Barbell Row

The lats are one of the back's major muscles - they are the glue that keeps your back straight and big! Without them, you can't move your arms, and your spine will be pretty wobbly! Barbell rows were made to grow those lats for a bigger and stronger back. Here is the low down on the row! 

Performing The Pro Barbell Bent-Over Row

  1. 1
    Standing in front of the smith machine, place the barbell on this lowest bar pin.
  2. 2
    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in the knees. If your feet are too close together, you risk losing stability.
  3. 3
    Standing behind the bar, grip it with your hands at shoulder-width, with an underhand grip.
  4. 4
    Slowly unhook the bar and begin bending over into a high sitting position - your torso should be parallel to the ground.
  5. 5
    You should slightly arch your back, shoulders back and down, and your butt out.
  6. 6
    Keep your torso firm and in one place without moving it up. Row the barbell, pull the bar up to the lowest part of your abdomen. Think of it like bringing the bar to your belly button.
  7. 7
    Your knees shouldn't move past your toes while rowing. That is a checkpoint - if your knees cover the toes, correct your form.
  8. 8
    Slowly release the bar back down to the length of your arms to the starting position.
  9. 9
    Repeat for 3 sets of reps.
  10. 10
    For a challenging row, increase the weight in between sets. 

Muscles Targeted & Secondary Areas

Barbell rows primarily target the mid and upper back muscles. The latissimus dorsi muscles are also known as lats and the rhomboids. The lats are part of the lower to mid-back; they are the biggest back muscle and have a lot of influence over pulling exercises. They keep your posture intact and spread the bulk of strength across the back. The rhomboids keep your shoulder blades together. 

Barbell rows secondarily target the arms, namely the biceps and forearms, the core, such as the abs, and other back muscles like the rear deltoids, traps, and smaller muscle groups in the back. These muscles are stabilizers; without them, your body would not be able to stand straight.

Barbell row

Suggested Warm-Up

Warming up is integral to getting the best out of your workout. Without a warm-up, you risk injury and not reaping the best benefits your exercises have to offer. Add these to your warm-up to activate the upper back and lats.

Banded pull apart 

  1. 1
    Stand with a resistance band, holding one end in each hand.
  2. 2
    Raise your arms up to shoulder height and pull them apart until your furthest point.
  3. 3
    Hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds.
  4. 4
    Slowly release your hands back to the front.
  5. 5
    Repeat for 10 reps.

Mountain climbers 

  1. 1
    Get into a plank position on a mat. Your arms should be straight.
  2. 2
    Bring a knee up to your chest and lower back down.
  3. 3
    Bring the other knee up to meet your chest. This completes one cycle.
  4. 4
    Increase the speed at which you perform these.
  5. 5
    You should try to get at least 40 seconds in moderate intensity.

Superset it!

For anyone that is pressed for time or wants to maximize gains, there is the superset method. There are two ways to superset an exercise: the first is by increasing weights, the second is by adding in another exercise between sets. This creates a circuit with less resting time between sets and maximum gains. You trick your mind and body into going harder, making it easier for you to get your complete reps in every set.

Bench press

Add a bench press directly after your first bent-over row set. Here is how to bench press like a pro:

  1. 1
    Lying flat on a bench, keep your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. 2
    Grip the barbell - your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    Slowly bring the bar down to your chest while you inhale.
  4. 4
    Begin pushing the bar up as you exhale, grip the bar hard and focus on a spot on the ceiling.
  5. 5
    Once at the top, squeeze for a full count of one.
  6. 6
    Slowly return to the starting position.
Bench press exercise

Upright row

The upright row is just as formidable as the barbell bent-over row. Here's how to do it properly, with the help of a smith machine:

  1. 1
    Stand in front of the smith machine, unrack the bar.
  2. 2
    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in the knees for stability.
  3. 3
    Standing behind the bar, grip it with your hands at shoulder-width, with an underhand grip.
  4. 4
    Slowly unrack the bar.
  5. 5
    Begin pulling up to bring the bar to slightly below your shoulders.
  6. 6
    Slowly lower the bar, maintaining a steady motion as you release the bar back down to the length of your arms to the starting position.
  7. 7
    Repeat for 3 sets of reps.
  8. 8
    List Tip: Don't lean back or forward - keep your core engaged and stable.
Troy reverse grip smith machine barbell row

Dumbbell flyes

These are the perfect companion for upper body destruction. Try throwing a set of these in between each barbell row.

