How to Do Close-Grip Rows with Dumbbells

Updated on September 9, 2016

The close-grip seated cable row is one of the best exercises for strengthening the back and improving back posture. If you do not have access to a seated-row machine, use this technique with dumbbells to duplicate the exercise.

Step #1 Dumbbell Row


Step #1 - How to Position Your Body

This can be done either with a single dumbbell or two dumbbells with one in each hand. If you use two dumbbells, be sure to hold them as close together as possible in order to duplicate the close-grip row. If you use a single dumbbell, as demonstrated in the photos, you’ll want one heavy enough to challenge your back muscles. If you are a beginner, then of course you will need to start with lighter weight and work up to heavier dumbbells. If your arms are weaker than your back, it might take some time before your back muscles are challenged because your arms will need to catch up, but stick with it. This is a great exercise for hitting those mid-back muscles, strengthening your core, and helping to correct posture.

In Step #1, position yourself so that your legs are slightly bent and you can lean over at the waist to where your back is parallel to the ground. Keep a straight back throughout the exercise, do not hunch over. Once you have the position down, bend with your legs to grab the dumbbell (or dumbbells), and then reposition yourself with your arms extended and your straight back parallel to the ground.

Step #2 Dumbbell Row


Step #2 and #3 - How to Do the Exercise

For Step #2 and Step #3, pull the dumbbell (or dumbbells) toward your sternum (between your stomach and rib cage). As you pull up, you want to comfortably pull your elbows back as far as they can go without hitting your sternum with the weight. Imagine that you are at a seated cable rowing machine, only in this case you are bent over and facing the ground. The arm and back movement should still be the same (for more on this, refer to my article below the photo: How to Do a Close-Grip Seated Row with Proper Form). At the end of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together and push out your chest to really squeeze those mid-back muscles. Then, comfortably lower the weight to the starting position and repeat. Do not put the dumbbell (or dumbbells) back on the ground until you are finished with your set, and when you do, bend your legs rather than your back.

*NOTE! You may have seen videos or other examples of a close-grip dumbbell row where the back is not parallel to the ground, but angled upward. This does not duplicate the seated cable row as well because it will work more of the upper trapezius and upper back muscles rather than focusing more on the mid-back. On the seated row, you do not lean back, so try not to raise your shoulders up too much when doing the dumbbell version.

Step #3 Dumbbell Row


Close-Grip Rows with a Barbell

You can also do bent-over close-grip rows with a barbell. Also known as a modified t-bar row (modified because of the closer grip and use of a barbell), this incorporates the same exercise and form you would use with dumbbells. The video below (by Scott Herman Fitness) illustrates this row:

How to Do a T-Bar Row

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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