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The 16 Best One Arm Dumbbell Row Alternatives To Try

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

One arm dumbbell row alternatives can give your training a breath of fresh air to keep things fun and interesting.  

In terms of overall effectiveness and safety, the one arm dumbbell row is one of the best exercises you can do.  You target multiple muscles in your upper back and aren’t putting your lower back into any sort of vulnerable position.

I’m a big fan of choosing exercises that are easy on the joints, safe to do, and still get you stronger and build muscle, so today I will be giving you a list of the 16 best one arm dumbbell row alternatives.  

Some of them will be variations of the dumbbell row while others will utilize different pieces of equipment in your gym.

Here’s the list of the 16 best one arm dumbbell row alternatives.

One arm dumbbell row alternatives

Paused Dumbbell Row

To kick things off, if you want to make the traditional dumbbell row harder, a simple technique to do is to add a pause at the top of each rep.

It doesn’t have to be a long pause, a simple 1 - 2 second hold will fatigue your back quicker since you’re fighting against gravity to keep the dumbbell up.

I like doing this movement with my online and in person clients who have wrist or elbow pain.

As you get stronger and are using heavier and heavier dumbbells, you reach a point where it might be in your best interest to start finding ways to make lighter weight feel heavier.

Adding paused reps is one of those ways.

1.5 Rep Dumbbell Row

Another way to make higher weight feel heavier is to incorporate 1.5 reps.  If you’ve ever read my 15 best biceps curl variations or 11 best bench press with dumbbells variations articles, you’ll know all about the 1.5 rep technique.

Instead of performing a full rep, on the way down you’ll pause at the half way mark, bring the weight back up, and then bring the weight all the way down.

That extra half rep will catch up quickly!

I usually like to start my clients with a weight that is 10 - 20% lighter than their traditional row when they start with this movement.

Thor's Hammer Row

Is this not the greatest name for an exercise ever?!

I was taught this one as a gorilla row, but when I started doing them I felt like Thor. So thus, the Thor’s hammer row is born!

This variation is great because you are starting from a dead stop on each rep and alternating back and forth for each rep.

When performing this exercise it’s crucial that you keep your back flat and pick a weight that you don’t have to yank your whole body to get up.

Watch the video below and see how my upper body stays in position while I perform each row.

Inverted Row

If you have access to a smith machine or squat rack, inverted rows are an amazing exercise to build strength and muscle in your upper back.

In addition to that, it’s also a great exercise to help improve your pull ups.

If you are unable to do a pull up and have wanted to learn, check out this guide on how to get your first chin up.

The great aspect of the inverted row is that you can make this exercise as easy or as hard as you want by adjusting the height of the bar.

As you get stronger and stronger, continue to lower the bar until your body is parallel with the floor.

Bird-Dog Row

For an exercise that requires more core strength and balance, the bird dog row is a great option.

This isn’t an exercise that will build maximal strength or muscle since there is a balance element to the exercise, but it’s a great full body exercise.

When performing this, start with a weight that is about 15 - 20% lighter than your normal dumbbell row weight.

Dumbbell Row With Reach

Switching back to the one arm dumbbell row variations, this exercise will increase the range of motion that you’ll have to go through on each row.

To perform this movement, do a normal dumbbell row, but when you reach the bottom, push your wrists towards the floor and your shoulder blade should round over.

Your arm will get extended, the reach, and then can row the weight back up.

Triple Pause Dumbbell Row

To round out the one arm dumbbell row alternatives to a classic row, here’s another way to make lighter weight feel heavier.

You learned the pause at the top in the first example and now you’ll add two additional pauses here.

Pause for a full second at the top, the middle, and then for one second at the bottom.

Most people yank the weight back up when they hit the bottom of each rep, but in this variation you’ll be starting from a dead hang since you pause for 1 second at the bottom of each rep.

Barbell Row

Hey a barbell exercise?!   You would have thought that I hate the barbell!

