The back muscles make up the majority of the upper body combined. One of the most popular exercises that target the back muscles effectively is the single arm dumbbell row. 

Also known as a one-arm dumbbell row or lawnmowers, the single-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral isotonic exercise that focuses on core and back activation. This also works the shoulders, forearm, and biceps. Isolating one arm at a time means building strength in specific muscle groups, focusing on controlled lifting, and discovering and fixing muscular imbalances. 

All these benefits make the single-arm dumbbell row a great addition to your back training split. It also offers a greater range of motion compared with its close alternative; the bent-over dumbbell row. We will talk more about the comparisons between these two exercises, so keep reading.

By the end of this article, you should be able to perform the one-arm row properly, learn about variations and alternatives to try, and gain answers to the most frequent questions surrounding the single-arm row.

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To Do Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Benefits
  • Common Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Mistakes To Avoid
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Muscles Worked
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row vs Dumbbell Bent Over Row
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Variations
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Alternative Exercises
  • Wrap Up
  • FAQs About Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

How To Do Single Arm Dumbbell Row

What You’ll Need: 

  • Flat bench: The bench will be used to prop your knee and rest your arm while the other half of your body does the one-arm dumbbell row. You may also consider an Adjustable Bench to perform other exercises.

Alternative Equipment: 

  • Dumbbell rack: You could hold out your arm on the dumbbell rack to balance yourself, and half your knee on the same side pushed back further to achieve a 90ª angle on your back.

Step 1: Position Yourself On The Bench

Choose a flat bench and put one knee on the bench with the opposite leg on the ground. Make sure to open up your hips before planting your foot firmly on the ground. Have your back on a 90º angle. From the same side as your standing leg, extend your arm towards the floor without rounding your back. Use your hand as a hook with a neutral grip to avoid lifting with your biceps.

Step 2: Prepare To Lift

Lift your glutes up and tighten your core. Keep a neutral spine by straightening your back and protracting your shoulders. Your starting position should have your arms extended towards the floor as low as possible and your foot slightly behind your glutes for balance.

Step 3: Lift With Intention

There are two ways that you can go through the concentric phase of this exercise. To target your traps, drive your elbow back towards your hips. To target your upper back, drive your elbow up to your chest. Remember to always lift with your elbow and squeeze your shoulder blades at the top. Keep your eyes down and your elbows as close to your side as possible. 

Step 4: Control The Eccentric Phase (Lowering)

As you put down the dumbbell, protract your shoulder and slightly rotate your shoulder out. Fully extend your arm to feel the stretch on your lats. At the top of the eccentric phase, you should be returning to your starting point.

5 Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Benefits

1. Increases Unilateral Strength

When you work on each side of your body one at a time, you get the chance to fix your form and focus on every movement you make. Proper form leads to a regular progressive overload. You may not carry thousands of pounds during your single-arm dumbbell row, but you can definitely trust your body to carry a heavier load without risks of injury.

2. Better Posture

With your back in a straight and neutral position, the end result is spine neutralization. Therefore, you can carry the same form in your everyday posture and stand, sit, and walk better. In terms of exercising, a proper posture can guide you in executing proper form, no matter what exercise you are doing.

3. Better Back Definition

Dumbbell rows work on multiple muscles, including lats, rhomboids, shoulders, and arms. This achieves a great muscle definition on your back and allows your shirt to fit better. Overall, it balances out your physique and makes you more toner or muscular, depending on your program.

4. Better Core Stability

The core plays a significant role in helping you lift with power when doing one-arm dumbbell rows. Your core works harder as you perform more challenging variations that seek more balance and coordination. Thus, your core gets stronger over time without having to do isolated abs exercises.

5. Fixes Upper Body Muscular Imbalance

It is easy to ignore or not even notice muscular imbalances when performing a compound exercise on a bar. This makes you more complacent to rely on the stronger side of your body and not work on your overall strength. Doing the dumbbell row exercise with one arm at a time puts emphasis on your weak points.

Common Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Mistakes to Avoid

Flaring out the elbows 

Flaring out your elbows during a one-arm row can put a strain on your shoulders and elbow, making the exercise ineffective. This also tends to target the wrong muscle group.

Lifting with momentum

One common mistake many lifters make, whether novice or experienced, is lifting with momentum. When you do so, you are jerking your entire body to make the lift instead of controlling your movement. Doing so also devoids a full range of motion.

Aiming for a straight path

As you lift the dumbbell, your arm should be slightly angled with your forearm going towards your torso. Aiming for a straight path only targets the shoulders and not your back, which should be the main muscle group activated.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Muscles Worked

Though unilateral in form, the single-arm dumbbell row is a compound movement that works on multiple muscles simultaneously. 

