How to do Bent Over Barbell Rows

bentover barbell rowsQuestion – How do I properly perform the barbell row?

Maintain a natural lumber arch for the whole exercise. Never let your lower back round for any reason!

1) Maintain your lumbar arch, bend your knees, and bend at the hips (not the lower back) and grab the bar. When you bend, maintain the arch (curve) in your lower back.

2) Grab the bar with a medium-wide grip. Your hands should be outside of shoulder width, how how far is up to you. Reaching for the bar without allowing your lower back to round will require your shoulder blades to rotate forward, which will round the shoulders forward (protraction). This is natural and normal. Make sure you maintain your lower back arch.

3) Take a deep breath, tighten your your abs and lower back to maintain the natural lumbar arch, and pull your shoulder blades back and up while yanking your elbows up behind your body. Maintain your lumbar arch throughout with NO motion at the hips.

4) The bar should hit in the upper abdomen while you squeeze your shoulder blades together hard and arch your lats. The “arched lats” brings the shoulders back (retraction) and elevates the chest.

5) Control the weight as it returns to the ground while maintaining your lumbar arch. Control the weight using your lats and upper/midback muscles as much as possible, and your elbow flexors (biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis) as little as possible.

Deload between EVERY repetition. That means you actually put the bar down and release or relax your grip so that you remove any type of static tension in the muscles. ALWAYS DO THIS! It might be annoying at first, because you can’t use as much weight. Of course, you can’t use as much weight when you do a full squat, nor can you use as much weight when you DON’T bounce the bar off your chest in a bench press. More weight isn’t better if the technique isn’t proper.

If you are able to row more than 135 with this exercise and you have longer arms, you may need to use 35s so that you can get a better range of motion while pulling from more of a stretch position. You can stand on a low, wide box too. Do not, however, allow the lower back to round, and do not squat down to reach the bar.

Use less weight on this exercise than on normal 45 degree rows. Reduction in weight, increase in lat stimulation.

Video example

Here’s a good example except for a very small issue keeping his head down, which will not allow for maximum lat arch at the top. Note the parallel upper body positioning throughout the motion. Do everything like this guy does, excpt find a point a few feet in front of you to focus your eyes on, which forces you to keep your head looking slightly upward, relative to your positioning. By doing this, you will keep your head up throughout, and you will be able to finish with a strong lat arch.

Question – Do I have to deweight between repetitions of the row? What about continuous tension?

Continuous tension is a term widely used in bodybuilding circles. It is associated with hypertrophy and muscle mass accumulation. It is, however, only one part of the equation.

The purpose of deweighting (i.e. allowing the barbell to rest the entirety of its weight on the ground for a brief moment between repetitions, a la the deadlift) is to develop the ability to produce force rapidly and explosively in the upper back muscles. Remember, this is an exercise which isn’t just a “lighter pull from the floor”, like the power clean is, it is an exercise to develop explosiveness.

Continuous tension is a fine concept, and a barbell row is going to be an incredibly effective strength and mass producer with or without the deweight. The deweight is a better teaching tool for explosiveness, and also makes the somewhat vague technique of the basic barbell row a bit more concrete. It also significantly reduces the amount of stress and strain on the somewhat vulnerable lower back.


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