That’s not true, but it is true that I’m not a huge fan of them when it comes to rows.

With a barbell row, you’re putting a lot of stress on your lower back.  Being in a constantly hinged position and rowing heavy weight is increasing your risk of injury.

If you want to perform barbell rows, be smart about how much weight you use, and if you feel any pain, switch to a dumbbell vacation that is easy on your back.

Chest Supported Row

Going from an exercise that is tough on the lower back to one that is completely safe is what I’m all about.

That’s what you get with a chest supported row.

When you row with your chest on a bench, you’re isolating your upper back muscles to do all the work without risking injury to your lower back.

This is one of my favorite exercises to start with for beginners since it’s easy to learn and I’ve never had anyone get hurt from it.


Similar to the inverted row, you can do a TRX row and make the exercise as easy or as hard as you want.

By walking your feet under the TRX you make the exercise harder, and the more vertical you become, the easier it gets.

This movement is even more joint friendly that the inverted row because you get to keep your hands in a neutral position (palms facing) which is better for your shoulders.

Dumbbell Pullover

A classic bodybuilder movement is the db pullover.

Some will debate that this is more of a chest exercise, while others will say it’s a back movement.

When experiment with different hand positions, I’ve found that if you keep your elbows tucked, you’ll get more lat activation, making it more a back exercise.

Seated Cable Row

If you want to ditch the dumbbells all together, get yourself on the cable row machine.

A single arm dumbbell row is a horizontal row movement, so anytime you can mimic that, you’ll still be working the same muscles. 

The seated cable row does that for you.

Half Rep Chest Supported Row

I added this one in here because I love to use this as a high rep finisher when your back is getting tired.

As you’ll see in the video, you perform this with the bench flat, meaning you're limiting your range of motion.

By limiting the range of motion, you can do a ton of reps.

Try this.  Next time you do chest supported rows, after your last set, wait 60 seconds, bring the bench flat, drop the weight 20%, and then perform as many reps as you can of half rep chest supported rows.

Batwing Row

The batwing row is a chest supported row variation that has multiple variations inside of the exercise.

Variations of a variation?! It’s like Inception.

I wrote a whole article about batwing rows that you can find here.

Batwing Row Ladder

If you want a challenging one arm db row alternative to batwing rows, try this ladder progression.

Instead of doing 1 side at a time, you'll progress from 1 - 6 reps on each side.

To explain further, do 1 rep on your right side (while the other dumbbell is being held in a flexed position), and then switch sides and do 1 rep.

From there, switch back and 2 reps on one side and 2 on the other.

Do this all the way up to 6 reps on each side.  I guarantee you that your back will be feeling it!

Landmine One Arm Row

If you want to get fancy with your one arm dumbbell row alternatives, set up a landmine and give this exercise a shot.

It’s a great way to target your back while also working your abs and hamstrings that will be working while you stabilize your body.

I have found that one of the limiting factors with this movement is the grip of the bar.

Barbells can be thick and often hard to grip through the whole set so take breaks when needed to adjust grip.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Reps And Sets Of DB Row Alternatives?

Since I just gave you the 16 best one arm dumbbell row alternatives, it’s up to you to pick which ones you want to try.

For an given workout, perform 1 - 3 of these exercises.  Like I mentioned earlier that most of them are horizontal pulls, you are going to be working the same muscles over and over.

If you were to do 3 exercises of these, your back and biceps will be fatigues and anything else will be diminishing returns.

For one arm dumbbell row alternatives, stick to the 8 - 12 reps range for 2 - 4 sets for each exercise.

Are One Arm Rows Necessary?

One arm db rows (and the other variations listed above) are important for a well structured workout program.  These variations do a great job of targeting your back in a safe, joint friendly way that will help build strength and muscle.

Pairing one arm dumbbell row alternatives with vertical pull movements, such as pulldowns or pull-ups will make for an effective back workout.

If you want to try a workout that targets your back and biceps, check out this Pull Day Workout .