The one-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise that targets the lats, teres major, middle, and lower trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, brachialis, biceps, and brachioradialis. These muscles are also used while performing a lat pull-down, albeit from a different angle and resistance source. Here’s what personal trainers need to know about performing this exercise.

Why Perform a One-Arm Dumbbell Row

The one-arm dumbbell row is used to target the larger muscles of the back and master a “pulling” motion. Just as there are numerous muscle groups involved, there are five different joint actions that take place during the concentric phase of this exercise. These actions include scapular retraction (shoulder blades pulling back), scapular depression, shoulder extension (as the arm is extended back behind the torso), and elbow flexion.

Like most single-limb movements, training one arm at a time will help bridge strength disparities or expose weaknesses if any exist; when both limbs perform a movement, the stronger side is likely to pick up the slack for the weaker side.

Further, performing a row in this prone upper body position forces the core to engage and stabilize the spine–a skill that has enormous carry-over to everyday movements.

Finally, utilizing a dumbbell rather than a band, a cable, or even a bar can help improve joint stabilization.

Proper Execution of the One-Arm Dumbbell Row

To perform a proper one-arm row, do the following:

Starting Position

  • Stand off to the side of a flat bench with a dumbbell on the floor.
  • Position the feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bend the knees. Alternatively, place one knee on the bench.
  • Reach down and grasp the dumbbell with a neutral grip. If the knee is on the bench, grasp the dumbbell with the opposite hand.
  • Hinge at the hips so the torso is slightly above parallel to the floor with the dumbbell hanging down, elbow fully extended.
  • Place the opposite hand on the bench for support.
  • Pull the shoulders back and down away from the ears, shoulder blades stabilized, chest lifted, and maintain neutral spine by engaging the core.
  • Gaze should be cast on the floor about 5 feet away from the bench.
  • All reps begin from this position.

Upward Phase

  • Initiate the movement by retracting the shoulder blade toward the spine.
  • Pull the dumbbell up toward the torso, leading with the elbow, while keeping the upper arm and elbow close to the side of the body.
  • The forearm should remain perpendicular to the floor throughout the movement, and the wrist and hand should remain neutral
  • Maintain the same stationary body position and do not use momentum.
  • Continue pulling the dumbbell up until it touches the side of the outer chest or rib cage area. The elbow will be higher than the torso.

Downward Phase

  • Slowly and in a controlled fashion, guide the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
  • Maintain the torso position.
  • The elbow should be fully extended and the end of the movement.
  • Repeat the movement with the opposite arm.

Variations of the One-Arm Dumbbell Row

 The one-arm row can be performed using other surfaces and/or equipment.

  • Resistance band one-arm row
  • Instead of a bench, a stability ball or chair can be used

Other movements that target this same or similar musculature include the bent-over-row, low-pulley seated row machine, or a general seated row machine.

Common Errors

  • Rounding the back
  • Using momentum
  • Not using a full range of motion to perform the movement
  • Hyperextending the neck or flexing the neck too far forward
  • Twisting the torso on the upward phase of the movement
  • Curling (flexing) the wrist on the way up.

Understanding the execution of a one-arm dumbbell row can help personal trainers maximize clients’ potential and minimize their risk of injury.

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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at