Illustration of a bodybuilder building bigger back muscles with dumbbell lat exercises.

The Best Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Your lats pull your elbows in closer to your body, meaning that the best dumbbell lat exercises are some variation of dumbbell row. And dumbbell rows are fantastic. That’s all your lats need. Still, it’s better if you have at least a couple of exercises, especially if you can find exercises that challenge your lats at longer muscle lengths.

If you have a pull-up bar or some gymnastic rings, you can do chin-ups and pull-ups, working your lats just like a lat pulldown machine would. Otherwise, you can do dumbbell pullovers, sort of. They’re surprisingly controversial.

Do Dumbbell Pullovers Work Your Lats?

There are a few different ways to do pullovers. We recommend lying perpendicularly on the bench with your hips hanging off. It will do a better job of working your core muscles. Then, as you get more advanced, you can experiment with arching your back, getting a deeper stretch on your back muscles:

Pullovers are surprisingly controversial, though. Everyone agrees that they’re a great exercise, but it’s unclear whether they do a good job of working your lats:

  1. Guys like Dr. Milo Wolf argue that dumbbell pullovers are the best lat exercise because they challenge your lats at the longest muscle lengths. It’s true that exercises that challenge your muscles at longer muscle lengths are better for building muscle, but it’s unclear if pullovers challenge your lats. Others, like Natural Hypertrophy, Atlaspowershrugged, and Dr. Mike Israetel, assume that dumbbell pullovers work your lats because the movement looks and feels like it’s working your lats.
  2. Biomechanics experts like Kassem Hanson argue that the lats don’t have enough leverage at the bottom position of a pullover, so they aren’t likely to be prime movers (neuromechanical matching). You’re much more likely to be limited by the strength of your teres major.

I suspect Kassem Hanson is right. If he is, that means the pullover is a great exercise for your teres major but not so much for your lats. However, your teres major sits right underneath your lats, making them look bigger. Many bodybuilders consider them the same muscle. Pullovers will still give you the effect you want.

But if pullovers don’t work your lats, it becomes all the more important to include plenty of dumbbell rows in your routine. I’d use dumbbell rows as your main exercises and pullovers as your secondary exercise. That way, you’re bulking up both your lats and teres major.

The Best Dumbbell Row Variations for Your Lats

Dumbbell rows work your lats through a range of motion they’re strong in. They’re one of the most popular lat exercises, even among people who train at fully equipped commercial gyms. They’re also great for most of the other muscles in your back.

1-Arm Dumbbell Rows

The 1-arm dumbbell row is the classic variation. You brace one hand against a bench to make the exercise more stable, and then you row with the other hand:

Bracing your hand against the bench takes your lower back out of the exercise, allowing you to focus on working your lats.

2-Point Dumbbell Rows

The 2-point dumbbell row is a more advanced variation. Instead of bracing your hand against a bench, you rely on your spinal erectors for support, just like you would with a barbell row. This makes it a better overall back exercise.

If your spinal erectors are strong enough to hold you in the proper position, the 2-point dumbbell row should work your lats just as hard as the 1-arm dumbbell row. If your spinal erectors are the limiting factor, you won’t be able to work your lats as hard, but you’ll do a better job of strengthening your posterior chain.

You can do these with one or two dumbbells at a time. If you use one dumbbell, your obliques will need to work harder to keep your torso from rotating. If you use two dumbbells, your spinal erectors will need to work harder to support twice as much weight. Both variations are great.

Lat-Focused Dumbbell Rows

There’s a variation of the dumbbell row where you keep your arms straight and row the weight up towards your hips. This makes the exercise harder at the top of the range of motion, which isn’t very good for building muscle. There’s also no reason to think it works your lats harder than the more classic dumbbell row variations.

We recommend rowing the dumbbell up to your armpits.

Alright, that’s it for now. For more, we have articles about the best dumbbell leg exercises, chest exercises, back exercises, and arm exercises. Those articles also have some sample workouts you can do.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

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  1. Darren on June 29, 2024 at 6:32 pm

    This question has nothing to do with dumbbells but everything to do with lats. Since lats are trained by pulling elbows toward hips, is there a lat cable exercise that works with by flapping arms like a bird? Something like a reverse lateral raise where the resistance starts around shoulder height and you bring the elbows down to the sides with straight arms. It seems like it would work well for the lats but I’ve never seen anyone do it. Evolutionary theory be damned, maybe this is how birds developed wings!

    • Shane Duquette on June 30, 2024 at 2:05 pm

      Your logic is totally sound. I bet you’ve seen plenty of people doing it, though. Wider-grip pull-ups and lat pulldowns are exactly what you’re describing just with some extra bending at the elbows. And your lats don’t care about movement at your elbows. They just care about the movement at the shoulders. So that’s exactly the exercise you’re thinking of 🙂

  2. Ben on June 30, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    How about the gorilla row? I just started doing them and i feel my lats way better than in any other rowing variation and it does not require a bench, just the dumbbells. 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on June 30, 2024 at 2:08 pm

      Yep! That’s a great idea. Same idea as the one-arm dumbbell row, where you use your other hand to brace for stability. Should be just as effective. And it’s good to have different variations. If you can feel your lats working harder, that’s a great sign.

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