How to Do Bent Over Rows: Complete Exercise Guide
Need another exercise to help strengthen your back, improve pulling power, and increase the size of your back? Add bent over rows into your programming as another compound movement to build your back, lats, and arms.
The bent over row is a variable exercise that can be used with any equipment like barebells, dumbbells, bands, or anything that you can pick up and pull to your body.
By including bent over rows into your workout, you can improve weak points in your back and other muscle groups by modifying the movement into one of the many variations.
In this guide, we will teach you how to do overhand, underhand, and dumbbell bent over rows.
Table of Contents
What You Need for Bent Over Rows
The bent over row, a staple in any strength training routine, is incredibly versatile in its execution due to the variety of equipment that can be used. Let's discuss each piece of equipment and how it can enhance your rowing experience.
The classic choice for the bent over row. A barbell allows for a balanced, bilateral movement that challenges your strength and stability. The symmetrical loading helps improve your posture and core strength as both sides of your body need to work equally.
Barbells come in all different shapes and sizes and you can find some specialty barbells with different handles. You can find thick barbells that will test your grip strength and even something like a multi-grip barbell if you want to do a bent over row with a neutral grip to isolate certain back muscles.
Integral to any barbell row exercise, weight plates allow you to adjust the resistance according to your strength level and training goals. They come in a variety of weights, enabling gradual progression and flexibility in your training.
Probably the cheapest and most common plates you can get are iron plates. You can also use bumper and or calibrated plates for these. Just be careful not to slam or drop iron plates as they are more susceptible to cracking compared to bumper plates.
Dumbbells provide an alternative to the barbell for the bent over row. The dumbbell row offers the benefit of unilateral movement, allowing you to work each side of your body independently. This can help address any muscle imbalances and provides a unique stimulus for back muscles.
Using dumbbells is another way to adjust your grip which can isolate different muscles or even increase your overall range of motion. Dumbbells are going to be found at any gym and easy to use if you are somewhere like a Plant Fitness that does not have free weight barbells.
Lifting straps are particularly useful when your grip strength becomes a limiting factor in lifting heavier weights. By wrapping the straps around the barbell or dumbbells, you can secure a firmer grip, allowing you to focus on activating your back muscles without worrying about the weight slipping from your grasp.
Lifting straps should really be a staple of any gym bag because they can be used for deadlifts, snatches, Romanian deadlifts, and other exercises that require grip strength. Not saying they should be used all the time, but they will definitely help with pulls and getting more reps out of heavier weights.
Thick grips are rubber cylinders that attach to your barbell or dumbbells to increase the grip's girth. This small change can significantly impact your workout by improving your grip strength and recruiting more muscle fibers in your forearms and biceps.
Thick grips provide a unique challenge and can stimulate new muscle mass and neural adaptation. They are also easier to find and often more comfortable than a thick grip bar. Thick grips can be taken anywhere and are another gym bag essential next to chalk and lifting straps.
Another tool to enhance your grip, lifting chalk, absorbs sweat and reduces the slippery effect that can occur during intense workouts. This ensures a safe and secure grip, allowing you to focus on your form and muscle contraction.
Some gyms may not allow lifting chalk to dry your hands while lifting, but most do. Chalk is going to allow you to hold on to the bar with a tight grip and reduce the chance of a bar slipping out of our hand.
Similar to lifting chalk and straps, thumb tape is used to improve grip security. It's particularly beneficial if you're prone to blisters or calluses, as it can provide a layer of protection against the friction between your skin and the bar.
Thumb tape can be crucial for people that use hook grip for bent over rows as it will help protect the thumb from overstress.
How to Do Bent Over Rows
With bent over rows, athletes will often start with a barbell bent over row. Having the right grip and positioning will determine which muscles you are targeting throughout the exercise.
Let’s check some of the different bent over row variations:
Overhand Bent Over Rows
To set up for a barbell bent over row, you need to establish a grip. You can use both an overhand or underhand grip.
If you are starting with an overhand grip, we recommend placing your hands at the same width you would hold the bar for a clean, usually shoulder width or a little wider. Grip width will differ between athletes, but a good rule to follow is to keep your pinky on or just inside the innermost ring on your barbell.
Once your shoulder width grip is set, hinge at the hips by pushing your butt back with your knees slightly bent. As you push the hips back, keep your arms straight and stop once the bar is right at the top of your knees. This bent over position will be your starting position.
