Are Dumbbell Rows Dangerous?

dumbbell row
September 6, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are dumbbell rows dangerous?”. Dumbbell rows are an effective exercise for building up thickness in the back and working the lats. 

You can go very heavy on them, however there are some dangers to consider. I will explore these in this article and share my own experiences as well as the experiences of others.

Are Dumbbell Rows Dangerous?

Dumbbell rows can be dangerous when they are performed with incorrect form. If you perform them in the style of resting one knee on a flat bench, you can put extra torque on one side of your back.

The standing version of dumbbell rows with a split stance or equal stance is safer. The safest version of the dumbbell row is to do them on a reverse incline by resting your chest on an incline bench. 

It has to be said that heavy dumbbell rows should be avoided if you already have a pre existing lower back injury. This exercise does put a fair bit of stress on the lower back, so this has to be considered when making a decision about whether to do dumbbell rows.

My Experiences With Dumbbell Rows

I did used to perform this exercise regularly when I was in my late teens. But ever since I hurt my lower back from heavy deadlifting, I have avoided the dumbbell row.

This is because dumbbell rows and in particular the one arm variation, put a lot of stress on the lower back. It is easy to tweak your lower back and if you already had a pre existing lower back injury it is too dangerous to do heavy dumbbell rows.

Far safer rowing exercises would be cable rows and chest supported rows. Funnily enough, even barbell cheat rows feel fine for me in terms of not aggravating my lower back. I just feel that there are far safer rowing exercises that you can progress on without a high risk of injury.

Athlean-X Controversy

There was a highly controversial video by Athlean X regarding dumbbell rows. You can watch the video below. In this video Jeff said that doing dumbbell rows with your knee resting on a bench is dangerous and can cause a hernia.

He stated that he has prior history of two hernias from doing this exercise. He also had a high performing athlete that had developed a hernia from the bench version of the one arm dumbbell row.

This video from Jeff is very controversial. Personally I also feel that the bench version of dumbbell rows is inferior to doing standing dumbbell rows with a split stance or equal footed stance. 

It is easy to put extra torque on one side of your back with the bench version. The standing version is better with resting one of your arms on a dumbbell rack in front of you. It is your choice whether you use a split stance or an equal footed stance.

There is a good article from Men’s Health with some tips on the dumbbell row. You can read it here

Safer Variations Of Dumbbell Rows

One of the safest variations of the dumbbell row in my view is to execute them on a reverse incline. In other words walk into an incline bench, rest your chest on it and perform dumbbell rows in this manner.

You can choose to do your dumbbell rows one arm at a time, or row both dumbbells up at the same time. The choice is yours – personally I prefer to use two dumbbells as I have had a lower back issue in the past.

To really hit the lats hard you can twist the dumbbell as you are bringing it up. This will make the exercise harder and really engage your lats a lot more. You can also squeeze at the top of each rep and pause to emphasise the peak contraction.

Another way of performing dumbbell rows using an incline bench is as follows. Set up an incline bench and get behind it so that your chest is in contact with the incline. Perform your rows from this position. This exercise is really fantastic and you can get a great pump in the back.

incline row

Common Mistakes

There are various common mistakes that people make when performing dumbbell rows that make the exercise more dangerous. 

Not keeping your lower back flat is one. If you allow your lower back to enter into flexion when performing this exercise you are increasing the risk of lower back injuries. You have to maintain good back extension just like you would when doing deadlifts.

Another common mistake is over rotation of the torso when doing dumbbell rows. If you do this you will increase the torque on one side of the back and increase the chances of an injury. This is especially true if you are using a very heavy weight.

These are the main mistakes that people make that can increase the risks of this exercise unnecessarily.

Final Thoughts

Are dumbbell rows dangerous? Just to reiterate, they can be if you perform the movement with the wrong technique. If you already have pre existing lower back injuries then you should perform safer variations of the dumbbell row. 

As the dumbbell row puts a lot of stress on the lower back with heavy weight, you have to pay a lot of attention to mechanics and technique. 

I would advise doing standing dumbbell rows with one hand in front of you resting on a dumbbell rack. The safest variation of the dumbbell row is the reverse incline version. You can target the lats a lot more by rotating the dumbbells 90 degrees on the way up.

If you have any questions about the dumbbell row please leave them in the comments. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>> RELATED: How to build a better back

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