Barbell rows 101: Steps, Proper Form, And Common Mistakes

Barbell rows or bent-over rows - fitzabout

Barbell rows, also known as bent-over rows, are a strength training exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the back, including the lats (latissimus dorsi), lower and middle trapezius, and the rhomboids.

The lats are the largest muscles in the back and are responsible for pulling the arms down and back.1 The lower and middle trapezius muscles help to stabilize the shoulder blades and support the spine. The rhomboids are located between the shoulder blades and help to pull the shoulder blades together.

In addition to the back muscles, barbell rows also engage the muscles of the arms, shoulders, and core. The biceps and forearms help to hold the barbell, while the shoulders and core muscles help to stabilize the body as you lift the weight.

Overall, barbell rows are a great exercise for building strength and muscle in the back and upper body. They can also help to improve posture and overall functional strength.

What is barbell rows?

Barbell rows or bent-over rows - fitzabout

Barbell rows, also known as bent-over rows, are a strength training exercise that targets the muscles of the back, particularly the lats (latissimus dorsi) and the lower and middle trapezius. To perform a barbell row, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hinge forward at the hips and lower your torso until it is almost parallel to the ground, keeping your back flat and your head looking forward. From this position, lift the barbell up towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift. Lower the barbell back down to the starting position, keeping your core tight and your back flat throughout the exercise.

Benefits of barbell rows

Bent-over rows are a strength training exercise that can offer a number of benefits, including:

  1. Increased muscle strength and size: Barbell rows are an effective exercise for building strength and size in the muscles of the back, including the lats, lower and middle trapezius, and rhomboids.
  2. Improved posture: Strong back muscles can help to improve posture and reduce the risk of back pain. 2
  3. Improved functional strength: Barbell rows can help to improve overall functional strength, making it easier to perform everyday activities such as lifting, carrying, and pushing. 3 4
  4. Enhanced athletic performance: Strong back muscles can help to improve performance in sports and activities that require upper body strength and power. 5 6
  5. Increased bone density: Resistance training exercises like barbell rows can help to increase bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. 7

Overall, barbell rows are a valuable addition to any strength training routine, helping to improve muscle strength, functional strength, and athletic performance.

Haw to do barbell rows (bent-over rows)?

Barbell rows are not a substitute for power cleans and are best done with proper technique, starting from the floor and ending on the floor with each rep. The lumbar spine should be held in extension and the back angle should be at around 15–20 degrees above horizontal.

This exercise works the lats, upper back, arms, low back, and hip extensors. Cable rows and machine T-bar rows are less effective than assuming and maintaining the proper position with a barbell. The more work required during the exercise, the better the results.

The most effective rowing exercise is the one that requires the lifter to assume and maintain the proper position throughout the set, rather than using machines such as cable rows or machine T-bar rows. This allows the lifter to benefit from both the rowing motion and the stability work needed to maintain the correct position. Barbell rows are more effective when more work is required during the exercise.

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Barbell rows should start and end on the floor with each rep, with the bar not hanging from the arms between reps. Proper technique involves a breath and reset of the lower back between reps, and starting from the floor allows the hamstrings and glutes to assist in moving the bar. This technique works the lats, upper back, arms, low back, and hip extensors.

Proper technique for barbell rows involves maintaining the lumbar spine in extension, similar to a deadlift. The back angle should not become vertical and should remain at around 15–20 degrees above horizontal. The initial pull from the floor is aided by the hip extensors, and the finish involves bending the elbows and bringing the bar into the lower rib cage area. The bar should start from a position directly below the scapulas, similar to a deadlift.

1. Instructions

Here is a step-by-step guide to performing bent-over rows with proper form:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  2. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Engage your core muscles and keep your back flat as you hinge forward at the hips and lower your torso until it is almost parallel to the ground, keeping your back flat and your head looking forward.
  4. From this position, lift the barbell up towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift.
  5. Lower the barbell back down to the starting position, keeping your core tight and your back flat throughout the exercise.
  6. Avoid swinging or using momentum to lift the weight, as this can compromise your form and increase the risk of injury.

2. Tips

Here are some tips and techniques to help you get the most out of your barbell rows exercise:

Use a pronated grip

A pronated grip, where your palms are facing down, is the most common grip for barbell rows. This grip allows you to lift the most weight and targets the muscles of your back most effectively.

Keep your feet hip-width apart

Positioning your feet hip-width apart will give you a stable base of support and help you maintain proper form.

Hinge at the hips

As you lower your torso, make sure to hinge at the hips rather than bending at the waist. This will help you maintain a flat back and avoid straining your lower back.

Pay attention to form

Proper form is crucial to avoid injury and to get the most out of the exercise. Keep your back flat and your head looking forward throughout the movement.

