Incline Dumbbell Row – Benefits & How to Perform

Perhaps the king of all the rows is the classic barbell row. While its status as “ruler of the row” is undeniable, it has limitations – as does every exercise you will ever perform.

This is where dumbbell row variations come in to play.

One such variation is the incline dumbbell row (sometimes called the chest-supported dumbbell row). If you’ve never tried it, then you should certainly give it a go.

Benefits of the incline bench dumbbell row

One of the most significant benefits of this row is the reduced ability to cheat. The position you adopt on the bench makes it almost impossible to use momentum.

In contrast, the barbell row allows you to stand more upright; the one-arm dumbbell row lets you cheat by swinging the weight up.

Another benefit is safety: when adding weight to the bar for barbell rows, people tend to round their backs. This can lead to injury and reduces overall effectiveness. With the incline bench, you cannot round your back, making form stricter.

You can also adjust your grip to target different areas of your back, making this exercise essential for even back development.

How to do the incline dumbbell row

The set-up

  1. Take a weight bench and set it to an incline of 45 degrees.
  2. Grab a set of dumbbells, ensuring you use a weight you can easily manage when you first start out (getting the form right is aways the priority here).
  3. Lean on the bench.
  4. Position your feet so that you have a good, stable foundation to work with.
  5. Pick up the dumbbells.
  6. Keep your elbows close to your body, with your palms facing inwards.

Performing the dumbbell incline row

  1. Start the move by pulling the dumbbells up, focus on bringing your elbows towards the ceiling, breathing out as you do.
  2. At the top of the move, squeeze your shoulder blades and hold for a second or so.
  3. Slowly bring the weight back to its starting position, breathing in as you do.

Common Mistakes

Using too much weight

We’ve all done it: used far too much weight without any regard as to how badly it hinders the exercise.

You will know if the load is too heavy because you won’t be able to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top. If you can’t do this, then drop the weight until you can.

Lifting your chest off the bench

You might remember us saying at the start that it is almost impossible to cheat on this exercise, right? The primary way people get around this is by lifting their chest away from the bench to get some momentum.

The primary aim of this exercise is to activate the lower lats and the secret to maximum activation is strict form.

Programming

Which days to incorporate the incline dumbbell row?

  • Back day – this is a great back exercise and should be added to your back day if you’re splitting your routine by body part.
  • Pull day – if you’re using the classic push/pull/leg split, then do this on pull days, as it is a pulling movement.
  • Upper body – for those using an upper/lower split, add this to the upper body routine, at least once per week (or every other upper workout)

How many incline dumbbell rows to build size?

The secret to successful incline dumbbell rows is strict form. Naturally, we want to use a slightly lower weight to prioritise this.

  • 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps: this is a perfect range to start with so you can perfect the form.
  • 4 sets of 10 – 12 reps: once you’ve nailed the form, you might want to do an extra set in a slightly lower rep range.

How many dumbbell incline rows to build strength?

If strength is your primary goal, ensure you’ve practised this move on a lower weight first, and that the weight you select is still in a range whereby you can’t cheat.

  • 4 sets of 8 – 10 reps: while this is not usually the range to use for strength, it is your first step. After a few weeks in this rep range, you should be strong enough to up the weight.
  • 4 sets of 6 – 8 reps: so long as you’re able to keep strict form, increase the weight so you can manage about six to eight reps for each set. This rep range is only recommended for those whose primary goal in the gym is to gain strength. If hypertrophy is your aim, there is no need to do less than eight reps each set.

Incline Dumbbell Row Muscles Worked

Thanks to the position you adopt on the bench, the incline dumbbell row is an excellent middle-back exercise. You’ll fire up your lower lats, but also engage your biceps for a great arm workout, too. As you squeeze your shoulder blades together, the rhomboids and traps will come in to play. Using a pronated grip, you will also engage the rear delts.

Equipment required

Incline dumbbell row variations and modifications

Adopting a different grip makes for easy adjustment of the incline dumbbell row. Here are the variations you can try.

  • Pronated grip – the typical version of this exercise is performed with a neutral grip (palms facing towards your body). A pronated grip is where you adjust your wrist so that your palms are facing backwards. This grip will target the upper back more, and bring the rear delts into play.
  • Supinated grip – with your palms facing forwards, you’ll transfer the load more to the lower area of the back. This is an excellent option because most people tend to neglect the lower lats.

Rob is the founder and CEO of Fitness Savvy. He's online most of the time and happy to answer questions regarding nutrition, fitness and the site in general.

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