Hammer Row (Dumbbell Hammer Row) 101: Steps, Modifications and Variations

Hammer Row (Dumbbell Hammer Row or Standing Hammer Row) - SharpMuscle
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The hammer row, a.k.a the dumbbell hammer row or standing hammer row, is a compound movement that primarily targets the muscles of your upper back namely latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and rear deltoids. It also works the biceps and forearms as secondary muscles.


Known as:Hammer Row, Dumbbell Hammer Row, Standing Hammer Row
Primary muscles:Latissimus dorsi (lats), Rhomboids, Rear deltoids
Secondary muscles:Biceps brachii, Brachialis and brachioradialis, Forearm muscles
Type:Compound exercises

Dumbbell Hammer Row Practice Guide

A dumbbell hammer row is a variation of the traditional row exercise. In this exercise, you use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) while performing the rowing motion. By using a neutral grip, the dumbbell hammer row places emphasis on different muscle fibers compared to other rowing variations, providing variation and targeting specific areas of the back and arms.

The key point of doing the Dumbbell Hammer Row exercise is to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. Keep your back straight, core engaged and knees slightly bent. Avoid using momentum or swinging your body to lift the weight. Focus on controlled activities. Keep your elbows close to your body and your forearms vertical as you lift the dumbbells. Breathe naturally, exhale while lifting the weight and inhale while lowering the weight.

Step-by-step Instructions

  1. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, maintaining a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip, meaning your palms should be facing each other. Let your arms hang straight down in front of your thighs.
  3. Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight and core engaged. This is your starting position.
  4. With your arms fully extended, pull the dumbbells up toward your torso by retracting your shoulder blades. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the movement.
  5. Exhale as you lift the weights and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. Hold this contracted position for a brief moment to maximize the activation of your back muscles.
  6. Lower the dumbbells back down in a controlled manner, allowing your arms to fully extend and stretch your back muscles.
  7. Inhale as you lower the weights, and then repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.
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Common Mistakes

Consider following common mistakes and focus on proper form, you can maximize the effectiveness of the dumbbell hammer row exercise, target the intended muscle groups, and minimize the risk of injury.

1. Rounded or arched back

When the back is rounded or arched excessively during the exercise, it can put unnecessary strain on the spine and compromise the engagement of the targeted back muscles. It also increases the risk of injury. Maintain a straight back throughout the movement to ensure proper alignment and muscle activation.

2. Using momentum or swinging

Many people tend to use momentum or swing their body to lift the dumbbells, especially when using heavy weights. This takes the emphasis off the targeted muscles and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. It’s crucial to perform the dumbbell hammer row with controlled movements, focusing on using the back muscles to lift the weights rather than relying on momentum.

3. Pulling with the arms instead of the back

One common mistake is relying too much on the arms to lift the weights rather than engaging the back muscles. This reduces the involvement of the targeted muscles and shifts the load to the biceps and forearms. Concentrate on retracting your shoulder blades and squeezing your back muscles to initiate the movement, while keeping your arms as stable as possible.

4. Elbows flaring out

Allowing your elbows to flare out to the sides as you lift the dumbbells can shift the focus away from the back muscles and place excessive stress on the shoulder joints. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the exercise to ensure proper engagement of the upper back muscles and minimize the risk of shoulder strain.

5. Not fully extending or stretching the back

Failing to fully extend your arms and stretch your back muscles at the bottom of the movement can limit the range of motion and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Allow your arms to fully extend while keeping control of the weights, which will provide a better stretch for the back muscles and enhance overall muscle development.

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6. Using excessively heavy weights

Choosing weights that are too heavy can compromise your form and increase the risk of injury. It’s crucial to select a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper technique and control. Gradually increase the weight as you become stronger and more comfortable with the movement.

Modifications and Variations

Modifications and variations can be beneficial to prevent plateaus, target specific muscles, and add variety to your workout routine. They can also help address individual needs or limitations. However, the modifications and variations of dumbbell hammer row are explaining below:

1. Single-Arm Hammer Row

Instead of using both arms simultaneously, perform the hammer row exercise one arm at a time. This variation helps improve unilateral strength and stability, allowing each side of the body to work independently. It also helps to correct muscle imbalances between the left and right sides. Simply follow the same technique as the regular hammer row, but perform the exercise with one arm while keeping the other arm stationary.

2. Inverted Hammer Row

This variation is performed using a suspension trainer or TRX straps. By adjusting the angle of your body, you can increase or decrease the resistance. This exercise targets the back muscles, especially the upper and middle back, while also engaging the core for stability. It requires more stabilization and coordination compared to the traditional row, making it a challenging variation. Start by grasping the handles of the suspension trainer, leaning back with your body at an angle, and then perform the rowing motion.

3. Wide-Grip Hammer Row

By using a wider grip on the dumbbells or handles, you can shift the focus to the outer back muscles, particularly the outer edges of the latissimus dorsi. This variation emphasizes the width and definition of the back, giving it a broader appearance. Simply grasp the dumbbells or handles with a wider grip than shoulder-width apart, and perform the hammer row using the same technique as the standard version.

4. Prone Hammer Row

The prone row is performed lying face down on an incline bench, focusing on the upper back muscles. This variation allows for a greater range of motion and increased muscle activation in the upper back and rear deltoids. Lie face down on an incline bench, hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip, and then perform the rowing motion while keeping your torso stable against the bench.

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5. Resistance Band Hammer Row

Using resistance bands instead of dumbbells adds a different form of resistance and challenges your muscles in a unique way. Resistance bands provide continuous tension throughout the movement, engaging the muscles throughout both the concentric and eccentric phases. Anchor the resistance band around a stable object, step on the band with your feet shoulder-width apart, and perform the hammer row motion while holding the band handles.

Incorporating the Dumbbell Hammer Row exercise

Incorporating the hammer row into your back exercise routine can be beneficial for overall back and upper body strength development.

  • Back Training Days: The hammer row is commonly included in back training workouts. It targets the major muscles of the back, such as the lats, rhomboids, and rear deltoids, making it an effective exercise for building back strength, size, and definition. You can place it as one of the main compound exercises in your back training routine.
  • Upper Body or Push/Pull Split: If you follow an upper body split routine or a push/pull split, you can incorporate the hammer row on your pull days. This allows you to balance your upper body workouts by including both pushing and pulling movements. Pairing the hammer row with other exercises like pull-ups, bent-over rows, or lat pulldowns can create a comprehensive back training session.
  • Superset or Circuit Training: Another way to incorporate the hammer row is by including it in a superset or circuit training format. This involves performing the exercise in combination with another exercise or a series of exercises with little to no rest in between. For example, you can alternate sets of hammer rows with sets of bicep curls or combine them with other upper body exercises like push-ups or shoulder presses. This approach can increase the intensity of your workout, improve cardiovascular fitness, and enhance muscular endurance.
  • Warm-up or Activation: The hammer row can also be used as a warm-up or activation exercise before heavier compound lifts. It helps to warm up the back muscles, activate the targeted muscles, and improve mind-muscle connection before moving on to more challenging exercises. Start with lighter weights and focus on performing controlled repetitions to prepare your body for the main workout.

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