  1. 1
    Lying flat on the bench, the bench should support your back, neck, and shoulders. Keep your back flat and firmly pressed into the bench.
  2. 2
    Hold the weights above your chest, palms facing each other, then lower the weights in an arc out to each side of your body far as you can.
  3. 3
    Hold the weights above your chest, palms facing each other, then lower the weights in an arc out to each side of your body far as you can.
  4. 4
    Engaging your pectoral muscles, slowly reverse the movement, raising the dumbbells above your chest - squeeze your pecs as you reach the top. Don't touch the dumbbells together - squeeze before they are too close together.
  5. 5
    Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout, and don't arch your back.
  6. 6
    Repeat 3 sets of 10 - 15 reps. Rest for 60 seconds in between sets.
Fly To Press No Bench

Increase weights

The other superset method involves increasing the weights as you move through your sets. That doesn't mean starting on the lightest. You should still get a good workout from the first set. Adding on additional weight after each set will help you get those muscles on fire.

You will feel the burn as you are pulling the bar up towards you. Just pick a spot on the floor and go for it. You can do this! You might be surprised at what your body is capable of if you put your mind to it. Start at a weight you are comfortable with, row the bar, and take it from there.

man loading weights on bench press exercise station at the gym

Famous Rows

It should come as no surprise that Thor himself reaps the benefits of this full-body exercise. Well, Chris Hemsworth's trainer, Luke Zocchi, has included a variety of rows into the actor's strict training regime. 

From bent-over rows to kettlebell rows, and even a dumbbell renegade row. It is clear to see why he is in such great shape!

The Benefits 

Let's talk about the benefits of adding a bent-over row to your routine.

  • Hip alignment - the hinging effect at the hips helps with hip alignment. As the barbell row is a compound exercise, it works the entire body. It trains your hips to hold the hinge position and to maintain it. 
  • Bulk muscle workout - This compound exercise is the king of working the entire body. Once you have perfected the row technique, your full back will benefit. The row is an easy way to get a quick workout that satisfies a number of muscles, which is excellent if you are pressed for time. 
  • Increases strength - The row will target any weak points in the back with almost laser-like precision. This is excellent for anyone that wants to improve their overall training. It is no wonder weightlifters, powerlifters, and strongmen all use the bent-over row to prepare for competitions. 
  • Posture - Posture is viral. Good posture is seen from a mile away. There is nothing worse than a slouching posture - it doesn't portray the same amount of confidence that a straight, stable, and adequately aligned body. Better posture is essential as it creates balance in the body; as some exercises can pull the shoulders forward or push them back as the muscles grow, maintaining balance is critical. 

Mistakes & Tips

  • Proper form - Form is essential; if your barbell row form is not correct, you won't see the benefits, nor will you enjoy this exercise at all. You risk injury or strain on the wrong muscle groups. 
  • Flaring the elbows - Your elbows should be tucked and not flaring out to the sides. Row in a vertical line, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle alongside the rest of your body. 
  • Rounding your back - This is perhaps the quickest way to an injury. Your back should not be rounded, as it places your spine in a compromised position. Brace your abs and engage your core with a straight spine, hinge at the hips. Lower your weight until you can achieve proper back alignment and form. 
  • Bouncing - This is a row; at no point should you bounce the barbell up and down. You might be frowning, however, this is a very common mistake in barbell rows. Even advanced lifters make this mistake if they are not well versed in rows. Lower the weight a little, and slowly bring the bar up; squeeze your shoulder blades together. You will feel it when you are doing this right. Close your eyes and concentrate on the muscle groups when the barbell gets to the top. The barbell row is one exercise you cannot cheat on - it won't help your gains bounce into momentum.
  • Help from weight plates - If you are struggling to maintain your back form and you keep rounding your back up, practice the form daily. Ask someone to place a weight plate on your back as you hinge at the hips and hold the position. Ask a spotter to check your form. Hold this position for a few minutes. You will notice an improvement in your form within a week. 

Row Variations & Alternatives

Looking for a few alternatives or variations? You’ve found them! It is vital to take note of these for days when you need to realign, rebalance or go a little easier on a specific muscle group.

