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The Complete Guide to Bent Over Rows: Everything You Need to Know

Arnold doing the bent over row

If you’re looking to add some muscle mass to your back, bent-over row is a great exercise to consider. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to do the bent over row properly, including the benefits, muscles worked, and proper form.

Bent-over rows are a great way to add muscle mass to your back. This exercise is effective because it allows you to use a heavier weight than other exercises, such as pull-ups. Additionally, bent over rows target all of the major muscles in your back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids.

When doing bent over rows, it’s important to use proper form. This means keeping a flat back and avoiding rounding your shoulders. You should also keep your head up and look straight ahead. To properly execute the exercise, bend at the hips and lower your torso until it’s parallel with the ground. From here, you can begin rowing the weight up to your chest.
If you’re looking to add bent over rows to your workout routine, be sure to start light and gradually increase the weight as you get comfortable with the exercise.

Arnold doing the bent over row

When performing a bent row the hands can be angled (palm facing down and palm facing up). A supinated grip incorporates the muscles more closely to the movement so your hands are held in a more narrow position. You can use wider angles to focus on the legs thereby promoting the development of the back muscle. You can choose your preferred variant of grip. Generally speaking, you should use a suitable grip method to achieve a certain result. We will focus on pronation (Your hand goes over the bar, dumbbell, or kettlebell with your knuckles on top) for the best back-building exercises available.

What muscles do bent-over rows work?

Before I talk about the proper barbell bent-over row technique I have to first see what muscles are being used. The muscles activated are the latissis dorsi, rear deltioids, the traps, and the middle as well as the lower back. If you properly perform bent-over rows with a barbell, these areas will work most efficiently as it pulls weight. Nonetheless, it can be easier to target certain body muscles with a little adjustment of form. The outcome will depend upon the back muscles you want to build.

bent over row example

Yates row

This variation of the barbell row has been named after British bodybuilder Dorian Yates. The six-time Olympia was known for having a strong dominant back which he attributed in large part to the twist on the classic bent over row. Maintain a straight head and posture in which your head sits at a 45-degree angle. Suck in your abdominals and move your lats up to your lower abdominals if possible. Besides reducing the risk of injury, the modified variation provides additional benefits in reducing trap activation – critical to improving posture.

See the example below:

The Dorian Yates bent over row.

Dorian applied a different technique that had his back higher allowing him to handle more weight.

TIP: A person with back injuries may benefit from this technique as it takes some pressure off the lower back.

Dumbbell bent-over row

A good variation on the bent over row is substituting barbells for dumbbells. Two weights are more important to the body as they help to prevent the body from using more leverage. Using the dumbbell instead can balance the strength on both sides in the opposite direction. Start by putting your weight underneath you and then putting your wrist into a natural pulling motion during this move. This bent over row targets one arm at a time and can be an ideal step towards an upright bent over row when you struggle with this exercise.

See the example below:

The Redefining Strength Channel give tips for dumbbell bent over rows. She shows how posture plays a big role in this back training exercise.

Bent-Over Row Technique

The bent over row form plays a crucial role in making sure you do not get sloppy. Slow, controlled movements have a far higher value than pulling heavy loads using momentum or force. After loading the barbells, stand shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lean forward. Your knees should bend, your back must stay straight, and your neck is aligned against your spine. Grab the bar with your hands down (palms down).

See the examples below:

Rich Piana shows how he performs the bent over row with the back more parallel to the floor.

Lee Priest tips-

Lee prefers an overhand grip as it gives you the ability to go heavier with the weight and avoids bicep injury.

Lee demonstrates the posture of the bent over row for the best results.

He adds that concentrating on the stretch and squeeze using the proper form is the most important part of the exercise.

Bent-over row benefits and the muscles trained

This workout is a fantastic way for increasing the muscles of your body and improving your muscle strength as a whole. The muscles most commonly used include the latissimus dorsus, which runs up your upper back trapezius (traps), and the rhomboids (upper middle back). The barbell bent over row can also benefit the legs as they support the body. The bent over row is very powerful, so do not be surprised if you find other lifts have improved.

