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Home » Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Guide | Form, Benefits, and Muscles Worked

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Guide | Form, Benefits, and Muscles Worked

The chest supported dumbbell row is one of my favorite back exercises and for good reason. It’s a low-skill exercise that can be great for building the lats and upper back.

Whether I’m home and training regularly or traveling, there’s a good chance I’ll have chest support dumbbell rows programmed. In my coaching opinion, if you’ve never tried chest supported dumbbell rows then you’re missing out.

In my chest support dumbbell row guide, I’ll cover how to properly perform this exercise with the muscles they work, discuss some benefits of them, and cover mistakes to avoid.

The chest supported dumbbell row can be a great exercise for focusing on and isolating the back muscles without putting a ton of stress and load on the spine.

How To Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Set your bench up properly

The first step to nailing chest support dumbbell rows is to make sure you’re setting up your adjustable bench correctly. I typically coach and suggest setting your bench up 1 or 2 notches.

Every bench is different so you’ll have to play with the benches you have available. As a rule of thumb, we want the bench to have a low incline so the row hits more lats and isn’t super vertical. Think 30-40 degrees.

How To Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Step 1

Grip the dumbbells, set, and row

Once you’ve set your bench, you’ll then grab each dumbbell one at a time and ensure you have a set and stable position on your bench. I’d suggest digging the toes into the ground so you don’t slide around while rowing.

Let the arms hang before initiating your row and try to “feel” a stretch on the lats and back when doing so. Once you feel this stretch, brace accordingly for the intensity you’re using and start your row.

How To Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Step 2

Drive the elbows back, squeeze, and repeat

To start your row, think about bringing the elbows back instead of shooting them straight up. I like to cue, “Pretend as though I’m standing behind you pulling your elbows back with strings.”

This will help keep your row focused on the lats, rhomboids, and upper back muscles versus only hitting the upper back muscles. For an added tip to ensure you’re hitting the right muscles, avoid shrugging upwards a ton while rowing.

How To Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Step 3


Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Benefits

When coaching and programming the dumbbell row, there are three key benefits that I try to keep in mind with this exercise. By recognizing the benefits of this exercise you can be more strategic with your programming.

1. Great for Limiting Spinal Loading

The first benefit that comes along with performing chest supported dumbbell rows is that it can be a good back exercise when the goal is limiting overall spinal loading and stress.

If you’re deadlifting, squatting, barbell rowing, and doing other exercises that put a lot of stress on the spine but still want to get some isolated back work the chest supported dumbbell row can work really well.

I’ll typically program chest supported dumbbell rows towards the end of back-focused workout days because it’s a great variation for chasing a pump while not killing your spine regarding direct loading and accumulating a ton of fatigue.

2. Awesome Sub When  Equipment Isn’t Available

Another benefit of chest supported dumbbell rows is their ability to give you a similar stimulus to a chest supported row machine when equipment isn’t available.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Benefits

The chest supported row machine is great for getting heavy and hitting the back but not every gym has this piece of equipment. The chest supported dumbbell variant will replicate this machine and you only need dumbbells and a bench to do them.

On top of this, I actually find that chest supported dumbbell rows can give you a little more variance compared to some machines.

Not every chest supported row machine is built well regarding resistance profiles and if you want to bias your intent by changing elbow position and rowing mechanics, then you can oftentimes do that easier with chest supported dumbbell rows.

3. Useful for Isolating Different Back Muscles

The final benefit that I often discuss that comes with chest supported dumbbell rows is their ability to isolate and hit different back muscles in a seamless and low-skill means.

For example, if you’re performing this exercise like normal and keeping the elbows somewhat tight to the body then you’ll have a nice blend of lats and upper back muscles.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Muscle Building Benefits

However, if you wanted to bias the upper back muscles and traps more then you could bring your elbows out and get a nice stimulus for these muscle groups without changing too much with your form.

When I’m teaching lifters and athletes how to bias different muscles by changing joint angles, especially in the context of rowing, I find that the chest supported dumbbell row can be a fantastic tool for doing so.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Rows Muscles Worked

When performing chest supported dumbbell rows the muscles you’ll be training will be heavily dictated by your form and intent of doing them. Below I’ll cover the muscles worked when performing traditional chest supported dumbbell rows.

What muscles does the chest supported dumbbell row work?