Loose barbell row

Troy Underhand Barbell Row reverse

You don't need a Smith machine for rowing; you can use a barbell or an EZ-bar. Your range of motion will increase with an EZ-bar as it is curved. 

It is best to perfect your form and rowing technique before progressing onto a row with a loose barbell. Any lifter will be able to tell you that technique and form are more important than the amount of weight you load on. If neither is correct, you won't see results.

Single-arm dumbbell row

Jumping straight into a bent-over row when you have previous injuries is not always advisable; try one arm dumbbell rows to improve muscle balance between arms. Adjust the weight sets between the arms until you reach equilibrium and are on the same weight set. 

  1. 1
    Start by standing, hold a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip.
  2. 2
    Hinge forward at the hips - your torso should be parallel to the ground.
  3. 3
    If you struggle to balance, place the right foot backward in the start of a shallow lunge, hold onto a bench in front of you for additional support.
  4. 4
    Begin the row, pull the weight up by driving the elbow backward, behind the body.
  5. 5
    Concentrate on retracting your shoulder blades.
  6. 6
    Once entirely pulled back, slowly lower your arm.
  7. 7
    You will feel this in your upper arms and lats.
  8. 8
    Repeat on each arm for the same amount of reps.
Troy one arm dumbbell row

Reverse grip row

Much in the same way you perform a row, change your grip for this reverse grip row. These rows are great for biceps as they have a more direct targeting as well as a bias on the upper back. 

  1. 1
    Load your barbell and place it down in front of you.
  2. 2
    Standing with your feet at shoulder-width apart, bend at your knees and squat down, grip the barbell with a reverse grip - your thumbs should be on top of the bar.
  3. 3
    Ensure that your back is straight and your core engaged. Move up to a standing position - the bar should be in front of you, resting against your waist.
  4. 4
    Bend your knees slightly to get into the starting position. Keep your back straight and slide the bar down your thighs until it is just below knee level. Your back should remain straight.
  5. 5
    Lift the barbell to just beneath your chest, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  6. 6
    Then slowly begin lowering the bar back to the starting position.
Troy Adashun performing an underhand barbell row

Inverted row

These bodyweight rows are excellent and work well if you have a pull-up bar at home and can't make the gym.

  1. 1
    Set the pull-up bar at waist height or slightly lower. Alternatively, you can use your desk or table if you don't have a pull-up bar.
  2. 2
    Lie face up beneath the bar on the floor.
  3. 3
    Grip the bar with an overhand grip - your arms should be slightly wider than shoulder-width. Face your palms away from your body.
  4. 4
    Engage your abs and butt, feel the contraction. Your body should be completely straight. Think of it as an upside-down plank position, every inch of your body aligned.
  5. 5
    Begin pulling yourself up until your chest touches the bar.
  6. 6
    Lower yourself back down, maintaining control. Just dropping your body down would risk injury to your elbow joints.
Desk Pullups

Pendlay row

Stronger lifts and a bigger back are the benefits of a Pendlay row

These bodyweight rows are excellent and work well if you have a pull-up bar at home and can't make the gym.

  1. 1
    Standing at your bar, your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with the middle of your feet directly underneath the bar. Think of it as similar to the deadlift setup.
  2. 2
    Bending over at the hips, grab the barbell. 
  3. 3
    Hinging your hips back, start lifting the barbell up. The weight should reach your knees.
  4. 4
    Brace and engage your core and keep your spine in a neutral position.
  5. 5
    Begin lifting the weight up to the lower chest area, and hold a count of 2. Make sure you are squeezing your shoulder blades tightly together.
  6. 6
    Slowly control the muscles as you lower the weight - you should fully extend your arms.
Troy pendlay row barbell exercise

The Bigger Back Shortcut

Back muscle

By now, it should be clear that the bent-over row is perhaps one of the most essential exercises for a bigger, better, and healthier back. Looking after your back health now saves you trouble in later years. 

Alongside the core, the back is perhaps one of the most important parts of the body. The core delivers stability and balance between the upper and lower body. The back is key to keeping your body pain-free and stronger for longer. 

Desk lifestyles can destroy the back's integrity and create stress in the neck area, making the bent-over row one of the most important back exercises. Even if you are training for aesthetics alone, this is one you cannot skip out on! 

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