John Meadows tips-

John Meadows demonstrates the bent over row on a smith machine.

Watch as John emphasizes the squeeze part of the movement as being key to the exercise. He also makes a point to talk about elbow movement, another key factor in getting the bent over row right.

Placement of feet

Start by putting your feet right at your hip height. Usually, your foot position needs a shorter width than your shoulders. But experimentation is possible – taller men tend to have a bigger position. It also helps to rotate the foot slightly forwards to help with more comfort. If looking down, the bar should be placed on the midfoot towards the toe.

Common starting position mistakes

One of the most common bent over row mistakes I see is when people start with their hips too high. The hips should be parallel to the ground or lower because this will put your back in a better position and make it easier to keep your lower back from rounding.

The next mistake I see is when people take too big of a grip on the bar. Your hands should be just outside of shoulder width, and you should use an overhand grip (palms down).

The last mistake I see people make is when they start with their shoulders too far in front of the bar. You want to start with the barbell in line with your shoelaces or just behind them.

Common rowing (concentric) mistakes

The only thing you have to avoid when attempting a bent over barbell row is that once your weight has been lifted it can be safely lowered back to its original position.

Using too heavy of weight when performing a bent over row can cause a serious injury and will not help build your back faster. When planning your back workout, remember to use lighter weights until you have mastered the movement and slowly increase the weight using the proper barbell row technique.

Think elbows

Once the bent row is set up – leaning in the front and holding the bar in your hand – consider putting your elbow behind yourself and not lifting the bar. It will help activate the lats and keep the whole movement tight.

Lower back demands

The bent rows of barbells should not cause a lot of strain on the lower back. Let the weight hang out after each rep to prevent back pain. Likewise, this modification helps with working up your upper back more efficiently.

Pause at the top

Often a trainer tells me if the weight is too heavy and the weight is too big. Touch your shoulder blades to your sternum, then stop and hold your elbow blades together for each exercise so you can improve your posture.

Bonus tips

Our tips for the best bent over row?

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together
  • Use a proper range of motion
  • Use a one arm dumbbell row for balance and stability
  • Use bent over row variations
  • Dont let your shoulders roll forward
  • Keep only a slight bend in the waist
  • Slowly lower the weight
  • Keep elbows tucked to the sides of your torso
  • Concentrate on proper alignment
  • Use a grip variation using an overhand and underhand grip
  • Flex your core muscle groups when performing the bent over row
  • Pull the bar to your belly button and hold

FAQs

Is bent over row worth it?

The bent over row is one of the most important exercises for overall back development. It is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups in the back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids. The bent over row is also an excellent exercise for developing core strength and stability.

How far should I bend for bent over row?

The body should bend at least 45° to the side. Bending for longer will cause stiffness in your spine, especially when you have added more weight.

What is the difference between a bent over barbell row and dumbbell bent over rows?

The bent over barbell row is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups in the back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids. The bent over row is also an excellent exercise for developing core strength and stability. The dumbbell bent over row is a single-joint exercise that works the muscles of the upper back, including the lats and traps. The dumbbell bent over row is a good exercise for developing back strength and stability, but it is not as effective as the bent over barbell row for overall back development.

Jeff Cavaliere demonstrates the one arm row.
Watch Jeff explain proper form and how to avoid the most frequent mistakes.

Jeff Cavaliere demonstrates the importance of shoulder blade involvement while doing the bent over row.

What are the benefits of the bent over row?

The bent over row is an excellent exercise for developing back strength and stability. It is also an effective exercise for developing the muscles of the upper back, including the lats and traps. The bent over row can also help to improve posture and prevent lower back pain.

Dan Green tips-

Dan Green performs his technique for the bent over row. Dan explains that he starts every bent over row starting just below the knees to engage the lats and lower back pulling to the belly button.

Are barbell bent over rows and dumbbell rows the same?

The biggest difference between barbell rows and dumbbell rows is body positions. The bent stance barbell rows require the use of both the arms of the body and hips, while dumbbell rows require either bench, standing, or you can brace one side of the body while working the right or left in a bent over position.

