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20-Rep Back Workout with Light Dumbbells at Home

April 1, 2020

intense back workout at home with light dumbbells

If you want to build your back muscles, you have to lift heavy weights, right? But what if all you have is a pair of light dumbbells at home? That’s okay…

In this post, you’re going to learn how to build your back at home with light dumbbells. I’ll also give you a workout routine that you can do at home (in addition, there’s a video version of this exact workout below!).

Now, you see ‘20-Rep Back Workout‘ in the title. But these aren’t going to be normal reps. I’m going to take you through a specific method that makes your muscles work harder. In other words, those light dumbbells are going to feel much heavier.

In fact, you’re going to be surprised how pumped your back is after going through this routine. Those last few reps are going to be tough, and that’s where the muscle-building happens!

I’m writing this during the time of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak when most gyms around the world are closed.

This post is not intended to knock lifting heavy weights. Rather, it’s intended for those times when you can’t make it to the gym or your gym is closed for whatever reason.

I’m teaching you how to make your workouts at home more intense, even with lighter dumbbells.

What You Need for Your Back Workout at Home

bench and dumbbells - workouts at home

You can do this light back routine with just a pair of dumbbells. But if you have a bench, that’s a plus.

There is one exercise where you’ll need something to brace yourself with one arm; dumbbell rows. If you don’t have a weight bench at home, most any sturdy surface will work. But a bench is ideal.

*You can usually find a good deal on a used weight bench online (Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, etc.).

What if you only have super-light dumbbells? Can you still build muscle?

It’s not about how much weight you’re lifting; it’s about how hard your muscles are working. You have to force your muscles to work harder, and I’m going to show you an awesome method to help you do that.

So, I encourage you to use what you have for now. Doing something is better than nothing. At the time of writing this post, all I have are a pair of 15 and 20-pound dumbbells (you’ll see this in the video below).

Dumbbells and weights, in general, can be expensive. So don’t get obsessed with trying to buy an entire rack of dumbbells. Remember, I’m going to show you how to make your back workout more intense with lighter dumbbells.

Dumbbell Back Exercises

Training back at home is much different than in the gym. You have to get a little creative. So we’re going to go through the exercises you’ll be doing in this routine.

These exercises are also listed in the order you’ll be doing them. But we’ll get into those details more when we get to the workout routine.

Dumbbell Bent-over Rows

Your goal here is to mimic barbell bent-over rows. This movement is a well-known muscle-builder for back.

With dumbbells, you can a better range of motion. There’s also more balance involved. So you can really target your back muscles with dumbbell bent-over rows.

  • Lean forward with a slight arch in your lower back just as you would with barbell rows
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your lower stomach
  • Contract your back muscles at the top of the movement
  • Make sure you get a full range of motion when returning tot he starting position (in other words, don’t cheat yourself)

Dumbbell Rows

These are regular dumbbell rows that you would do in the gym. It’s an awesome exercise for building and defining your back muscles.

As we discussed earlier, this is where having a weight bench comes in handy. If you don’t have a bench, find something similar to brace yourself with.

  • Brace yourself with one knee and that same arm
  • With the other arm, pull the dumbbell up towards your chest
  • Get a good contraction at that point before releasing
  • Use full range of motion
  • Repeat with the other side

Renegade Rows

Renegade rows are one of the hardest back exercises you’ll ever do. This movement not only works your lats but also strengthens your core. You’re having to stabilize and support your body throughout the entire exercise.

  • Start in a push-up position, gripping the dumbbells
  • Tighten your core as you lift one dumbbell up as you would doing a dumbbell row
  • Once you get back to the starting position, repeat with the other arm
  • Keep your body and core throughout this exercise and stay focused

Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows

You’re essentially doing the same movement as your first back exercise. But you’re using a reverse grip, which is going to work different areas of your back. You’ll feel your lower lats and middle part of your back muscles working.