Chest Support Dumbbell Row Muscles Worked

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Muscles Worked

  • Lats
  • Rhomboids
  • Traps
  • Rear Delt
  • Biceps
  • Forearms

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Again, if you wanted to change the intent of this exercise and focus more on something like the upper back, then you’d want to explore changing your elbow position.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Mistakes

With chest supported dumbbell rows the devil’s in the details. There are two common mistakes that I’ll see lifters make with this back exercise that can cut into their gains.

Mistake 1: Shrugging Too Much Before Rowing

Ther first mistake that I see lifters make, and this is a mistake I see with exercises like the dumbbell row, too, is shrugging too much before or during the row.

If you’re finding yourself shrugging a lot while doing this exercise then you’ll be taking away from the work that you’re trying to give the lats. This will also limit the range of motion you’re working through and change the intent of the exercise.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Mistakes

The Fix: To avoid shrugging your chest supported dumbbell rows it all starts with your cueing. Think as though you’re rowing the elbows down and then back when you perform this exercise.

If I were coaching you, I’d cue you to pretend that there’s a puppeteer standing behind you and that your elbows are on strings. As the puppeteer pulls, let the elbows lead versus shrugging and using a lot of biceps to row the dumbbells.

Mistake 2: Setting the Bench Up Too High

As my dad always said, “If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.” Another mistake that I see lifters make with the chest supported dumbbell row is setting up their bench wrong.

It’s important to maske sure you’re not setting your bench up too high regarding its incline. Most benches will be best set to the first or second notch regarding their ability to incline.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row Mistakes Bench Setup

The Fix: When in doubt, start lower then work your way up. If you notice that your upper back is “feeling” most of this exercise and there’s virtually no feeling with the lats then your bench is likely too high.

Remember, the goal for a traditional chest supported dumbbell row is to get a relatively horizonal row and not a close to vertical row. There could be a time and place for a higher bench setup, but for most cases, lower is better. Think 30-45ish degrees of incline.

Programming Considerations

When programming chest supported dumbbell rows, I’d suggest focusing on two programming elements to get the most out of this exercise. These two elements include volume and tempo.

  • For General Strength: 3 x 6-8 reps at a 1-2 RIR intensity. Use weight as your progression each week.
  • For Hypertrophy: 3 x 12-15 with a 3-second concentric, 1-sec hold at the top, and 3-second eccentric at 9/10 effort. Use load and tempo as your means of progression each week and take your top set to failure.

Your usage and programming with chest supported dumbbell rows should be contextual on your needs. The above is two general ideas for programming so don’t be afraid to play with other set and rep schemes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does chest supported dumbbell row work?

The chest supported dumbbell row will work the lats, rhomboids, traps, and upper back muscles. You can bias different muscle groups by changing your elbow angle and rowing mechanics.

What is a chest supported dumbbell row?

A chest supported dumbbell row is a rowing variation that entails setting up on an incline bench with a low incline and rowing dumbbells to you while bracing into the bench.

How high should the bench be for chest supported dumbbell rows?

For most lifters, I recommend setting their incline bench up 1 or 2 notches. This will typically put the bench around 30 to 45 degrees which tends to be the sweet spot for this exercise.

Is the chest supported dumbbell row good?

The chest supported dumbbell row is great because you can perform them in most gym settings, it limits spinal loading while training the back, and it's easy to learn for most lifters.

Is a chest supported dumbbell row better than a bent-over row?

Not necessarily they're just different. The chest supported dumbbell row will typically result in less fatigue accumulation whereas you can get a little more range of motion and heavier with the weight used with the bent over row.

Takeaway Thoughts

The chest supported dumbbell row is an awesome exercise for lifters and athletes wanting to build their backs. This exercise is also great because it can limit how much spinal loading you’re accumulating while hitting the lats and upper back muscles.

If you’re new to this variation, start lighter and work on using a smooth tempo while executing reps with the form you’re after.

If you have additinoal questions about the chest supported dumbbell row, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend). 


Jake Boly

I've been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I've trained hundreds of clients, written thousands of articles, reviewed over 100+ pairs of training shoes, and have produced a large list of training videos. I live and breathe fitness and training gear, and I think it's important that reviewers walk the walk with the gear they're testing. As for my educational background, I have my Masters in Sports Science, Bachelors in Exercise Science, and have my CSCS.

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