Also known as the bent-over barbell row, the barbell row is an excellent exercise to tone upper back muscles and shoulder blades, reinforce proper hip flexion, and gain strength to take on other compound movements, such as Deadlifts and bench press. Having a strong back also enables you to perform day-to-day activities with ease and lower the risk of injuries.
If you’re looking for a move that will help improve your posture and strengthen your back muscles, the barbell row is a great choice and can be done with a variety of weights and be modified to fit your fitness level.
Ready to give it a try?
How To Barbell Row Correctly
What You’ll Need:
- Olympic Barbell (with or without plates): A Barbell is a must to perform the barbell row as it allows you to use more weight and recruits your forearm and biceps muscles, so you can have better grip.
- Dumbbells: Dumbbells are great alternatives as these can address any muscle imbalances and increase muscle activation.
Step 1: Grip the bar
Prepare for a barbell bent-over row just like how you would prepare for a deadlift. But position your hands wider on the bar; they should be about shoulder-width apart. You can make this move with an underhand grip (your palms facing your head). After you position your hands, slowly drop your hips, straighten your back, and lockout your elbows. a
Step 2: Lift the barbell
Slowly lift the Barbell off the floor and let the barbell rest right in front of your thighs. Ensure that you’re able to maintain a strong hip hinge position (about 45 degrees) and tense back to remain stable as you lift the barbell.
Step 3: Initiate the row
Squeeze your abs and slowly row the barbell to your belly button. Make sure to lead the row using your elbows. Always keep your shoulders down and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you reach the highest point of the movement, so you can engage your upper back muscles with ease.
Step 4: Flex the back
After holding the highest point of movement of the bent-over barbell row for a few seconds, start lowering the weight with control. You don’t need to rush returning to the starting position, but you shouldn’t let the bar drop to the front of your knees either.
Step 5: Return the bar to the floor
Once the bar reaches the floor, breathe and straighten your back. Repeat steps one to four until you reach your desired number of reps.
Barbell Rows Benefits
Improves Upper Back Hypertrophy and Strength
The bent-over barbell row is one of the best muscle- and strength-building exercises as it allows you to lift more weights, unlike other rowing movements. The barbell bent-over row also puts stress on your forearms and biceps muscles, leading to a stronger, more comfortable grip.
Performing barbell rows regularly also engages your core, protecting your spine and reducing the risk of injuries.
Helps With Deadlifts and Pulling Movements
The bent-over barbell row will require you to maintain a hinged position throughout the duration of the movement. Maintaining a hip hinge while rowing weights forces your lower back muscles and core to activate for the entire set. This movement will also put stress on your hamstring and hips, as well.
As you activate all of these muscles, you’re also training your body for a stronger deadlift position. In short, the bent-over barbell row enhances the durability and stability of the muscles necessary to properly perform deadlifts and other pulling movements.
Supports Postural Strength and Control
Another benefit of the bent-over barbell row is that it helps increase your upper and lower back strength and reinforces proper spinal control. This exercise can also improve your resistance to lumbar flexion under load.
Common Barbell Row Mistakes to Avoid
- Blowing the knee bend: The bent-over barbell row is an upper body exercise, but this doesn’t mean that the position of your knees is inconsequential to the form and outcome. Squat down too far, and you’ll have a hard time maintaining your body position for the duration of the move. Lockout your knees, and you’ll put undue stress on your back muscles, resulting in injuries.
The correct position of your knees when doing bent-over barbell row should be 15 to 20 degrees. This position shouldn’t change throughout the movement.
- Rounding your lower back: You need to maintain your lower back in a neutral position to avoid back pain and injuries. Allowing your lower back to round when doing the bent-over barbell row squeezes your spinal discs.
- Turning a row into a curl: Barbell rows use more weight, so don’t attempt to turn the exercise into a curl. To avoid committing this mistake, aim to pull the barbell to your upper abdominal region. Think about pulling through your elbows, not flexing your biceps.
- Flaring your elbows: Whenever you flair your elbows, you’re shifting the bar forward and in front of your midfoot. This increases the amount of stress on your lower back muscles, resulting in pain and discomfort. Fix the problem by rowing the bar in a vertical line over your midfoot to just below your chest. Your elbows should be at a 45-degree angle as you perform this movement.
- Poor neck position: Your neck position matters in performing the bent-over barbell row. Looking up too far can affect the position of your spine, making it challenging to hold a stable torso position as you row the bar. Always align your neck with your back to maintain a neutral, safer position.
Barbell Rows Muscles Worked
- Latissimus Dorsi or back muscles: Also known as the lats, this muscle group spans the entire length of your back. Perform the bent-over barbell row regularly to improve the stability and strength of your lats. Having a stronger back supports better posture and reduces your risk to back pain and injuries.
