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How to Barbell Row And Benefits: Your Guide to the Proper Form

The back is a complex muscle group with no shortage of possible exercises, so many that an overeager newbie armed with a Flex magazine and a belly full of ambition could easily hammer away at his back for hours, yet still barely scratch the surface of available options.

The Golden Age of bodybuilding was a decidedly simpler time. While there were many exercises for bodybuilders to use, the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) was usually first in mind, and for building back thickness, one didn't have to look any further than the barbell row (along with the deadlift).

But it wasn't a case of "happily ever after." Cautious critics would target the barbell row due to the propensity for technique errors and the trainee's inability to fully recruit the lats – not to mention that "safer" alternatives like dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns allowed for greater range of motion and more focus on the targeted back muscles.

So we labeled it as dangerous, ushered in a host of "safer" alternatives, and the barbell row faded into relative training obscurity.

Let’s talk about how we can best use barbell rows in our training routines.

Benefits of Barbell Rows

Bent over barbell rows might not be as hard as squats or deadlifts, but they certainly are harder than bench presses. Typically when your barbell row strength increases, you will see an increase in your other lifts. When you can barbell row with perfect form, as much weight as you can bench press, you know you have a balanced physique.

Here are some of the great benefits you’ll get when you incorporate barbell rows into your training:

Back strength. First and foremost, barbells rows strengthen the muscles in your upper back – lats, traps, neck, rotator cuffs, and all those little muscles that you don’t really know about. Back strength is important for all those exercises you love, like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, Olympic lifts, and even the bench press.

Better posture. A strong back will help you keep your shoulders in line with the middle of your body. Too much chest training and too little back training causes your shoulder to slouch, which leads to muscle imbalance and injury.

Grip strength. When you train barbell rows without letting the weight hit the floor between reps, you keep constant tension on your forearms and it can help build your grip strength for those heavy deadlifts.

Trunk stabilization. Barbell rows force you to use your abs, hips, glutes, lower back, and hamstrings to stabilize your body while you suspend the weight in front of you. This is a great way to teach posterior chain stability with heavy loads under constant tension.

 Common Barbell Row Misconception

Many people are led to assume that the barbell row puts too much strain on your lower back and it is unsafe to do. As it so happens, that is not true. Yes, there will naturally be effort exerted by your lower back, legs, and abdominals to stay in proper position. However, when you learn to perform any exercise the right way and only increase the weight as your strength increases, then you minimize the chances of hurting yourself.

A Lesson On Barbell Row Form

Attempting anything for the first time poses its challenges. Learning to perform the barbell row correctly is essential to any training routine. The barbell row is not as challenging as it may look. With time and dedication you will be lifting weights off the floor with ease.

This lesson will cover the proper form used for a bent-over parallel barbell row. I will begin by assuming you currently know nothing about rows and are eager to learn. However, even if you are a seasoned lifter a good refresher course never hurts.

I cannot advocate enough the importance of proper form. Learning to row correctly without any weight will instill the correct motor patterns in our body and will assist in our efforts.

Note: Smith machines are great inventions and have their purpose. However they are not beneficial for this workout. Barbell rows on a smith machine puts the body in a fixed path and does not allow the stabilization muscles to engage. Always row with free weights.

The Setup

A few things will come into play when performing the row. However a proper setup is key.

-Begin the row by approaching an empty or loaded bar on the floor.

-Ideally if the bar is weighted and raised off the ground you would step to the bar and allow the middle of your foot to be directly under the bar. If you are beginning with no weight at all you can simply hold the bar in your hand and let it hang as if it were weighted resting on the floor.

-Approach and foot placement will be similar to the setup of a deadlift.

-Bend at the waist using an overhand grip, gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.

-You can vary grip width the more advanced you get. To begin we will keep a similar grip to our bench press, since the barbell row movem is a mimicking movement of the flat bench press.

-With your hands firmly placed on the bar and the bar directly over the center of your foot, keep your knees slightly bent and slightly elevate your chest so your back is parallel to the floor.

At this point you will look almost like a runner at the starting line. Head in a neutral position. Back parallel with a slight arch. Hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Legs slightly bent depending on flexibility. The key is to keep the back flat throughout the movement.