The Single-Arm Dumbbell Row is one of my favorite upper-back strength exercises. It's joint-friendly, doesn't require complex equipment, and you can work up to heavy loads over time.
On the surface it has all the hallmarks of a fantastic exercise. Yet many lifters don't get much benefit out of the exercise. Why?
Because they don't feel the exercise where they're supposed to. Instead of the lats, their biceps and forearms take over. Heck, even their spinal erectors fatigue just from holding the rowing position. But the lats? Nada, amigo. The result is a lot of gym-goers walking around wishing for bigger lats.
There's a simple fix that can help you address this issue and experience a skin-splitting lat pump. It involves an agonist superset where the first exercise (a Resistance Band Row) directly targets and pre-exhausts the lats. The second exercise, a Dumbbell Row variation with a neat twist, capitalizes on this. The result is one of the best lat pumps you'll ever experience.
In case you're not familiar with the terminology, an agonist superset contains two exercises largely targeting the same muscles. Pairing Chin-Ups and Lat Pulldowns would be on example. In contrast, an antagonist superset involves two exercises for opposing muscle groups. For example, Bench Presses and Seated Cable Rows.
The first exercise in this lat-building superset is the Single-Arm Band Row. Here's how:
- Pick a resistance band you're able to row with perfect form. In the video, I'm using a semi-strong band folded in half to make sure it provides enough tension.
- Loop the band around something sturdy. This could be the handle of a vertical plate rack, upright in a cable stack, whatever you can find that's stable.
- Perform 12-15 reps, briefly pausing at the top on each rep. Focus on contracting your lat on each rep.
Remember, this is a Single-Arm Row. But unlike most unilateral exercises you've done before, you're only going to do a set on one side before switching to the next exercise (don't worry, we'll come back to hit the other side). Once you've completed 12-15 reps with one arm, immediately move to the next exercise (a Band-Resisted Single-Arm Dumbbell Row) using that same arm:
- Use the proper level of resistance band. You don't want to use a crazy thick band for this. You can also adjust the level of resistance in a given band by pinning more or less slack under your free hand.
- As you pull the dumbbell up, tension in the band increases. Compared to Dumbbell Rows without a band, you have to exert more effort to finish the movement. This leads to a stronger lat contraction.
- Perform 10-12 reps with that arm. Rest 75-90 seconds, and then repeat the agonist superset with your other arm.
I do generally prefer doing Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows with both feet on the ground as opposed to one knee on the bench, as this allows me to move heavier weights, but in this case, the knee on the bench is more practical because you need to pin down the other end of the band. And trust me, it'll still be plenty taxing if you're using the right load.
How do you choose the right weight for the Band-Resisted Single-Arm Dumbbell Row? Start with 50% of what you can normally do for 10 to 12 reps. So, if you could row an 80-pound dumbbell, pick a 40-pounder here. If that feels easy, you have two options. Either lift a heavier dumbbell, or increase band tension by leaving more slack in the free end.
Perform 2-4 complete sets (both arms being worked equals one complete set) in a workout to help you achieve larger lats! Remember, proper form is essential here. Don't use weight that's too heavy and causes your form to break down. Start light, make sure you're hammering your lats and not your low back or biceps, then adjust the weight appropriately from there.
Photo Credit: zwawol/iStock
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