- Spinal Erectors or lower back muscles: Whenever you perform the bent-over barbell row, your spinal erectors function by helping stabilize the spine. You’ll be using your spinal erectors as you maintain a hip-hinged position and complete every lift.
- Scapular Stabilizers or the shoulder blades: Your scapulas or shoulder blades allow you to protract and retract your shoulders. Simply put, this muscle group enables you to squeeze your back muscles. When you perform the bent-over barbell row, these muscles become more engaged as you squeeze and relax your shoulders to complete the movement.
- Hamstrings: As you assume the bent-over position, your hamstrings work isometrically to support your body weight. As long as done correctly, you should feel an intense stretch in your hamstrings every time you perform the bent-over barbell row.
Barbell Row vs T Bar Row
Barbell rows are a compound exercise that actively targets the latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboids while passively targeting the erectors and hamstrings. On the other hand, T bar rows are an isolation exercise because it only targets one muscle group, the upper body muscles.
Aside from targeting different muscle groups, barbell rows and t bar rows also offer different results. Barbell rows can increase the width of the back because it has a direct carry-over to the bench press. This is due to the similar grip and pronated hand position that the two exercises share.
As for t-bar rows, these can increase the thickness and depth of the back. This is due to its close narrow grip position and the ability of the lifter to lift heavier weights.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs
For Gaining More Muscles
If your goal is to gain more muscles, use a moderate load and aim to accumulate more volume as you perform barbell rows. Do five sets of ten reps using a moderate to heavy load or four sets of 20 reps with moderate loads to near failure.
For Improving Overall Strength
For improving overall strength, perform five sets of five reps using heavy loads. Rest for one minute whenever needed. This program is ideal for experienced lifters as maintaining a hinge while lifting a heavy barbell can put too much strain on the back.
For Boosting Muscle Endurance
To accumulate muscle endurance and conditioning, aim to perform high reps of barbell rows using less weight. It’s best if you start with three sets of 30 reps using light to moderate loads. Rest for one minute after every set.
Barbell Row Variations
Are you not satisfied with the results you’re getting from the bent-over barbell row? Looking for other exercises that suit your fitness goals better? Don’t worry because there are plenty of barbell row variations, namely:
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
Instead of using a barbell, you’ll need to use a pair of dumbbells to complete this exercise. This is a great variation to address muscle imbalances and enjoy a longer range of motion. Dumbbell rows also enable you to manipulate the supination and pronation of your wrists, so you can target different muscles in your back shoulders.
Kettlebell Bent-Over Row
This variation has the same movement as the bent-over barbell row but uses different tools. Using kettlebells helps improve your overhand grip, as well as experience a different “feel” due to the weight having an offset center of gravity.
The yates row is performed with an underhand grip and upright torso. This variation works every single muscle on your back, from the nape of your neck to the base of your spine. Yates rows also indirectly work your glutes and hamstrings, making them a superior posterior chain
Barbell Row Alternatives
Performing the same workout every day can eventually result in excess strain or soreness, which is why incorporating some Barbell Row Alternatives is beneficial. Listed below are xxx barbell row alternatives that can help increase your upper body strength and for more program variety.
Unlike the barbell row, the pendlay row will require you to rest the weight on the ground after each rep. The pendlay row is a great alternative if you want to increase your back strength to easily perform deadlifts. This is also ideal for beginners who still don’t have enough power to sustain the proper rowing form in a hinge position.
The seal row is performed while lying on a bench while holding weights and doing supported rows. This alternative minimizes stress and tension on your hamstrings and lower back. If you’re looking for an exercise that isolates the back and minimizes momentum during each row, the seal row is your best bet.
Chest Supported Row requires the use of an incline bench to support your chest. This is an excellent option for individuals who want to minimize the stress on their lower back, hamstrings, and body while still being able to tone their backs.
Seated Cable Row
Usually done on a narrow grip, you can also perform the seated cable row on a wider grip to target your back and arm muscles better. We highly recommend this alternative if you want to improve your upper body strength.
Inverted Rows are horizontal pull-ups and ideal for beginners as these can help build their upper body strength without compromising their form. Unlike traditional pull-ups, the inverted row targets more of your arm muscles.
If you’re looking for a low-impact exercise that doesn’t put too much stress on your joints, adding reps of machine rows to your workout routine is a must. Machine rows are also meditative because it provides calming benefits due to the smooth, gliding motion.
The bent-over barbell row offers tons of benefits, which is why you should definitely add this to your workout regime. It’s a compound movement that has carryover benefits at any fitness level. Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or experienced lifter, the bent-over barbell row will make it easier for you to perform other exercises and day-to-day activities.