"Hello, just a quick question and a bit of advice required here: I'm in the middle of the gulf on deployment with the royal navy, and our gym is fairly limited when it comes to back exercises. We only have dumbbells, a bench, and a load of different bars. Could you put a decent back workout together for me please? The rest of my training is coming on well, but I'm stuck with what to do for my back. It would be much appreciated."
My Answer: Good to hear from a member of the Royal Navy. Send my regards to the Queen. Anyway, Rastall, you don't have a pull-up station of some sort? When it comes to hypertrophy, the back is the one muscle group that relies mostly on pull-ups, chinups and cable machines. I differ from most strength trainers, because I don't recommend dumbbells or barbells for back development. Dumbbells and barbells for the back aren't very effective for hypertrophy when compared to pull-ups/chin-ups, cable pulldowns or seated cable rows.
There are a multitude of reasons for this. For example, barbell rows suck as a back exercise, because your nerve force is split between isometrically contracting your lower back and hamstrings and rowing the barbell. You end up working a multitude of body parts and not very well. A great overall body exercise, but not a very good back exercise.
To get around this, trainers recommend one arm dumbbell rows on the bench. But even then, the stretch that you get from dumbbell rows pales in comparison to the stretch you get from lat bar pulldowns. Stretching the lats is a key factor in back development.
You can always do dumbbell pullovers to stretch the lats, but it's just not the same as a pull-up for size and strength.
Bottom line: dumbbells and barbells are great for back thickness, but not back width. Do the above exercises for now until you have access to a pull-up station or cable machine.