There is no question: the barbell bent over row is one of the best exercises you can do to build thick slabs of muscle to support every strength movement and build a powerful, head turning body.
In fact, from a pure benefit driven perspective, I’d argue the barbell bent over row should be a staple in nearly every program whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose fat, and look good naked or hoist a huge deadlift.
Taking this a step further, the barbell bent over row requires you to perform a hip hinge and isometrically hold position. This builds incredible strength and resiliency through your core stabilizers to build an injury resistant midsection and of course, brutal strength on hip hinge patterns like deadlifts.
As you can see, the starting position for a barbell bent over row matches the body position required to perform deadlifts with optimal form.
More directly, barbell bent over rows build incredible strength and muscle through your posterior chain. Barbell rows specifically hammer your lats, those funny-lookin’ wings under your arms that give you the vaunted v-tapered physique.
When it comes to training your lats, they’re a different animal. Rather than a completely horizontal or completely vertical muscle fiber orientation, these goofy lil muscle fibers are oriented diagonally, making both vertical (think chin ups) and horizontal pulling (rows) exercises necessary for you to maximize the thickness and size of your back. Thus, if you want a back that’s big and strong enough to block out the sun, you gotta row if you want to grow.
Secondarily, barbell bent over rows will hammer your rear delts, traps, rhomboids, and to a lesser extent, your forearms and biceps.
Surely with all these benefits there’s no doubt you should row, right?
Well, similiar to an akward rehearsal dinner there’s always an elehpant in the room when it comes to exercise selection. For barbell rows, it’s how to do them properly to maximize gains while simultanously preventing you from rowing like a hunchback and jacking up your spine.
But when it comes to bent over rows there is an elephant in the room: how to do them properly to maxmize your gains while minimizing your chance of injury.
While many coaches haphazardly throw exercises into a routine because they’re painstakingly difficult it’s imperative that all exercises have a clear point and purpose.
After all, in training…
is to create a physiological response to lose fat, build muscle, and improve performance…not make yourself miserable.
In the case of the barbell bent over rows, a premium is placed on holding body position to get strong through the trunk while challenging your hamstrings, glutes, spinal errectors, and core to hold position and build brutal strength in the hip hinge position. lats, rhomboids, spinal errectorshammering your lats, rhomboids, traps, erectors, biceps, glutes, and hamstrings into hypertrophy.
Barbell bent-over rows are a great exercise to address common technique weaknesses and flaws, such as trunk stability and strength in the hinge position.
Problem is, they’re butchered all the time leading to dysfunction and injury instead of high-performance gains. Well, it’s time to whip your row into shape and fix three problems with your bent over row to help you minimize your risk of injury and maximize your gains.
Potential Issues with the Row
Rounding Your Lower Back:
Lifters with flexion based back injuries may struggle to hold a flat-back position with a loaded barbell in front of the body.
It’s essential to pull the body tight to the body, brace the abs to ensure neutral spine, and eliminate body english, to minimize problems due to shear stress.
Furthermore, be conservative programming heavy rows in conjunction with squats and deadlifts in the same workout.
Rows are great to get jacked and strong, but that’s no good if you have a mangled spine.
Program bent over rows conservatively if you have a history of flexion based back injuries.
Pulling the Body to the Bar:
Let your muscles lift the weight, not your ego. Most lifters have a tendency to excessively load the bar and end up using way too much momentum to move weight. While the intentions are good, losing position, raising the chest, flexing the spine, and doing total body convulsions to complete the lift do more harm than good.
Hold solid joint position, drop the weight a bit, and train what you mean to train!
Pulling the Elbows Too far Back:
When rowing, some lifters pull the bar too far past mid-line. While you might feel a better “squeeze” in the muscles, the humerus may migrate forward into the anterior socket of the shoulder, potentially causing impingement and dysfunction.
Rather than driving the elbows as far as possible aim to break the plane of the body, but no further if the shoulder caves forward. This way, you’ll optimize muscular recruitment for gains in strength and size without compromising the integrity of the shoulder joint.
Basically, you’ll still get jacked without harming your shoulders.
(Photo credit: Brett Contreras)
No doubt, the supinated bent over row provides some massive benefits in terms of pulling strength and hypertrophy. But, every exercise is a tool, and any tool is only as good as its use. Troubleshoot your row and ensure you’re not making errors to the detriment of your health and function.
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