  • Like regular bent-over rows, lean forward with a slight arch in your lower back
  • Pull the dumbbells up towards your lower stomach area
  • Get a good contraction and use full range of motion

How to Make Light-Weight Rows Feel Heavy

Whether you’re using light or heavy dumbbells, the key to building muscle is to make your muscles work harder. And you may find it’s more efficient to use a lighter weight to do that.

How is that so?

Because lighter dumbbell allows you to concentrate your back muscles more throughout each rep. Remember, your goal isn’t to mindlessly move weight from point A to B. It’s to build your back muscles.

The key to building your back muscles is to make the weights feel heavy by concentrating on your muscles more throughout each rep.

20-Rep Method: Concentrated + Pump Reps

In this back routine, you’ll force your muscles to work hard by combining concentrated reps with what I call ‘pump’ reps. And you’ll do 10 reps of each in one set.

20-Rep Set = 10 concentrated reps + 10 pump reps

You’re going to perform those first 10 reps slow and with an extremely controlled motion. And you’ll be contracting your back muscles throughout the entire 10 reps.

This is going to feel light and may even feel a little awkward at first, especially if you’re used to lifting heavy dumbbells. But the more you focus on each rep, the harder the reps will become.

Once you finish your 10 concentrated reps, you’ll pump out 10 more reps. This is going to pump more blood into your muscles and further exhaust your back muscles. But don’t get sloppy on these; make sure you’re getting a full range of motion.

The concentrated + pump reps will be performed for all exercises except renegade rows. You’ll be alternating your arms every other rep for renegade rows, so you’ll just do 10 concentrated reps for each arm on those.
And that exercise is tough enough as it is!

20-Rep Back Routine at Home

Dumbbells - back - dumbbell rows2

Your back routine will be done in a circuit. This means you’ll go from one exercise to another instead of the typical bodybuilding workout where you do several sets of one exercise before going to the next exercise.

Here are some important notes for the workout:

  • There is no rest between the controlled and pump reps (this makes a giant 20-rep set)
  • Rest about 30 seconds in between exercises
  • Make sure you’re getting a full range of motion for all exercises
  • Focus on contracting and flexing your back muscles at the top of each rep, even the pump reps
  • Once you complete the circuit, repeat it 2x (this will give you a total of 3-sets per exercise)
Bent-over rows10 controlled reps
10 pump reps
Dumbbell Rows10 controlled reps
10 pump reps
(repeat with opposite arm)
Renegade Rows10 controlled reps
(each arm, alternating arms)
Reverse Bent-over Rows10 controlled reps
10 pump reps

*If you’d like to learn more about how different rep ranges can help you build more muscle in the gym, read my post: High Reps vs Low Reps: Best Rep Ranges for Building Muscle

VIDEO: 20-Rep Back Workout at Home with Light Dumbbells

Below is the video showing you this high-rep back routine using light dumbbells:

*I also have a full workout routine for all body parts you can do at home with dumbbells-only in this post: Muscle Building Workout at Home with Dumbbells

Building Your Back Muscles with Lighter Dumbbells

Let me reiterate that this post is not preaching against lifting heavy weights. Lifting heavy is awesome for building muscle simply because it works.

This back workout with light dumbbells is for those times when you can’t make it to the gym. Or maybe you don’t have access to a gym and have minimal equipment at home. You could even use this workout for when you’re traveling as most hotel gyms do not have heavy dumbbells.

The point is use what you have and make the most of it.

And as you can clearly see, it’s not about how much weight you lift. It’s about how you lift it. You have to force your muscles to work harder. That’s exactly what I gave you in the methods and routine above.

Here are some additional tips to take your back workouts to the next level:

  • Take a natural test booster to maximize your gains like TestoFuel
  • Take creatine monohydrate before and after you train like ON Creatine
  • For gym workouts, try one of my Premium Programs

Try this back workout at home. I’m sure you’ll be pumped and those muscles will be sore!

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!