Learning the Barbell Row

by Chris on November 2, 2011

There are a handful of exercises that should be in every trainee’s routine. The obvious choices are always out there: squats and deadlifts, usually the bench and/or overhead press and pullups. Interestingly, there are a lot of people out there who will omit rowing movements from the list.

And that’s too bad. If you want to develop strength and the body that comes along with it, rowing movements should be of high importance to you and your program. I’ve heard it said that the back is to lifters what biceps are to bodybuilders and I couldn’t agree more. If you see a guy with a huge back, that’s a pretty good indicator that he can also put up some big numbers on his lifts.

Enter the barbell row. This is an old school classic that trains pretty much every muscle in the back. But you have to do it right. Perform this movement with sloppy technique and you’re opening yourself up to injury. And since injuries are the #1 thing we want to avoid, it stands to reason that you should learn to do it correctly.

At first glance the movement seems simple. Grasp the barbell with an over or underhand grip and pull. The overhand grip will place less emphasis on the biceps but will stress the upper back more. The underhand grip will do the opposite. Both have their merits and should be cycled accordingly.

Now here’s where you should pay attention. Keep your torso as close to parallel with the floor as you can and resist the urge to extend the hips to help get the weight moving. Keep an arched back with a neutral spine position (you should be able to draw a line from you head down your neck through your back to your hips). Pull the bar to your lower chest, right where your sternum ends. That’s one rep.

Now the way I prefer to do this movement is sometimes called the pendlay row, but I really just think of it as a barbell row. The significance here is that you’re going to return the bar to the floor (or pins based on how you’re built) between reps. Why? Because this relieves the stress on your lower back, decreasing the chance of injury and lessens the likelihood that you’ll start to cheat reps but extending your hips.

Once you can’t touch the bar to your chest (or get pretty close) or you find that you’re cheating on your reps cut your set. Remember it’s quality over quantity here.

Check out the video below for more tips and an example of the movement.

There you have it. Try this movement out but make sure you do it right.

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John November 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Nice post and great video Chris!

Chris November 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Thanks for the feedback John!

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