How to master the bent-over row
Bicep curls are fine for arms and deadlifts work your posterior chain, but to fill out your t-shirt you’ll need to put your back into it. Enter the exercise that hits your lats and biceps better than any other weighted move: the bent-over row.
Read on to maximise your biggest back lift and generate serious pulling power.
(Related: 5 tweaks for a bigger back)
How to do it
1. Grab a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. With your legs slightly bent, keep your back perfectly straight and bend your upper body until it’s almost perpendicular to the floor.
2. From here row the weight upwards into the lower part of your chest. Pause. And return under control to the start position.
Good technique in the bent-over row starts from the top, as you begin to bend. Celebrity PTScott Laidler recommends you bend over by pushing your hips backwards, instead of folding forwards.
“Pushing your hips back encourages you to keep your spine neutral throughout the entire exercise,” says Laidler. A curved back puts undue pressure on your spine, throwing the weight off and potentially causing a nasty injury. Ouch.
(Related: our 5 most common form fails)
Next, make sure when you lift the weight, you’re moving up and down, not out. “You see a lot of people throwing the weight slightly forward,” says Laidler. “This brings your anterior deltoids (shoulders) into play, when the exercise should be focusing on your lats.” Want that cobra back effect? Keep your bent-over row straight.
(WATCH: can’t make it to the gym? PT Alex Isaly demonstrates his best back exercises)
Finally, don’t get wrapped up in competition. “This is not an ego exercise,” says Laidler. “This is one exercise that lots of people get injured on.” High weights mean jerky reps, so pick a weight you can lift slowly: 5 seconds up, and 5 seconds down. Your form will improve and you’ll be stronger to boot, thanks to all that time under tension. Your back won’t know what hit it.
The dumbbell bent-over row
1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hip so your upper body is almost parallel to the floor.
2. Keep your core tight and your back straight as you row the weights up to your chest. Lower and repeat.
While splitting up the weight with dumbbells means your muscles work harder as they fight to keep your body balanced, that’s not all dumbbells do. “Because you can angle the dumbbells differently, you can assume a more natural position for pulling,” says Laidler. This is going to feel very different, and work your lats harder, than a barbell alone. The downside? You can’t shift as much weight as you can with a straight bar.
Underhand bent-over row
1. Stand holding a barbell with your palms facing up. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward by bending at the waist.
2. Keeping your back straight, and elbows close to your body, row the barbell towards your chest, squeezing your back muscles. Slowly lower to the starting position.
Despite its name, there’s nothing sneaky about it. “Using the underhand grip on a bar allows you to pull in a more natural fashion,” says Laidler. When you flare your elbows out during a row, your shoulders begin to come into play. Because the underhand grip keeps your elbows in check, you’re much less likely to activate your shoulders during the lift, keeping the emphasis on your lats.It’ll also build titanic biceps as a bonus.
1. Head to a flat bench and place your right hand against it under your shoulder, keeping your arm straight. Rest your right knee on the bench and step your other leg out to the side.
2. With your free hand grab a dumbbell off the floor and row it up to your side until your upper arm is parallel with the floor. Lower slowly back to the floor and repeat.
“You need loose hamstrings to hold the posture of a normal bent-over row,” says Laidler.
Video: Stop Doing Dumbbell Rows Like This!
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