Bent Over Row Exercise Guide — How to, Benefits, & Alternatives

bent over rows

Bent over rows is a staple bodybuilding back exercise. 

Developing your upper body muscles is crucial in bodybuilding. It enhances your range of motion, allows you to lift heavy objects, and promotes better posture and flexibility. One effective exercise for targeting your back and arms is the bent-over row, which effectively strengthens your upper body.

As one of the popular old-school exercises, bent-over rows have been a staple in many elite bodybuilder’s plans. You can use them to correct muscle imbalances and pull heavy weights. However, bent-over rows must be done with the proper form to avoid the risk of injuries

Before including this exercise in your routine, there are many essential details about bent-over rows that you should know. It’s also important to learn the different alternatives of this exercise so you can vary them during training. In this guide, we take an in-depth look into bent-over rows and share valuable tips on using them to build your muscles. 

Techniques & Muscles Worked  

The barbell row is an effective compound exercise that targets your lats, delts, rhomboids, traps, biceps, abs, and glutes. For this exercise, you only need a barbell with the appropriate loaded weights on each end. Then, follow the steps in the step-by-step guide below.

  1. Hold the bar using a double overhand grip in a standing position behind the barbell.
  2. Ensure your feet are at shoulder width distance and your hands are slightly wider than the shoulders.
  3. Hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight and strengthening your core.
  4. Keep your knees slightly bent but not beyond a 45-degree angle. This is your starting position.
  5. Next, tighten your glutes and row the bar towards your core while keeping your back straight.
  6. Pause momentarily when the bar is at your abs and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
  7. Then, slowly lower the bar back to the starting position for another rep.

Benefits of the Bent Over Row

The barbell row offers many benefits, especially for developing and strengthening your posterior chain muscles. In this research, comparing different rows, bent-over rows activated your back muscles the most (1). Here are some other benefits of this exercise.

Burn Fat

Barbell rows help to burn fat, especially in your upper back. This is useful for lifters in the cutting phase who need to lose weight and improve body form. The back has one of the largest muscles in the human body — the lats —  so training them uses lots of energy, leading to you burning more fat.

Lift Heavy to Build Back & Arms

Barbell rows are an effective way to work the back and arms since they allow you to load up a barbell with heavy weight. The rowing action targets the biceps in the arms and several back muscles like the traps, lats, and rhomboids, increasing muscle hypertrophy in the back and arms. 

Improves posture

Doing the reps consistently with your back kept straight strengthens those muscles, improving your general body form and posture.

Carryover to Deadlifts & Squats

Bent over rows targets important muscles for exercises like deadlifts and squats. Strengthening these muscles helps to improve your form when doing these exercises. You can also lift heavier weights and avoid injuries with a well-developed back.

Less Lower Back Pain

The bent-over row builds the posterior chain muscles and core. Research shows that strengthening these muscles helps to reduce back pain (2). Including bent over rows in your training also helps to prevent injury and strengthens your form for explosive movements.

Bent-over Rows Alternatives

The bent-over row is a great pull exercise to add to your workout. Below are some bent-over row alternatives to build muscle mass and strength.

T-Bar Row

T-bar rows are an old school exercise, great for the contraction and stretching of the lat muscles. When doing this alternative, you load weight plates onto the end of a row bar connected to the floor. This significantly reduces stress on the lower back because less stability is required.

Inverted Row

With this exercise, you work against gravity by pulling your body towards a bar. Inverted rows also work on your lats and other back muscles. If you want to build strength, this is an appropriate back-friendly bodyweight exercise.

Deadlifts

Deadlifts target your core, glutes, back, hamstrings, and traps. In other words, this exercise hits the same muscles that the bent over row works on. 

Half-Kneeling High-Band Row

The half-kneeling high band row is a unilateral exercise that allows you to target each lat muscle separately, which can help prevent muscle imbalances. This exercise also allows the lats to move through its full range of natural movement, which is excellent for muscle growth. Unilateral exercises also help you find and fix any muscle or strength imbalances.

Renegade Row

This alternative row works on each back individually and is usually done from a top plank position. This makes it a unilateral rowing exercise.

All these bent-over rows alternatives effectively train your upper body muscles and arms. They help add a lot of muscle mass in your back and arms when done with the proper form.

FAQs

What are the health benefits of bent over rows?

Bent over rows is a weight training exercise that improves your back strength to increase fitness levels. This also improves your bone health and muscle mass.

What muscles does bent-over row work?

Bent over row exercise works on your posterior chain muscles and core. Check the exercise guide above for a complete breakdown of the muscles worked. 

What happens when you do bent-over rows every day?

Doing the bent-over row constantly helps with proper muscle coordination, stability, control, and balance. It is also an excellent exercise for weight loss.

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References

  1. Fenwick, C. M., Brown, S. H., & McGill, S. M. (2009). Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 23(2), 350–358. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019
  2. Frizziero, A., Pellizzon, G., Vittadini, F., Bigliardi, D., & Costantino, C. (2021). Efficacy of Core Stability in Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology, 6(2), 37. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk602003
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.