The bent over row is one of the many kings of the iron game and when done correctly, can add serious strength and muscle to your back. The problem is a lot of people don’t know how to perform them correctly and end up using technique that is sub-optimal for back gains.

What you should know…

  • Any pulling or rowing exercise targets a combination of your posterior muscles (muscles in your back).
  • There are a lot of ways you can perform the bent over row (just like there are a lot of ways you can squat and deadlift).
  • Depending on which row variation you’re doing, different muscles will be emphasized more than others.

Why should you perform bent over rows?

  • Postural health: Your back (along with your core) needs to be strong in order to help stabilize the spine. Rowing exercises build strength in the extensor muscles of the back, which help keep an upright posture. Of course, in order to see the postural benefits of bent over rows, you have to perform them correctly by avoiding some of the key mistakes we will be covering.
  • It improves your deadlift: If you’re going to be deadlifting, you need a strong upper back. Period. When you’re deadlifting heavy weight, the natural tendency is to round forward in the upper back. Bent over rows help you build strength to keep the upper back engaged and extended during heavy deadlifts.

  • It trains your lower back as well. Think about your body positioning during a bent over row, you’re hinged over. When you’re holding that hinged position, your lower back and core muscles are working hard throughout the movement while you row. It’s a 2 for 1 lift (upper and lower back).
  • There are tons of rowing variations so you never get bored. Like I said earlier, there are so many rowing exercises you have at your disposal that you’re guaranteed to never get bored and always be able to improve one way or another.
  • It will improve your pull-ups. If you’re struggling with your pull ups, or are training to do your first one, you’re going to need to learn how to pull with your back muscles as opposed to your arms. One of the biggest muscles in our body, our lats, is one of the prime movers in pull ups. Bent over rows are an effective way to build a stronger “mind-muscle” connection to engage the lats during pulling motions, which carries over when learning pull ups.

Here’s what you should avoid doing:


This is one of the biggest mistakes I see in gyms when it comes to bent over rows. Leave your fucking ego at the door because i) no one cares how much you’re rowing and ii) your form is going to be trash. Yes., you need to load enough weight on the bar to get any benefit out of the exercise but not to the point where you’re dry humping the air to get the bar to your chest and trying to use as much momentum as you can to complete your set.


On the flip side, there are times when people actually don’t load enough weight during rows and they wonder why they’re not getting any stronger or adding muscle to their back. This usually comes down to doing the same types of rows over and over again and not having enough variety in your rep/set ranges. As with any exercise, if you’ve been doing the same amount of reps and sets for an extended period of time, eventually your body is going to get accustomed to your ways and won’t feel the need to work hard or be challenged. If you’re the kind of person whose ben doing 3 sets of 8-10 rows for the past little while, try a 5×5 where you’re lifting heavier weight and resting a little longer in between sets. Bent over rows are a big exercise so you can use strength rep ranges with them and you will be amazed at how much stronger your back will get; not just during rows, but other big movements like deadlifts and pull ups.

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As you already know, your body has to be challenged in new ways in order to progress and adapt. One key strategy for making your muscles work hard is to introduce new exercise variations into your routine. The thing about movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows is that after you master the basic movement patterns, the variations that stem from those fundamentals are endless. It’s not just a bent over dumbbell row and a bent over barbell row you have to work with, there are tons and tons and tons of different types of rows you can do.

Some bent over row variations include:

1. Yates row: This is named after bodybuilding legend Dorian Yates, who was famous for his heavy-ass bent over rows and mind-blowing back that came along with it. To perform the Yates row, have your hands a little closer together than shoulder width apart, and stay a little more upright than 45 degrees. From there, pull the bar into your hip and you should feel your lats doing the majority of the work. This is a great exercise for bigger lats.

2. Banded Bent Over Barbell Row
Have two resistance bands looped around each side of the squat rig and have the other ends looped around both ends of the barbell. When you un-rack the bar, step back so there’s some good tension in the bands and you feel like your arms are being pulled away from your body. When you do your rows, you’re going to feel more tension being created by the bands as you pull the bar in, which will create a higher amount of tension in your back muscles.

3. Alternating Bent Over Kettlebell Row
This variation eliminates momentum because instead of having weight hang at your side or in front of you, you have one kettlebell on the floor the entire time and are pushing through the floor which helps minimize twisting with your torso.


This goes back to working with weight that is too heavy for you at the moment, or maybe you just don’t know how to pull with your back muscles. If you’re just starting to do bent over rows and don’t feel like you even know how to pull with your back, I have a very easy-to-use cue that I use with all of my clients: pull with your elbows. By initiating the pull with your elbows and focusing on your mid back muscles. you will start creating a stronger mind-muscle connection and will stop pulling so much with your arms.


See how you stand naturally…with your head in alignment with your back… that’s how you want your neck positioned during bent over rows. Don’t look up at the sky or move your head up and down excessively when you’re rowing. Sometimes it helps to tuck your chin slightly as you’re hinged over to keep a “neutral head” position.


Don’t just pick up the bar, then get into position with a rounded upper back and try to row. That’s stupid. First thing you should do is pick up the weight like you would a good deadlift and come to a full standing position. From there, draw your shoulders back and down with your upper back engaged, and hinge forward at the hip to about a 45 degree angle. This will ensure your upper back is aligned and you’re not putting any unwanted pressure on your spine.

If you have an comments or questions about this article shoot me a message down below!


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