High Performance Exercises You Should be Doing: Dumbbell Split Row

February 10, 2015

About the Author: Eric Bach

Let’s talk training.

Like most dudes I instantly fell in love with the bench press.
Big, armor pleated pecs, huge triceps, and a set of monster truck tire sized weights hangin’ off a bending barbell?

Hells yea, sign me up.

Everyone has a natural propensity to train the front side of the body because that’s what they see when they’re in front of the mirror.

We all value aeseticics place a premium on body-parts we see in the mirror.

Quads? ALL DAY.
Abs? Bring on the crunches.
Huge, boulder-sized shoulders? Yes please.

As a result, we disregard muscles that play a role in performance and posture like the glutes, hamstrings, traps, and lats. While I like blasting my pecs as much as the next dude this unbalanced view of training creates a huge range of issues. Most never leave this mindset and as a result, neglect the true sign of a strong, shredded, and athletic body—a strong, dense back.

Whether you’re an aspiring bodybuilder, high-performance athlete, or weekend warrior wanting to kick ass and look good a thick back is the hallmark of a great body.

Don’t believe me? Any string-bean with a high metabolism has abs. A big back is much more impressive. Men will display a topographical map of rigid muscle through any shirt, a v-taper to pull off any outfit, and look powerful in any jacket. Women with a developed back create a greater hourglass shape to accentuate their natural curves.

Dumbbell rows, Kroc rows, and barbell rows get all the credit, but by making a slight change in stance the row becomes an awesome anti-rotation exercise as well.


By splitting the stance and turning the typical row into the bad-ass dumbbell split row. Dumbbell Split rows incorporate an anti-rotation, anti-flexion position and scapular retraction and depression under significant training load to get you strong, jacked, and build a body resilient to injury.

Here’s how to Do the Dumbbell Split Row


1) Away from the bench and assume a split stance with the back-knee bent and the majority of your weight on the front foot. Keep the back foot and knee in alignment throughout the exercise to prevent compensation.

2) Pick up your dumbbell with the working arm and
position the body over the bench with your non-working arm extended and actively pushed into the bench. This creates stability and prevents rotation in the trunk.
3) Allow a slight-pre stretch of the working arm to pre-stretch the lats, traps, and rhomboids.
4) Drive the elbow back by pulling with the lat.

5) Push the non-rowing arm into the bench, maintain
neutral spine, and return the dumbbell to the starting position.

The most common flaw in dumbbell split rows is substituting torso rotation for scapular protraction and retraction. Keep the torso rigid or the anti-rotation benefits and scapular retraction benefits are minimized to please your ego rather than your spine and trunk.

Benefits of Dumbbell Rows

Improved Upper Body Pulling Strength

The one-arm dumbbell row is great for developing strength and thickness through the mid and upper back while improving scapular movement, and core stability. Rows work the latissimus dorsi, traps, rhomboids, lateral subsystem, and to a lesser extent, the biceps and forearms.
Basically, all the muscles that make you look like a jacked, high-performance beast are getting trained. Thick arms, a big yoke, and resilient shoulder girdle give you the ultimate power look.

Improved Scapular Retraction

Sexy right?
Think of it this way—without the ability to retract your shoulder all those bench presses and huge pecs are for naught. You’ll develop the “oh so sexy” Neanderthal posture, shoulder dysfunction, and feel like a steaming pile of poo whenever you hoist weights over your head or chest.

Horizontal rows develop three primary muscle groups: the middle trapezius, the rhomboids, and the latissimus dorsi. With a row the muscles of the mid-back are the primary target.

The primary movement of the working limb is scapular retraction, or squeezing the shoulder back. As a result, you’ll strengthen the muscles responsible for pulling your shoulders into an upright position to maintain better posture.

Anti-Rotation and Core Work

With proper execution of the row, the spine is neutral and torso stationary with the nipple-line facing the bench. Since the row is unilaterally loaded with a heavy dumbbell, there is a huge anti-rotation stress to the core and strengthens the trunk (Behm et al).

Additionally, the lats cross the thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spine and play a huge role in the transfer of loads between trunk and limbs while contributing to stiffness of the lumbar spine.

In other words, you strengthen the entire posterior chain so you don’t wreck yourself when doing innocuous activities like shoveling snow. Athletes will become more resilient to external forces and better able to transfer strength from head to toe.

To reap the core control benefits of dumbbell split rows you must maintain neutral spine while forcing posterior chain to move weight. Don’t be the tool-bag rotating his entire torso to “heave” as much weight as possible for max reps. Every exercise is a tool; an exercise performed optimally with less weight is much better than an exercise performed haphazardly with more weight with a blatant disregard for body position.

Maximize each exercise by doing it correctly, rather than trying to impress your buddies.

Wrap Up

As I mentioned earlier a thick, defined back is the ultimate sign iron dedication and high-performance training. Add in dumbbell split rows for improved core strength, scapular retraction, and explosive growth in your forearms, traps, rhomboids, and lats. Program dumbbell split rows like you would any other row– as an accessory pulling movement to support training. Give your rows the love they deserve and you’ll be walking through doors sideways in no time.

photo credit: osrsone36 via photopin cc

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