Bent Over Barbell Rows – Back Exercise Guide with Photos


Barbell rows may look or even feel funny when you are first trying them out. Stick with them and they will heap piles of muscle on your middle and upper back while helping correct any imbalances that you may have in your shoulder capsule. A long time staple in the bodybuilding world, keep reading to see how barbell rows can help benefit you.



Muscles Targeted: Barbell rows work the muscles that you can’t see. In fact, there are few articles talking about how to get stronger posterior deltoids or more shapely rhomboids which are the muscles in your mid-back responsible for pulling your shoulder blades together. The barbell row works these muscles in ways few other exercises can match. It also targets your biceps, trapezius and your latissimus dorsi. The erector spinae and forearms are worked as stabilizing muscles in this exercise.

Exercise Instructions: Grab a barbell and get in an area where you have a good amount of room. Bend forward at your waist so that your chest is leaning forward over your feet. Keep your knees slightly bent and your feet just beyond shoulder width apart. Grasp the barbell with both hands, using an overhand grip and place your hands about shoulder width apart. Start with your arms fully extended, allowing the barbell to hang at about mid-shin level. Next, lift or “row” the barbell up and into your stomach area. Return to the start position and repeat. Be sure to keep your head up and shoulders back throughout this exercise to keep your back in a firm and stable position.

Why This Exercise is Important: The barbell row is the king of upper back mass building movements. There are several reasons why these deserve attention, even for the beach muscle aficionados among us. First, the upper back is going to counterbalance the bench press exercise and preserve your rotator muscles. Secondly, the upper back is critical for posture and keeping you from being a slouch. This muscle group should also be targeted so that your back appears not only wide but dense from a side view.

Things To Avoid: The barbell row can have its difficulties for the novice lifter. Many times a trainee will add too much weight to the bar before mastering the form. Here are several things to avoid with the barbell row. Do not allow your lower back to round while you are pulling the bar up. This can lead to injury. Keep your lower back flat or even with a slight arch to maintain stability. Make sure to smoothly pull the weight off the ground with your upper back and then lower. Do not jerk the weight by moving your body upwards, this also can cause injury to your lower back. Often a trainee new to the barbell row will put more and more weight on the bar thinking that they are getting very strong. However, this often leads to a shorter pulling motion and less emphasis placed on the upper back. Pull the bar all the way up to the chest or stomach, whichever feels more comfortable, and then lower it back down to the floor.

Reps and Sets: The barbell row is best performed with a higher repetition range. Heavy weights and lower rep ranges can cause fatigue in the lower back before the upper back muscles have been affected. Your upper back should be the primary muscle group targeted with this exercise. Use sets of 3-5 and reps from 5-10 for muscle growth and strength. Sets from 1-3 and repetitions from 10-15 can be good for rehabilitation of shoulder muscles as well.

Other Exercises To Use: Here are some other exercises that can substitute for the barbell row. The barbell deadlift targets similar muscle groups. The low cable row is a good substitute and easier on the lower back. Another lower back saver that you can work in is the dumbbell row. None of these exercises exactly replace the barbell row but can help your lower back if it is injured or strained. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the back.

The barbell row is a staple exercise that everyone should do. It strengthens your body in a way that closely resembles real life activities and builds muscles that will round out a balanced physique. Try it today if you’re not already and be sure you take caution to protect your lower back and use good form throughout the entire movement.

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