The standard bent-over row places high loads on your low back because you are in an unsupported, bent-over position. During the single-dumbbell row, you support your non-working hand on a bench, which takes the load off your low-back muscles, making it a safer alternative. The single-dumbbell arm row is not the only back exercise that offers this benefit. The inverted row, supported row and seated row also place less tension on the low back, while still targeting the lats, traps and rhomboids.
According to a 2009 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," the inverted row produced the highest activation of the back muscles and the lowest spinal load compared to the one-armed cable row and standing bent-over row. Use a Smith machine or find a secure horizontal railing between thigh and hip height. Lie on your back with your chest directly under the bar. Grab the bar with a just wider than shoulder-width grip. Pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, while keeping your body in a straight line.
The seated row eliminates the pressure on the low back because you are not in an unsupported, bent-over position. Use a resistance band or cable machine for this exercise. Sit upright and grab the handles with your arms extended. Exhale and pull the handles to your sides, keeping your elbows close to your body. Use different handles for variety. You can perform the seated row one arm at a time or as a two-arm exercise.
Supported Dumbbell Row
An alternative to the single dumbbell row that still releases the pressure on your low back is to use two dumbbells but support your torso during the exercise. You can support your torso in one of two ways. Place an upright bench in front of you and rest your forehead on the top of the bench in the bent-over position. You can also lie prone on a flat or slightly inclined bench with your arms hanging down at your sides.
Warm-Up and Stretching
Incorporate one to two row exercises into your back workout, completing two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions each. Always warm up prior to starting a workout. Jog or bike for five to 10 minutes to warm up the body as a whole and then do two sets of rows with light weights that allow you to complete 12 to 15 repetitions each. Stretch the back muscles after your workout. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, completing two to three repetitions.