The lower back connects the upper and lower body, helping to support better hinging and rotational movements. Whether you’re looking to improve athletic performance or simply make daily activities easier, strengthening the lower back should certainly be high up on your priorities.
The lower back often doesn’t get as much attention as other muscle groups in the back, such as the lats, but weakness in this area can cause all sorts of musculoskeletal problems, such as back ache and poor posture… as well as being a limiting factor for exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
Luckily, all you need is a pair of dumbbells to help create a highly effective lower back workout routine that will strengthen and stabilize these muscles.
What actually is the “lower back”?
The lower back is a term used to describe the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower part of your back, directly above your glutes. The main muscle group in this area is the erector spinae (which is actually made up of 3 muscles; spinalis, iliocostalis, and longissimus). It is a part of what is commonly referred to as the posterior chain, alongside the glutes, hamstrings and calves, which is responsible for backwards force and stabilizing the spine and hips during movements.
In this guide, we’ve listed out the 9 best lower back exercises with dumbbells, including how to perform each movement safely as well as tips for making the most out of them. Most of these exercises will also engage other muscle groups too (primarily the glutes, hamstrings, lats and upper back), so you can decide how to best incorporate them into your existing workouts.
It’s difficult to “isolate” the lower back from the rest of the posterior chain, but this simply means you can focus on compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once.
At a Glance – Best Lower Back Exercises with Dumbbells
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Dumbbell Bent Over Row
- Dumbbell Good Mornings
- Dumbbell Back Extensions
- Dumbbell Bird Dog Rows
- Dumbbell Swing
- Dumbbell Renegade Rows
- Dumbbell B Stance Deadlift
- Dumbbell Side Plank
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift (also known as a “RDL” for short) is a great way to activate and strengthen the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
Unlike a conventional deadlift that involves pushing down through your legs and pulling a weight (e.g. dumbbells) to an upright position… the Romanian deadlift is all about hinging at the hips.
This hinging movement requires good strength and mobility around the hips, lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
You can also do single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlifts to help combat muscular imbalances and train each side individually. This is also useful if you only have access to lighter dumbbells and want a way to add progression. Single leg variations will also test your balance and stability too.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Although the dumbbell bent over row is largely seen as an exercise for the mid back, upper back and lats, it is also a great way to engage the lower back too.
Leaning forward with a straight back and straight legs requires you to hinge at the hips. This will engage the glutes, hamstrings and lower back, ensuring they help keep the spine stable and counteract the impact gravity is having on your upper body.
If you’re doing bent over rows for the lower back, you might find it’s more effective to opt for lighter weights and more repetitions, so you are in that unstable position for longer and thus keeping the lower back muscles engaged and working for longer (time under tension training).
You could even use a balance pad or a tool like the Terra Core to add more progression to the exercise too.
Dumbbell Good Mornings
Dumbbells are a great way to add weight to the Good Morning exercise. We’d recommend opting for a light weight to begin with and focus on slow, controlled movements.
Good Mornings involve hinging at the hips… similar to a Romanian deadlift, but the weight is usually held on your upper back/shoulders. A dumbbell can be held directly behind the head or on the shoulders to create that extra resistance during the exercise. If this doesn’t feel comfortable, try holding a dumbbell in front of your chest instead (but ensure you maintain a straight back).
As you bring yourself back to an upright position, you should feel your posterior chain engaged and activated.
Especially when using dumbbells, we wouldn’t recommend using heavy weights… save that for exercises like deadlifts. Good Mornings are all about slow and controlled movements, and leveraging smart training styles like TUT (time under tension) and eccentric training to build muscle and strength.
Dumbbell Back Extensions
Back extensions are a great option for those looking to really double down on the lower back. You can do bodyweight variations, but it’s most common to see this exercise performed on a 45 degree back extension bench. This helps deactivate other muscle groups during the “hinging” movement so that your lower back muscles take more of the load… which makes them work harder and grow.
Bad technique with back extensions can lead to injury though, so ensure you are taking things nice and slow… and focus on small, controlled movements, as opposed to a big swinging movement.
