One Arm Dumbbell Row

How To Do A One Arm Dumbbell Row
By Alli McKeeMarch 1, 2016

One Arm Dumbbell Row Exercise

The single arm dumbbell row is a great exercise to strengthen and develop the musculature of the back and core. It also strengthens the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the arms.

Equipment needed:

A dumbbell or kettlebell should be used for the single arm dumbbell row exercise. You also need a bench or box to perform this exercise.

Ability level:


Beginners should start out by performing the basic dumbbell one arm row variation, and should only increase their weight or perform more advanced variations of this exercise once they have gained the requisite levels of strength, stability, and technique.


The dumbbell row is a great option for lifters with an intermediate level of experience. If the basic single arm dumbbell row has been mastered, intermediate lifters can perform a more advanced variation where they are in a split stance and rest their non-rowing hand on their leg, or they can place one hand on a bench and perform this exercise while in a tripod stance, or they can perform a plank with a single arm row where their one forearm is resting on a bench and they are in a plank position while performing the single arm row.

If an upper body is being performed, you can do the dumbbell bent over row after you have performed more challenging exercises like pull-ups/chin-ups, or barbell rows. If a full-body workout is being performed, the one arm dumbbell row can be paired with a lower body compound movement, or an upper body pressing movement. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the one arm dumbbell row.


Women of an advanced fitness level can use the same variations as described for intermediate lifters. They can also increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). The one arm dumbbell row may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit. Women can also make this exercise more challenging by performing negative rows and lowering the dumbbell in 3-5 seconds as this increases the eccentric component of the movement.

Benefits of One Arm Dumbbell Rows:

How a woman chooses to use a one arm dumbbell row is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general, one arm dumbbell rows can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing upper body strength, primarily in the back
  • increasing upper body strength in the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the musculature of the upper arms and forearms
  • increasing core strength in the erectors, scapula stabilizers, and the anterior core
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)

How to perform a One Arm Dumbbell Row:

  • Get into a prone kneeling position on a bench. Your hand of the non-working side should be on the bench and directly below your shoulder, and that knee of the same side should be on the bench, and directly below your hip. As for your working side, your arm and hand should be directly below your shoulder, and your knee should be slightly bent and your foot behind you.
  • Keep your spine neutral. Do not round your upper back, but do not over arch your lower back.
  • Grip the dumbbell so your palm is facing towards your body.
  • Before you perform the row, take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), and squeeze your glutes.
  • Row the dumbbell by initiating the movement with your back, not by pulling with your arm. You should feel the muscles of your back squeeze your shoulder blade together and down. You can pretend that you are tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants.
  • If you are pulling with your back, your forearm should remain relatively vertical and you should be leading with your elbow, not your forearm and hand. Otherwise you are basically performing a bent-over biceps curl.
  • Keep your elbow close to your side. It is common to see the elbow flare out and for the hand to travel underneath the body. The dumbbell should travel in a vertical plane for the duration of the exercise.
  • Stop the movement when your shoulder blades can no longer move together.
  • On the lowering portion of the row, stop the movement before the front of your shoulder collapses and rotates forward. Both shoulders should remain pinned back for the duration of the exercise, and should not be used to create momentum.
  • Maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the exercise. Do not allow your back to round or hyperextend. You will accomplish this by keeping your core braced, rib cage tucked towards your hips, and squeezing your glutes.
  • Exhale after you have initiated the rowing movement (but not before), and inhale and reset as the weight is returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Video Transcription: 

So here I am going to demonstrate the one arm dumbbell row and a couple of variations. The one arm row is a great upper back exercise, but a lot of people do it too fast or they do it in poor form and don't get everything out of it. A couple of things to note, a lot of people do it with their knee up on a bench which is totally fine, that's one of the variations I am going to show you. However you want to make sure that your core is really tight and you are not sagging through your middle or rounding your back. I see a lot of people rounding their back, elbows too far away from their body and their shoulder is in a really bad position. You want everything to be nice and tight with a neutral spine, you want to let your shoulder blade protract all the way and then retract. You want the scapula (the shoulder blade) gliding over the ribcage, you want to squeeze at the top.

Similar to what I talked about with the inverted row, you want to make sure that the shoulders and elbow are in alignment, in a nice straight line. You don't want the elbow to go too far behind the shoulder. If that happens the shoulder will glide forward and that's a poor position.

You can elevate one knee on the bench, one hand on the bench, and take the weight. I am going to initiate the movement by pulling with my elbow and gliding my shoulder blade over my rib cage, squeeze my back together,come apart, squeeze together, come apart. Everything should be in a nice straight line. Again you want to keep your elbow close by your side, if your elbow gets out too far it will make it more difficult, but it's a bad position for this shoulder. Squeezing your shoulder blade back and down and letting your shoulder blade come all the way apart at the bottom and all the way together at the top. That's a one arm row with your knee on the bench.

You can also challenge the core a little more, by taking your knee off the bench and just supporting yourself from here. You are going to hinge back in your hips a little bit, keeping everything nice and braced and row and if you want to make it even more of a challenge you can not support yourself at all and just hinge back into your hip. Do the row with no support.

So we’ve got a dumbbell row with your knee on the bench, a dumbbell row with your knee off the bench, and a dumbbell row with no support. And those are a couple of my favorite variations of the dumbbell row.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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