What muscles does the barbell bent over row work?

The muscles worked on a barbell bent over row work the Trappeids, Rhomeoids (latissimus dorsus latissius), Frontaldeltus (infraspinatus minores), Trapezus (upper portion and upper section), and Rhombooids. – “Latissimum dorsus” (Lat) Theorists majors.

Brian Alsruhe give his advice on the bent over row. He shows row variations and explains the main muscles activated during his back training.

What is the correct form for bent over rows?

The correct form for bent over rows is to keep a slight bend in the knees, and to keep the back straight. The chest should be up, and the shoulders should be down and back. The head should be up, and the gaze should be forward. The elbows should be close to the body, and the hands should be close to the hips. The weights should be kept close to the body, and the wrists should be in line with the forearms. The movement should be controlled and slow, and the muscles should be engaged throughout the entire range of motion.

Rogue Fitness tips-

Rogue Fitness shows a different stance and technique. Mark Bell demonstrates his explosive bent over row style. 

How can I make bent over rows harder?

There are a few ways to make bent over rows harder:

– Use a heavier weight

– Use a narrower grip

– Use a slower tempo

– Increase the range of motion

– Add pauses at the top and bottom of the movement

– Perform bent over rows with one arm at a time

– Use an unstable surface such as a bosu ball or balance disc.

What muscles do overhand barbell row work?

Rows performed with an underhand grip will target the lower latissimus dorsi near the spine as well as the biceps more effectively than rows done with an overhand grip. Alternatively, rowing with an overhand grip focuses on developing the upper latissimus dorsi, traps, and rhomboids.

More tips from Jeff how to avoid bent over row mistakes

Is underhand or overhand better for barbell row?

It depends on your goals. If you want to develop the lower latissimus dorsi near the spine as well as the biceps, then rows performed with an underhand grip are better. If you want to focus on developing the upper latissimus dorsi, traps, and rhomboids, then rows performed with an overhand grip are better.

What grip is best for barbell rows?

Supinated grips on a barbell increase bicep involvement ensuring the elbows stay close together (elbows tucked) to the torso. The overhand grip also has more benefits as it trains your grips and rear legs aggressively.

Do bent over rows work the whole back?

The barbell bent-over row involves the entire back. The latissimus dorsi (lats), traps (both middle and lower), and rear deltoids will be the primary muscles engaged. If you perform the bent-over barbell row with good form, you should feel your back muscles working as you pull the weight.

Do bent over rows work abs?

This flexed lever strengthens your spine, shoulders and abdominals. It improves strength and balance. It can aid in weight loss and help you build stronger muscles. The bent row training provides you with a great physique.

How wide should the grip be on bent-over row?

The general guideline is to grip the bar about midway between your knees and your chest. Depending on your training goals and personal preference, you may want to test out a variety of grips. For example, a wide grip barbell row allows you to pull the bar higher towards your sternum while also flaring the elbows outward.

bent-over-row-example

How do you do cable rows with a bar?

To do a cable row with a bar, start by attaching a straight or bent over row bar to the low pulley of a cable machine. Then, stand facing the weight stack with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hinge at your hips and bend forward until your back is parallel to the floor. Grip the bar with an overhand or underhand grip, and row the bar back towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together while keeping your elbows close to your body. Return to the starting position and repeat for reps.

Why do T BAR rows?

T bar rows allow for a neutral grip—palm facing one another—which is the biomechanical strongest position for pulling. This gives the T bar row advantages over bent rows that turn the hands backward. Latsi. Rhomboides. Middle / Upper Trap.

This typically is a chest supported row, allowing the upper body/upper chest to be supported by a bench while you row the weight.

Final thoughts

The bent over row is a great exercise for developing the back muscles. They can be done with a variety of grips and on different surfaces to make the exercise more challenging. The bent over row is the bench press for back muscles promoting strength and muscle growth.

Include these tips in your back training routines for explosive growth.

We hope you enjoyed these bent over row tips.

Stay tuned as we create in depth tutorials and step-by-step routines on carefully chosen exercises that will be helpful in your fitness endeavors.

Jake Anderson
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