Fitness pro Hannah Davis demonstrates how to work through three dumbbell row progressions to build a stronger upper body.

By Megan Falk
November 25, 2019
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While you take a break from your Instagram feed to read this article, you’re probably slouching in a supposedly "ergonomic" desk chair or you’re hunched over on the train or in your Uber. And since it's likely you unconsciously resort to these positions every single day, an arched back and rounded shoulders are now a part of your new ~lewk~.

Aside from the slumped over appearance, these tell-tale signs of poor posture can also lead to neck pain, headaches, poor balance, and most significantly, back problems, which 80 percent of Americans experience at some point in their lives.

One thing that can combat said desk bod is sitting in your gym (or your closest) right now. Pick up a set of dumbbells and row. Dumbell rows are one of the best exercises to pull those hunched shoulders back and improve your posture, says Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., trainer and creator of Body By Hannah. Here, Davis demonstrates three dumbbell row progressions that will help you strengthen your back one workout at a time. Do these pulling movements enough, and you'll notice that keeping your head held high and shoulders relaxed just becomes second nature to you, ultimately improving your posture over time. (Related: The Strength Training Workout for Perfect Posture)

Dumbbell Row Variations

How it works: For each exercise variation, do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Corey Maloney

Step 1: Bent-Over Row

In order to master the advanced rowing exercise variations, you'll begin with the bent-over dumbbell row, which will help you lock down the proper form. The starting position for this move is similar to that of a deadlift, with hinged hips and a flat back.

A. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend knees softly.

B. Hinge at the hips until chest is parallel with the floor and back is flat. Lower dumbbells to the floor until arms are straight.

C. Pull shoulders down and away from ears. Squeeze shoulder blades together, brace your core, draw belly button toward the spine, and slowly bend elbows to pull dumbbells back toward your hips. Keep elbows tight next to your body. Return to start.

Repeat for 10 reps.

Corey Maloney

Step 2: Single-Leg Bent Over Row

This exercise variation is all about balance, making it a great option if you want to work on strengthening your core and its stabilizing muscles. You’ll engage your core while rowing both arms or one at a time. To get the most out of each rep, focus on keeping your hips even and parallel to the ground. (P.S. This is why you need to add balance training to your workout routine.)

A. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend knees softly.

B. Hinge at the hips until chest is parallel or near parallel with the floor and back is flat. Lift one foot off the ground and extend it straight backward. Lower dumbbells to the floor until elbows are completely straight.

C. Pull shoulders down and away from ears. Squeeze shoulder blades together, tighten your core, draw belly button toward your spine, and slowly bend elbows to pull dumbbells back toward your hips. Keep elbows tight next to your body. Return to start.

Repeat for 10 reps.

Corey Maloney

Step 3: Plank Row

The plank row is the toughest of these three rowing variations, but thanks to your work on the previous two moves, you should be ready to advance successfully. Before you begin, make sure you’ve effectively nailed proper form in a high plank position to avoid swaying your hips when you pull the dumbbell to your chest. This will ensure every rep is as effective (and injury-free) as possible.

A. Place two dumbbells shoulder-width apart on the ground. Start in high-plank position, with shoulders stacked over hands, each of which is gripping a dumbbell, feet hip-width apart.

B. Engage quads, glutes, and core, and tuck tailbone slightly. Pull shoulders down and away from ears, and slowly bend one elbow back, keeping arm close to your side as you pull dumbbell up toward your hip. Return to start, placing dumbbell down softly.

Repeat for 10 reps each side, switching sides after every rep.

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