Lee Boyce's Tips for Perfecting the Dumbbell Single-Arm Row

If you're having trouble with your Single-Arm Row, these tips from strength coach Lee Boyce can get you on track.

The Single-Arm Dumbbell Row is a common and popularly regarded "go-to" exercise for lifters seeking size, strength or general upper-back health, but often athletes' intentions when doing them are wrong.

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The Single-Arm Dumbbell Row is most frequently touted as a way to hit the scapular muscles (such as the teres, rhomboids, rear deltoids, lower traps, and others). Although the exercise does involve these muscles, the movement should be viewed as more of a lat exercise due to the position of the upper arm when rowing and the ideal path the dumbbell should follow during the motion.

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Instead of pulling straight up, following the path of the lat fibers—which run on a slant, not straight up and down or horizontally—will help you make this exercise far more effective.

Single-Arm Row

Coaching Cues

  • Set up squarely with your back lightly arched and your ribcage high. Look for a stretch in the lat as you reach for the bottom position with your arm.
  • A wider foot base is better than one that's very narrow.
  • Start with the dumbbell a few inches in front of your shoulder instead of directly below it.
  • Pull in an angled, arcing fashion toward your waist, and keep your elbow tight to your body.
  • Chase higher rep totals in this lift, since the muscles of the mid and upper back are more geared toward muscular endurance in general. It may mean lowering the load also.

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