It may be a basic, simple, old exercise, but everyone should be familiar with a bent over row. And if you already know the bent over row, how many other back exercises can you think of? Hopefully 2 or 3 times as many chest exercises.
Training your back muscles should 100% be a priority during your workouts. We live in a forward dominant world – meaning life we do most of our activities in the front of our body. Exercise should work to maintain balance in our bodies, which means we need to do more back work to manage the impact of our lifestyle habits.
Let’s talk specifically about the bent over row and then dive into other back exercises.
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HOW TO PERFORM A BENT OVER ROW
Let’s start by recognizing the posture of a bent over row. It is important to understand that this bent over posture puts a large load on the core – back and abdominals. Maintaining core engagement while in this posture will help maximize your results and keep your back pain free.
Second piece about posture is that the more parallel to the ground you are able to get your chest the better. That is from the perspective that we want to load more of the mid back and less of the upper back. Of course, there will be times you want to load the upper back, but that not right now 😃 .
An added bonus for the bent over row is that it requires your lower body to work isometrically to hold the hip hinge posture. If you aren’t sure what isometrics are all about and why you need them, read this article from Teaching Tuesday on the wall sit!
And finally, because I can’t say the word posture enough … the bent over row will help improve your posture. Any back exercise, done properly, will help your posture. You will notice you stand up straighter, walk taller and have amore elongated appearance in the mirror. But, that will only happen by putting in the work and following a regular, consistent program. Doing a half effort set of bent over rows every other week isn’t going to get you there .
Now, let’s discuss exactly how to do a bent over row.
STEPS FOR A BENT OVER ROW
- Holding weights at your hips, set your feet in a comfortable stance. Try to go no wider than shoulder width.
- Brace your core and slightly bend your knees.
- Hinge at your hips, keeping your core tight and your spine neutral as you lower your chest to parallel with the ground.
- Once in position the weights should hang directly below your shoulders (see picture).
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and “row” or pull the weights toward your chest.
- Control the weights back down to the starting position and repeat.
WHAT TO AVOID WHEN DOING A BENT OVER ROW
- Arching & rounding of the spine/back.
- Curling of the wrists.
- Lifting chest out of parallel posture.
TIPS FOR A BENT OVER ROW
- Focus on your shoulder blades, not the distance your weight travel. Retracting or pinching your shoulder blades as the first motion in a row is critical to recruiting your back muscles over your biceps. Try to “grab a pencil” between your shoulder blades to help visualize your shoulder blades retracting/pinching.
- In a bent over, or hip hinged, posture you are increasing the demand on your trunk. Keeping your a neutral spine and your core engaged the entire time will keep your low back from becoming over worked. Work to keep your back parallel to the ground the entire time.
- If getting your chest to parallel to the ground is not in the cards because of your hamstring flexibility take a look this article on recovery videos and this one on how to cool down after a workout. We cover stretching your hamstrings in both!
- Keep your core braced and spine neutral through the entire movement. Tendency is to allow your back to arch as you pull the weight to your chest and round as you lower it towards the ground. Fight that tendency!
- Far too often we see extension or arching in the mid-to-low back upon movement. This will cause irritation of the low back and decrease the use of your abdominals. Squeeze your core!
- Change your grip and arm positioning to target your back differently. I like wide bent over rows with a palm down position and a underhand grip bent over row the best.
OTHER BACK EXERCISES AND BENT OVER ROW VARIATIONS
There are a significant amount of variations to a bent over row. Too many to name, but you can add a stability component and stand on single leg, you can make it unilateral and perform it single arm. You can do it from a plank position to increase the challenge on your core. Make your choice based on your ability to perform quality reps and the end goal (or adaptation) you are trying to achieve.
A few of the common exercises I use to train my back are pull-ups because there is no better exercise for your back. You may need to start with a modification (heavy seated row or lat pull down) or assistance, but being able to do pull-ups is an excellent measurement of back strength and overall fitness.
I also love reverse fly and bent over Ys because they effectively target the smaller posterior muscles of the shoulder that keep your shoulders back. Which translates to the appearance of walking tall or walking with confidence as you consistently hold your shoulders back, keeping your chest upright and open.
Take a minute and read this article on the 6 best back exercises. We cover in detail how to do them correctly and how to use them in a workout. It is a great place to get innovation and inspiration for your next workout.
EQUIPMENT FOR A BACK WORKOUT AT HOME
There are a number of back exercises you can do without equipment. However, your back is an area of your body you should have some equipment to train. Why? Well, scroll back to the top and read it again 😜. Just kidding. A reminder, to balance our body out we need to load our back more than we load our front. And our front is loaded all day long because of our lifestyles.
NO EQUIPMENT BACK EXERCISES
- Bent Over Ys
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AT HOME BACK WORKOUT
I have two back focused workouts for you below. The beginner workout is good for people who are new to exercise or who are looking for something light to get their body move. The advanced workout will increase the intensity through exercise selection and volume. I hope you enjoy them!
- Swimmers 30
- Bent Over DB Row Neutral Grip 15
- Bent Over Ys 20
- Supermans 10
- Bent Over Wide DB Row Palms Down 15
- Repeat top to bottom 4 times for a great back workout.
- Swimmers 30
- Single Leg Bent Over Row 10 on each leg
- TRX Inverted Rows 10
- Single Arm Isometric Single Arm Bent Over Row 10 each arm
- TRX Ys 10
- Prone Ws 15
- Repeat top to bottom 5 times
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