From here, you are ready to start rowing and targeting the row muscles. Before pulling the bar toward you, make sure you are braced properly.
Think about rolling your elbows back toward your pockets so that they don’t flare out to the side. Also think about keeping your lats and entire back tight by squeezing your lats around your spine.
As you brace, pull the bar to the top of your belly button. Squeeze your lats and shoulder blades (aka your scaps) together at the top of the movement then control the bar back to the top of your knees.
Underhand Bent Over Rows
If you choose to use an underhand grip, the same principles apply. Except this time, for the grip width, you will keep your index finger on or just inside the innermost ring of the barbell.
The underhand bent over row will work your biceps a little more than doing overhand rows. Although, the positioning will be the same throughout the movement.
Stay hinged at the hips, keep your chest high, and control the bar with your back to isolate the focused muscle groups. Still squeezing the shoulder blades and scaps together at the top of each rep.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
If you do not have access to a barbell or are working to correct imbalances, you can use dumbbell rows as a substitute.
All positions and cues will remain the same except for your hand position. Since you are using dumbbells, we recommend having your palms facing the sides of your knees so that you can maintain a neutral grip throughout the exercise.
As with any exercise, there are some mistakes that we see athletes make when performing the bent over row:
Legs locked out: make sure to keep a slight bend in the knee to have a stable hinge position and keep unnecessary pressure off of the lower back.
Rounded back: remember to squeeze your lats, shoulders, and scapulas back, tight around your spine so you don’t lose tension and collapse the chest.
Hitching the weight: as you fatigue, you might notice yourself bouncing or hitching to complete reps with the help of momentum. Use a light to medium weight that can be done for 4-6 sets of 5-20 reps, so you can isolate the target muscle groups.
Muscles Used During Barbell Row
The bent over row is an exercise that packs a punch when it comes to muscular development, offering a multitude of benefits to a variety of muscle groups. It's a compound lift, which means it targets several muscle groups simultaneously, including the mid-back, lats, biceps, and rear delts.
Let's delve into these muscle groups and the benefits they gain from this powerful exercise.
The mid-back, including the rhomboids and the trapezius, is put under a considerable amount of stress during a bent over row. The exercise stimulates these muscles to contract as you pull the weight towards your chest, contributing to their growth and strength. This results in improved posture, reduction in back pain, and increased functional strength for day-to-day tasks and other lifts such as the deadlift.
Bent over rows are also remarkable for targeting your latissimus dorsi – or 'lats.' These large muscles on the sides of your back are responsible for the coveted 'V' shape. By pulling the weight in a rowing motion, you engage the lats, developing their size and power. This not only contributes to an aesthetic physique but also improves performance in sports and activities that require pulling or swimming movements.
While the bent over row is primarily a back exercise, it also significantly recruits the biceps. As the secondary muscle group, the biceps engage when you pull the weight towards your body. This simultaneous stimulation aids in developing thicker and stronger arms, improving your performance in other lifts like the bicep curl or chin-up.
Lastly, the bent over row is an effective exercise for targeting the often-neglected rear delts (posterior deltoids). These muscles are essential for shoulder health and balance. The rowing motion places a direct load on the rear delts, strengthening them and improving shoulder stability. This can lead to improved performance in overhead lifts and a reduced risk of shoulder injuries.
The bent over row is a great way to build power and strength in your pull for any sport and can be easily added to any workout routine. They can translate to your clean, snatch, and other sport-specific movements. The cool thing about rowing exercises is that there are plenty of barbell row alternatives that you can swap for the traditional barbell row. If you want to see other alternatives and movements similar to the barbell row like chest supported row or seated cable rows, check out the Peak Strength app for exercise variations that meet your exact goals.
Some key cues to remember as you continue using bent over rows in your workouts are to:
- Keep a slight bend in your knees as you hinge at the hips.
- Keep your elbows turned in toward your pockets so they don’t flare.
- Squeeze your lats, shoulders, and scaps around your spine to maintain tension.
You can superset your bent over row with bench press, military press, or any kind of pressing motion. We often program this as the third exercise after an athlete’s sport-specific movements. Doing contrast work is a great way to build muscle mass while improving your overall performance. Check out what we recommend with Peak Strength and become a BEAST like all the other Garage Strength athletes!
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