbbell to ensure that you aren’t using momentum or a rocking movement to lift the dumbbell and instead you are only using the contraction of your lats and shoulders to lift the weight up.
To do dumbbell reverse flyes, stand with your feet shoulder width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your back nice and straight, hinge at the hips to lean forward slightly. You want to have your knees slightly bent with your glutes activated to create stability.
With your arms slightly bent, pull the dumbbells up and out parallel with body. Pause for a moment before lowering your arms back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions.
To ensure you are making the most of dumbbell reverse flyes you want to really squeeze your shoulder blades together as you’re lifting the dumbbell. This will help ensure the right muscles are being used to lift the dumbbell. It will also help ensure better posture throughout the movement.
Isometric Dumbbell Row Hold
The final dumbbell exercise in this list is unique in that it is the only isometric exercise. This means that instead of using concentric and eccentric movements to build muscle, we’re actually just going to try and hold the movement to engage the lats.
Isometric training is a great way to build functional strength and muscular endurance that has practical uses in everyday life. If you’ve never done them before it can also force the muscles to grow as they adapt to the requirements of the exercise.
To do an isometric dumbbell row, hold hold a dumbbell in each hand. With your feet shoulder with apart and the knees slightly bent, hinge at the hips to lean forward until your back is near parallel to the floor. Bend the elbows to bring the dumbbells towards your chest and hold that for between 30 and 60 seconds or as long as you can.
Once you’ve held it for the duration you can lower the dumbbell back down before placing them on the floor and resting.
During the isometric dumbbell row hold, you want to really squeeze your shoulder blades together whilst you’re holding the position. This can be a great exercise to do at the end of a workout to really feel the burn in your lats.
Things to Consider
As with any workout, technique and form are vital. This means opting for lighter dumbbells and focusing on slow and controlled movements will yield better results than trying to lift weights that are simply too heavy for your current strength level, as you’ll likely end up trying to use momentum or a rocking motion to lift the dumbbells… which can lead to injury.
Dumbbell lat exercises are great because you can do them at home with just a pair of dumbbells, making it very accessible to anyone even without a gym membership. If you want to really enhance your workouts, getting a pair of adjustable dumbbells can really make a difference as you can quickly change weight between reps or sets efficiently without needing to own lots of dumbbells.
As a general rule of thumb, if you opt for heavy weights with lower repetitions, it is better for strength and power, whereas if you opt for lighter dumbbells with higher repetitions, it is better for burning fat and adding definition.
To get started with, aiming for between 6 and 12 repetitions per set is it good starting point.
Dumbbell Lat Workout
There are many ways to use dumbbell lat exercises in your workouts. You could dedicate one day a week for doing these lat exercises with dumbbells or in corporate them into other more general workouts, such as full body workouts (such as push/pull splits). If you like the idea of using dumbbells at home to train your lats, you may find these exercises become staples in your fitness routine, or equally, you may just decide to use them occasionally as a way to keep your workouts varied and fresh.
Check out our guide on shoulder and bicep workouts too, to help activate those muscle groups during your weekly plan.
A popular training method would be to select 5 exercises from the list below and doing 3 sets of them. You can pair these dumbbell lat exercises with some bicep exercises within the same workout too to make your workouts more efficient (as both muscle groups involve pulling movements).
|Exercise||Reps and Sets|
|Dumbbell Row on Bench||6-8 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Bent Over Row||8-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Spiderman Pull Ups||8-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Pull Up||4-10 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Deadlift||8-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Renegade Row||12-16 reps, 3 sets|
|Dumbbell Reverse Fly||8-12 reps, 3 sets|
|Isometric Dumbbell Row Hold||30 seconds, 3 sets|
How to Target the Lats Using Dumbbells?
As this list shows, it’s definitely possible to target and strengthen the lats by using dumbbells. In fact, using dumbbells is a great variation if you do normally use a barbell as it will also improve your balance and stability. Most dumbbell lat exercises will involve some sort of rowing motion which is similar to when you use a barbell as well.
Where Are the Lats?
Your lats, or latissimus dorsi, is a large flat muscle that makes up the sides of your back. It creates the “V” shape associated with the back and provides stability and strength for all sorts of movements.
Best Lat Workout With Dumbbells?
To create the best lat workout with dumbbells, we would recommend selecting five of the exercises listed here and doing 3 sets per exercise and between 6 and 15 repetitions per set.