What is a barbell row?
You perform a barbell row by gripping an Olympic bar, bending forward with a straight back, either to a 45-degree or 90-degree angle, and pulling the barbell to your chest.
In the image below, you can see that the young man training is bent over nearly to a horizontal position (also known as a Pendlay Row), and has just pulled the barbell up till it hits his chest. If you bench press, you need to do barbell bent-over rows. Otherwise, you run the risk of overdeveloping your chest muscles and front deltoids, which can harm your posture.
As a result, barbell rows can help improve your posture. They can also serve as an excellent assistance exercise to strengthen your deadlift because you need a strong back to have a fearsome deadlift like Konstantin Konstantinovs.
Why are barbell rows better than dumbbell rows or lat pulldowns?
With a dumbbell row or lat pulldown, you can stabilize yourself on a bench, which makes the whole movement feel a lot easier than using the bar where you have no stabilization, besides your back muscles, hips, legs, abs.
You might have experienced doing many lat pulldowns over the years, with no visible benefit. If so, join the masses who workout at the gym and still do not see significant improvement. But, if you start a 3×5 workout plan and substitute rows for deadlifts or bench press once a week, you will see a change to your body.
The general rule is that free weight compound movements
Why do barbell bent-over rows
It is harder and deserves respect, which means a proper warmup and stretching, as well as going up in weight slowly. No ego, fewer injuries, especially for regular folks like us, just trying to get into great shape.
No matter what, have no ego, increase your weight gradually so you can avoid injury and keep getting stronger, that is key. The bottom line, these excellent barbell row benefits can help you to build a much stronger back and improve your posture.
Major barbell row benefits:
- develop a strong back
- improve your posture
- increase the weight on your deadlift
- build more muscle mass
- burn more calories
- important to balance out chest exercises like the bench press
- prevent overdevelopment of the chest, and underdevelopment of your back
Is there a point to only train your mirror muscles? Training the muscles you see is not going to develop the ones that you don’t. Your posterior chain muscles are the muscles along the backside of your body. When you do not build your posterior chain, you lose out on the entire back half of your body.
Train your posterior chain with rows, squats, and deadlifts. Now you know the secrets of the greatest athletes, like Olympic runner Allyson Felix, NBA shooting star MVP Steph Curry, and NFL superstar Saquon Barkley.
So, what muscles does the barbell row work?
On April 20, 2011, Emma Roberts wrote an article about bent-over row benefits. These are my comments on her insights into the barbell row exercise.
Barbell rows are one of the most effective exercises for the large muscles of the back, including the latissimus dorsi and the trapezius. Rows also have the added benefit of improving posture as they employ the postural muscles, the posterior deltoids, and the rhomboids. Jessica Matthews, M.S., adds that because barbell bent-over rows are free weight exercises, they utilize more stabilizer muscles, which provides the added benefits of burning more calories and building more muscle mass overall.
When you do free-weight bent-over rows, you feel your entire body flexing. On the other hand, using a device or bench for lat pulldowns or dumbbell rows is entirely different. You are not stabilizing your whole body using a machine. Instead, you can tell that you are mainly isolating your lats.
The latissimus dorsi muscle is one of the primary muscles involved in a barbell row. This large muscle stretches from the top of your arm to your pelvis. Its chief function is to pull your arms back in the rowing action. The main benefits for the latissimus dorsi are postural; a strong latissimus dorsi helps to maintain an erect posture and helps to keep the shoulders from slouching forward.
Barbell bent-over rows also involve the posterior deltoids — the muscles at the back of the shoulder. Although much smaller than the latissimus dorsi, these muscles are also deeply involved in posture. Rows help these muscles maintain the position of your shoulders. Paul Sorace, M.S., explains that free weight exercises like barbell rows provide additional benefits to the posterior deltoids in the area of balance, stabilization, muscle coordination, and muscle control.
The rhomboid muscles, major, and minor, are located between the shoulder blades. The rhomboids are one of the most important postural muscles. Weak rhomboids create the slumped forward, round-shouldered appearance indicative of poor posture. The squeezing action of the shoulder blades that occurs at the top of the upward phase of the barbell row exercise especially helps to develop these critical muscles and maintain proper posture.
How to do barbell rows
Here are some barbell bent-over row tips:
- starting position – bend your knees slightly
- hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip
- you can use an underhand grip or an overhand grip
- bend forward at a 45-degree angle (or 90-degree angle for a Pendlay row)
- pull the weight towards your chest
- The coaching cue is to pull your elbows back and pull your shoulders back
- squeeze your shoulder blades to maximize your full range of motion
Scott Herman demonstrates how to barbell row
Start with lighter weights to ensure that you use the proper barbell row technique. Your form is always more critical than the amount of weight you are using. Especially on any free weight exercise which stresses your back muscles. Use the best technique possible for every rep to prevent back pain or back injury.
Prevention of injury is the reason that most strength training reps for free weight total-body compound exercises are in the 4 – 6 range. The higher your rep count, the more you risk losing form, which could lead to injury.
If you have a bad back, consider doing inverted rows instead of barbell rows to put less stress on your back.
See Mark Rippetoe’s classic bible of strength training – Starting Strength – for more detailed information on ideal sets, reps, and programming or this 3×5 workout plan.
What are Pendlay rows?
Pendlay rows are similar to the barbell bent-over row. There are two distinctions in the Pendlay row:
- keep your back parallel to the floor at a 90-degree angle
- as opposed to a barbell bent-over row which is a 45-degree angle
- let barbell touch the floor after each rep after you row the bar
Watch how Scott Herman rows the weight in a Pendlay Row
And here is a video from StrongLifts that shows how to do the barbell row, sometimes also called the Pendlay Row. Remember to keep your core tight, flat back, parallel to the floor. Watch:
Legendary USA Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay popularized the Pendlay Row. Sadly, Glenn passed away only a month ago, September 19, 2019, at the age of 48. Everyone in the weightlifting community mourns his loss; may you rest in peace, Glenn Pendlay.
Barbell Row Benefits – Final Thoughts
The barbell bent-over row is an advanced exercise that requires the correct technique to avoid injury. One of the most common errors in performing this exercise is to stick the buttocks out while doing the lift; however, this action places excessive strain on the lower back. It is vital to engage the abdominal muscles as you pull the barbell in the rowing action to maintain a neutral spine position for the duration of the exercise.
Barbell rows are the antagonist exercise of the bench press. Where the bench press is a push movement, the barbell bent-over row is a pull movement. As a result, rows are an excellent assistance exercise for deadlifts.
Because barbell rows are such a good deadlift assistance exercise, this is the reason that many of the top powerlifters like Eddie Hall do a significant amount of rowing movement training.
The moral of the story is to include barbell rows in your training or a 3×5 workout plan. If you are not ready to lift weights because you’re overweight or obese, use this free weight loss guide to lose 20 pounds in only 3 months. What barbell row benefits have you experienced? Please comment and share.
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