Mar 30, 2017
Shoulder Work

The one-arm dumbbell row is a commonly performed exercise among athletes, but there are a number of misconceptions regarding its purpose and proper technique. When done properly, this exercise is a valuable tool for building strength and targeting hard-to-reach muscles. Unfortunately, many athletes are unaware of how to approach the one-arm dumbbell row and often put excess strain on the wrong muscles and joints.

After doing a set of one-arm dumbbell rows, people often say that they feel the burn in their biceps, triceps, elbows, wrists, forearms, and neck. Yet, the purpose of the motion is to strengthen the thoracolumbar region in the middle and upper part of the back, along the spine and between the shoulder blades. These muscles are essential for upper body power and stability. Athletes who need a lot of upper body strength, such as football and baseball players, will find this exercise very useful.

“The row is typically intended to work the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, lower traps, and erector spinae, and requires a large degree of stabilization from the rotator cuff,” writes Dean Somerset for T Nation. “This means that if you’re doing it correctly, you should feel the muscles between and below your shoulder blades working like crazy.”

The exercise can be done while standing with a dumbbell in each hand, or bent over on a bench with a dumbbell in one hand at a time. The latter is the more common method because it allows for greater stability. Key to performing the dumbbell row properly is spinal position. When doing the exercise, athletes should have a straight back, which will allow the shoulder blades to move properly.

“A rounded back will limit the mobility of the scapula and make the exercise impossible to work the lats,” writes Somerset. “By ‘straightening out’ the spine and getting it into more of a neutral position, you allow the shoulder blade to move properly and get the lats and rhomboids to pull properly.”

Make sure that your athletes are stabilizing their core and their rotator cuffs. The muscles in between the shoulder blades should be doing all of the work. If the athlete is feeling strain in their wrists or forearms they are likely using too much weight or are not pulling through their back muscles. As with most exercises, have athletes start with a lower weight, such as 10 reps of 15 or 20 pounds, and concentrate on performing the movement with perfect form before moving on to heavier weight.

Here is a step-by-step guide for performing the one-arm dumbbell row:

  1. Place a dumbbell on each side of a flat bench.
  2. Decide which hand will pick up the dumbbell and place the opposite leg on the end of the bench. The leg should be bent 90 degrees at the knee while the foot hangs off of the end. Bend your torso so that your upper body is parallel to the floor and place your free hand on the bench for support.
  3. Pick up the dumbbell from the floor and straighten your back so that it is flat.
  4. Pull the dumbbell straight up to the side of your chest while keeping your upper arm close to your side, elbow tucked in, and torso stationary. Try to pull the dumbbell has far up as possible. Breathe out as you pull the weight up.
  5. Lower the dumbbell straight down while breathing in.
  6. Repeat this movement for the desired amount of repetitions and then switch sides.

Having athletes keep their head up and eyes forward can help them concentrate on maintaining a straight back. Also, be sure that their shoulder blades are pulled back throughout the set. This means that even at the bottom of the movement their shoulder blades are stabilized and do not drop. With these tips in mind, help your athletes get a safe and effective workout with the one-arm dumbbell row.

More resources for this exercise can be found here and here.

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