You can also perform them on a GHD machine (which we think is the best use for GHDs, unlike GHD sit ups!)
For dumbbell back extensions, you simply hold a dumbbell in front of your chest during the exercise, to add extra resistance to the movement.
Dumbbell Bird Dog Rows
The Bird Dog Row is a relatively unknown exercise but it is incredibly useful for developing better strength and stability in the back and core.
We would recommend Bird Dog Rows or Weighted Bird Dogs for those who are perhaps looking to ease back into things. Due to the core and glutes being recruited to support the movement, your lower back doesn’t take the same load as other back exercises, which means you can take things nice and slowly.
Although it’s technically your core and glutes that are doing most of the stabilizing, your lower back still needs to support the spine and help to maintain that straight back during the rows.
The movement will test your balance too and help promote better rowing technique.
The dumbbell swing is a simple alternative to the kettlebell swing… for those who perhaps don’t have access to a kettlebell.
The movement is largely the same as with a regular kettlebell swing, but holding a dumbbell.
Technique is everything with “swinging” exercises, and you can cause serious back issues like a slipped disc if you adopt poor form (usually due to trying to lift too much weight).
This sort of exercise is also great to include in HIIT workouts and for those who want a simple all-round exercise that works lots of muscle groups.
Dumbbell Renegade Rows
The dumbbell renegade row is similar to the bird dog row in terms movement mechanics, but it involves adopting a plank position as opposed to a quadruped position. This means your core (both your abs and lower back) are more heavily engaged during the movement to maintain stability.
To do dumbbell renegade rows, you ideally need a pair of hex dumbbells (which have a flat edge). If not, you’ll need to think about how to ensure the dumbbells don’t slide when you’re applying force to them. A thick yoga mat can sometimes work well.
Renegade rows are a great exercise for those looking for a versatile exercise that will engage lots of muscle groups.
Dumbbell B Stance Deadlift
B Stance deadlifts are a great compound exercise that offer a middle-ground between conventional deadlifts and the single leg variation. One leg is positioned as a “kickstand”, to support the movement and provide balance, without actually contributing much muscular endeavour to the exercise. Ultimately, this means you can train each leg separately, which is great for those without access to heavy dumbbells.
Compared to single leg deadlifts, the B stance variation requires less balance, so if that’s a limiting factor, this can be a more suitable way to train your muscles (although we’d recommend prioritizing some balance exercise training if that is the case).
Our guide on B Stance deadlifts includes more tips on perfecting this movement.
Dumbbell Side Plank
The side plank is a really underused exercise that is perfectly designed to strengthen your mid-section (abs, obliques and lower back).
A dumbbell side plank increases the difficulty from regular side planks, so make sure you’re confident with the bodyweight version first.
A dumbbell can either be held on your waist to increase the load or held vertically by extending your arm (this makes it even more challenging by creating more instability during the movement).
The dumbbell side plank is another great way to target lots of muscles in the upper body, including the lats, shoulders and obliques… as well as the lower body.
Try holding this position on each side for a specified duration and repeat this for 3 sets. Over time, track how you are improving.
FAQs About Lower Back Dumbbell Exercises
What Muscles Make Up the “Lower” Back?
The main muscles that make up the “lower back” includes; Multifidus, Erector Spinae, Spinalis and Latissimus Dorsi.
Why is Lower Back Strength Important?
A strong lower back helps to better support the spine and hips. This improves posture and makes both upper and lower body movements that activate the posterior chain easier. A weak lower back, in contrast, can cause pain, discomfort and become a limiting factor for all sorts of movements.
Dumbbells Vs Barbells for Lower Back Exercises
If you are looking to add resistance to lower back exercises, both dumbbells and barbells are great options. Typically, barbells allow you to add greater load, which is better if you’re training for absolute strength. Dumbbells are usually preferred for home workouts and also lend themselves better for unilateral training.
What’s the Best Exercise to Strengthen the Lower Back?
There is no absolute “best” exercise for the lower back… it will largely depend on personal preferences, goals and current fitness level. There are bodyweight movements like side planks which are a great starting point, and then there are movements like dumbbell Romanian deadlifts which are more advanced but better for building muscle.