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Bentover Barbell Rows

Chins develop the lats, which are the largest single muscle in the back and create the dramatic wing-like appearance. Rows develop the whole back. There are dozens of muscles on the backside.

Developing all these muscles rather than just lats is of interest to bodybuilders; it’s what separates a thick, beefy back from a broad, flat back. More importantly, developing all these muscles is crucial for athletes and for general fitness. It balances the shoulder joint in ways that chins or pulldowns do not.

The bentover row will help the shoulders by developing the upper back, especially if you don’t try to emphasize the lats. Instead, emphasize arching your upper back. There is no real ratio with the bentover row, just get as strong as possible, and make it your main pull. Not cable rows, not dumbbell rows… accept no substitutes: the barbell bentover row.

In bentover rows, your torso should be horizontal. A medium-width grip is about right for making the lats do a lot of the work. Retracting the scapulae will probably make the lats work harder, but it will do so at the expense of shoulder health over the long term.

The natural movement of the shoulder involves a rhythm of motion; the shoulder blade moves in relation to the ribcage and torso in concert with the movement of the arm. By deliberately retracting the scapulae, you’re turning off this natural rhythm and eventually you’ll train yourself out of it. This is basically what frozen shoulder is all about.

Keeping the elbows tucked into your sides with a closer grip and pulling to the abdomen makes them mostly a lat exercise. Doing them with a barbell, shoulder-width grip or wider, and pulling to the sternum and arching the upper back is a whole back exercise.

Trying to turn rows into a lat exercise and less of an overall back exercise is a big mistake. Rows can make your whole back complete. Never mind appearance, it’s important for overall strength and healthy shoulders.

Click here to learn about barbell row form.

2 Responses to 'Bentover Barbell Rows'

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  1. Michael said,

    on July 24th, 2014 at 7:09 am

    With torso horizontal, that’s a lot of stress on the lower back. I strained my lower back terribly the last time I tried rowing. Should people with lower-back disk issues use the T-bar rower instead? Or is there something in my rowing form which I should be doing?

  2. ldraper said,

    on July 24th, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I’m sure there are people who shouldn’t do rowing, but I’ll bet there are more people who have problems with it who were just doing it wrong. Do you have someone around who can watch you? That’s where I’d start.

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