J onearm dumbbell rows

I like doing at least one exercise unilaterally, so I can put all my focus on one side at a time.

Starting position: Find a weight bench. With your feet fairly close together, lean forward so you're supporting the weight of your upper body with your arms. Stand far enough away from the bench so when you bend your knees slightly, your spine is almost parallel with the ground. Many people like to put one knee on the bench while performing one-arm rows, but I prefer to keep both feet on the ground: it helps keep your pelvis stable while minimizing upper body rotation.

Reach down and pick up a dumbbell. The other arm should be locked at the elbow so it will support the weight of your upper body. Before starting, look straight ahead at your supporting hand instead of at the floor, so it's easier to keep your spine straight (too many people round their backs, which changes the whole dynamic of the exercise).

The exercise: Without using any momentum, slowly lift the weight as far as you can. Simultaneously tighten the abdominals to keep the body from rotating as you "row" the dumbbell. Concentrate on pulling the elbow back as far as it can go—the dumbbell should end up roughly parallel to your torso. As long as you maintain the proper shoulder position, the weight should follow the elbow up in a natural, "kinesi-ologically sound" path of motion.

After you've rowed the dumbbell up as far as you can, slowly lower it to the starting position—don't bounce it back up! Strive for a 2-0-2 tempo; if you can't maintain that tempo or if your form deteriorates, you're using too much weight. Do approximately 12 to 15 reps per side, for 3 sets, resting between 1.5 and 2 minutes between sets. (Since this is more of an "isolation" exercise, I prefer to do a higher number of reps and really fatigue the muscle fibers.)

If you can do more than 12-15 reps, it's time to increase the weight.

Once you become more advanced, try changing the plane of the exercise slightly. Instead of simply moving the dumbbell straight up and down, lower the dumbbell at an angle, so you lower it towards a point on the floor slightly in front of your shoulder in a "sawing wood" motion.

This is a good exercise to finish your back workout with because it works the back without involving the biceps.

Starting position: Stand in front of a lat pulldown bar with your arms outstretched towards the bar. Grab the bar at shoulder level, palms down, using a shoulder-width grip. Lower your center of gravity by bending your legs slightly at the knees and keeping your bodyweight on your heels (otherwise, you'll keel over like a felled tree). Find a comfortable—and maintainable—forward tilt of the upper body. This will vary from individual to individual, depending on your height and the length of your torso.

As mentioned before, tighten the abdominal muscles.

The exercise: While keeping the elbows slightly bent and the wrists "locked," push the bar down and in towards your body in an arcing motion. Once you've contracted the lats fully and the bar has touched or come close to your thighs, slowly allow the bar to come back to the starting position.

Use a tempo of 1-1-2 (2 seconds to lower the bar, a 1-second pause, and 1 second to allow the bar to return to the starting position). Do 3 sets of between 15 and 20 reps, allowing between 1.5 and 2 minutes of rest between sets. Since this is the last exercise in your back workout, I want you to really fatigue your muscle fibers!

(A word of warning, though: you won't be able to use much weight on this exercise; the leverage isn't on your side. Don't worry, though; in this case, light weight does not equate to small lats!)

Regardless of how well this routine works, it's bound to stop working eventually. Therefore, it's important to change this or any routine often—at the very least, every four to six weeks. You might try doing close-grip pull-ups instead or even supersetting wide-grip pull-ups with close-grip ones, doing one type right after the other. You might also choose to throw bent-over barbell rows or close-grip low-pulley rows into the equation.

Regardless of what specific exercises you choose, the most important thing is to actually work the back—don't ignore it simply because you can't see it without using at least two carefully angled mirrors. It may not be as glamorous a body part as the biceps or chest, but the back is the one body part that will go the furthest in improving the overall look of your physique!

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Getting Started With Dumbbells

Getting Started With Dumbbells

The use of dumbbells gives you a much more comprehensive strengthening effect because the workout engages your stabilizer muscles, in addition to the muscle you may be pin-pointing. Without all of the belts and artificial stabilizers of a machine, you also engage your core muscles, which are your body's natural stabilizers.

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