My favorite back exercises, with the exception of the barbell deadlift, are all rowing variations. I do rows with dumbbells both in a staggered stance only doing one arm at a time, or with one in each hand, typically with a neutral foot position. Occasionally I’ll do a chest-supported version where I lean my chest against an incline bench, but these aren’t the most comfortable for me at 6’8″.
I do what feels best.
But regardless of what variation I’m doing, there is nearly always something I add to make any set of dumbbell back exercises more challenging: making the dumbbells harder to hold on to.
My favorite solution–buying thick-handled dumbbells that range from 2-3 inches in diameter–is to use Fatgripz. These are thick sleeves that can be slipped over nearly any barbell or dumbbell, and suddenly you’ve got an implement with a handle that is twice as thick, or more.
Until you have experienced some fat bar or bell work, it’s hard to appreciate the effect it has on your hands, forearms, and overall arm strength. Just to give you an example, my current deadlift max is 540 on a 1″ Olympic bar. But when I pull on an 2″, 75 lb axle I bought from Submit Strength Equipment, it drops down to 315, and that’s currently a 315 that I miss about half the time.
But my forearms grow, my wrists can resist more weight when locked into a static position, and thick bars just look cool. That’s about as well as I can say it.
So if for any reason you only have dumbbells at your disposal, or if they are your favorite strength training tool to use, I highly recommend picking up thick-handled variations, or grabbing a pair of Fat Gripz. You will not be sorry.
Lift heavy, be happy.