Keep your back flat

Avoid rounding your back as you lift the weight. Instead, keep your back flat and your head looking forward throughout the movement.

Keep your head looking forward

As you lift the weight, make sure to keep your head looking forward, rather than tilting it up or down. This will help you maintain proper form and avoid straining your neck.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together

As you lift the weight towards your chest, make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together. This will help target the muscles of your back more effectively.

Use a full range of motion

  • As you lift the barbell towards your chest, make sure to fully extend your arms and squeeze your shoulder blades together. This will help target the muscles of your back more effectively.
  • Rows aren’t useful for weights so heavy that it’s hard to maintain form.
  • The finish position, when the bar touches the abdomen, is governed by some of the same factors that limit a clean, with the weight that can be rowed correctly being only 15 pounds lighter than the weight that can be rowed at all.
  • A row that is not finished will not involve the range of motion that is unique to the exercise, and thus may also be called a “partial SLDL“.
  • For this reason, sets of five or more reps are used, as weights that can only be rowed for a triple cannot be performed correctly anyway.
  • As with any auxiliary exercise, it’s better to get good reps with a light weight for sets of 5, 8, or 10 and do it many times than to lose the benefits of an exercise with a lot of weight.
  • The first few reps will use only a slight – perhaps less than 10 degrees – amount of hip extension, but as the set progresses and the upper body becomes fatigued, more hip extension is thrown in to complete the rep.
  • Be sure to keep doing rows and not deadlifts.
  • Your back should never be higher than horizontal, and if your chest comes up too high on the last rep, the bar is going too low, reducing the range of motion for the target muscles, and therefore the weight too heavy.
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Keep your elbows close to your body

As you lift the weight, make sure to keep your elbows close to your sides. This will help you keep good form and avoid straining your shoulders.

Keep your core tight

Engage your core muscles to help keep your body stable as you lift the weight.

Use a weight that challenges you

  • As with any exercise, it’s important to start with a weight that you can handle comfortably. Make sure to choose a weight that challenges you, but that you can still lift with good form. Gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.
  • As the weights get heavier, there will be a clear tendency to allow your chest to drop down to meet the bar, completing the rep from top to bottom rather than bottom to top.
  • When this chest drop becomes excessive, the weight becomes too heavy. And “excessive” here is a rather subjective concept.
  • One may decide that a chest drop is not permitted, in which case heavy weights cannot be used in the exercise. Or one may decide that as long as the chest can touch the bar, the reps count.
  • This degree of variability is one of the things that differentiates an auxiliary exercise from a primary exercise: if a greater degree of variability is inherent in the performance of an exercise, it cannot be determined effectively or objectively.
  • For this reason, barbell rows make a very good auxiliary exercise but a very poor competition lift.

Take breaks as needed

If you’re feeling tired or if your form starts to suffer, take a break. It’s better to rest and come back fresh than to push through and risk injury.

Start slow and gradually

Remember to start slow and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger. As with any new exercise, it’s a good idea to consult with a fitness professional or trained instructor if you have any questions or concerns.

3. Barbell rows common mistakes

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid when performing barbell rows:

  1. Rounding your back: It’s important to keep your back flat and your core tight throughout the exercise to avoid straining your lower back.
  2. Bending at the waist: Instead of bending at the waist, make sure to hinge at the hips as you lower your torso. This will help you maintain a flat back and avoid straining your lower back.
  3. Lifting too much weight: It’s essential to choose a weight that you can lift with good form. If you’re struggling to lift the weight, lower the weight and focus on proper form before increasing the weight again.
  4. Swinging the weight: Avoid swinging the weight or using momentum to lift it. This can compromise your form and increase the risk of injury.
  5. Looking up or down: Keep your head looking forward throughout the exercise to avoid straining your neck.
  6. Focus on proper form: Remember to focus on proper form and to start with a weight that you can handle comfortably. As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the weight to continue challenging your muscles.
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Bottom line

The barbell rows are an effective strength training exercise that can help you build muscle and strength in your back and upper body.

It’s important to focus on proper form and to start with a weight that you can handle comfortably. As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the weight to continue challenging your muscles. Remember to keep your back flat, your head looking forward, and your core tight throughout the exercise, and to squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lift the weight towards your chest.

A variation of the barbell row is the reverse-grip row, which involves supinating the grip to involve the biceps more. This variation can irritate the elbows and cause tennis or golfer’s elbow in inflexible individuals, so it is recommended to start with light weights and gradually increase the weight. Using a narrower grip may also help to minimize grip position problems.

If you’re new to barbell rows or have any concerns, it’s a good idea to consult with a fitness professional or trained instructor before starting this exercise.

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ⓘ Article Sources

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  5. Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Stone MH. “The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance.” Sports Med. 2016 Oct;46(10):1419-49. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0. PMID: 26838985.
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