Use a flat bench to support yourself for dumbbell rows.
One of the most common exercises to strengthen the upper back is the row. Because many people use a machine for this exercise, dumbbell exercises for the upper back are often overlooked. Dumbbell exercises can provide an upper back workout, however, and are especially useful in forcing you to use both sides of your back equally. On a cable or row machine, you complete the motion with both hands together. With dumbbells, each side works separately. The left side has to complete the entire motion with one weight while the right has to complete the entire motion with the other.
Anatomy of the Upper Back
The muscles on your upper back include the levator scapula, upper trapezius, middle trapezius and rhomboids. The levator scapula and upper trapezius both run from your neck to your scapula, or shoulder blade. Your rhomboids and your middle trapezius both run from the inside border of your scapula to your upper spine. All of these muscles move either your head or your scapula.
Strengthen with Shrugs
You use your levator scapula to shrug your shoulders, flex your head to one side and rotate your head. Contraction of your trapezius leads to these same actions, as well as to extension of your head behind you. Because both of these muscles help you shrug your shoulder, an easy exercise to strengthen them using dumbbells is the dumbbell shrug. To do this, hold a dumbbell in both hands with your arms hanging at your sides. Keeping your palms facing in, shrug your shoulders up toward your head. Relax and lower your shoulders to complete one repetition.
Get Ripped with Rows
Contraction of both your middle trapezius and your rhomboids pulls your scapula back and in toward your spine, which is the common motion that you produce when you row. For this reason, dumbbell rows tone both of these muscles. To perform dumbbell rows, kneel with your left hand and knee on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your right arm hanging straight down toward the floor. Bend your right elbow and pull the weight up until your upper arm is parallel to your torso. Straighten arm for one repetition.
Tips and Warnings
To build strength, complete two to three sets of six to eight repetitions. Choose a lighter weight and complete two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions to build endurance. For the best results, repeat the exercises two to three times a week and rest at least one day between workouts. Always warm up with at least five minutes of cardio. Consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have any recent injuries.