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Spinal erectors (lower back)
  • Scapular stabilizers
  • Forearms
  • Biceps

The primary muscles involved in the one-arm row include the lats, rhomboids, spinal erectors, and shoulder blades. The spinal erectors play a fundamental role in stabilizing the entire spine, while the scapular stabilizers allow the shoulder blade to be contracted at all times during the movement. Having a strong and stable scapula is essential for many pulling exercises, such as the barbell row.

On the other hand, the forearms and biceps are also targeted on a secondary level. The whole arm assists in the pulling movement while the forearm takes the brunt of the load during the actual row.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row vs Dumbbell Bent Over Row

Off the bat, the major difference between the bent-over dumbbell row and the single-arm dumbbell row is the equipment used. Although the bar path is somewhat similar, both target the bottom of the chest or the rib cage while cuing the lift using the elbows.

On the topic of strength building, bent over rows are favored for strength development as it allows you to carry heavier weight with the use of both arms while maintaining the feet shoulder-width apart. However, in terms of muscle hypertrophy and fixing asymmetries, the one-arm dumbbell row is a more deserving winner.

By lifting with one arm at a time, you have better chances of repping out your sets with lighter weight. You have a wider window of work available before exhausting yourself, all while being able to maintain a proper posture. On the same note, one-arm rows can help you determine muscle asymmetries, so you are not tempted to rely on the stronger side of your body during bilateral exercises.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs:

For Hypertrophy

The key to muscle hypertrophy is performing moderate volume using moderate weight. We suggest doing 15 to 20 reps for 3 to 5 sets using weights that you find moderately heavy. You may also consider increasing the time under tension (TuT) by applying tempo training.

For Muscle Endurance

You can train your muscles to have more stamina by performing high volume using moderate load. An ideal program to follow is 20 to 30 reps for 2 to 3 sets. High reps can wear out your grip easily, so if necessary, you could wear a lifting strap for this particular goal.

For Strength Training

Heavy lifting is the most necessary component in muscle building. Using a heavy load, you can perform four to eight reps for four to six sets. Since you will be using heavyweights, this is the best time to incorporate a Chest Supported Row exercise that can be considered a dumbbell row variation.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Variations

Once you have mastered the one-arm dumbbell row, you can level up your workout by choosing one of these variations below.

Symmetrical Stance One-Arm Dumbbell Row

This limits the movement to the arm and therefore engages more of the core, as well as the back of the working shoulder. This is especially recommended for athletes that play sports with heavy core and back engagement and individuals who want to determine their weak links.

Gym Ball One-Arm Dumbbell Row

With the use of a gym ball, what seems to be a simple exercise becomes challenging tenfold. This dumbbell variation requires the right amount of balance and coordination. Along with this, your core has to work extra hard for you to maintain proper posture.

Dumbbell Incline Row

This variation is a chest-supported row where your chest fully rests on a 45º incline bench, allowing you to focus on your upper body while your back is in a fully neutral position. Resting your chest on a stable surface also prevents your back from arching during the lift.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Alternatives

Inverted Row

If you want to fire up your lats, rhomboids, upper arm, and even delts, you should give the Inverted Row a go. With your body under the bar, your body is working against your own body weight, pushing you to work harder or, in this case, pull with more power. We have also included a list of Alternatives for Inverted Row that will be useful to your exercises.

Seated Cable Row

The starting position of this exercise looks a bit different from sitting on a machine. Nevertheless, this alternative works the lats, rhomboids, teres major, lower and mid traps altogether. With the pulling motion, the seated cable row’s primary goal is building upper body strength. We have also included 10 Seated Cable Row Alternatives that can help you to achieve your workout goal!

V Pulldown

The V Pulldown also makes use of a Cable Machine while in a seated position. This alternative essentially targets the lats while still getting work done on the middle back, anterior delts, and biceps.

Frequently Asked Questions

The target muscles of the single-arm dumbbell row include the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, spinal erectors (lower back), and scapular stabilizers. Meanwhile, the forearms and biceps are responsible for carrying the brunt of the load (dumbbell). 

With the proper engagement of the right muscles, proper form, and sufficient weight, you can benefit from the single-arm dumbbell row by performing the recommended sets according to your fitness plan, be it muscle hypertrophy, strength training, or muscle endurance.

A one-arm row is a unilateral isotonic exercise that targets the lats, rhomboids, lower back, and scapula. It is normally treated as an accessory exercise that can be appropriately incorporated into a split-back program.

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