Barbell Rows: How to Build a Bulletproof Back Right Now

Aren’t you tired of doing a row exercise that doesn’t seem to work? Despite spending countless hours at the gym, you still don’t see any improvement. To make things worse, you still find yourself hunched back. You have insufficient strength even to hold your torso upright. What you need is to level up your arsenal with barbell rows.

Barbell rows are a popular exercise to train your back. Compared to a cable row, it is a full-body compound exercise that works for various muscle groups. Plus, it prevents your shoulders from rolling forward when you stand up. Thus, barbell rows keep your shoulders healthy and improve posture.

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A bad rower blames the oar.

— Icelandic proverb

Why Barbell Rows?

Barbell Rows make you assume the position and maintain it throughout the set. You get the benefits of moving the bar through the rowing motion. You also do the stability work needed to hold your back in the proper position, unlike in dumbbell rows.

Photo by Leon Ardho on

How to do Barbell Rows?

The floor is the starting point and the ending point of barbell rows. Between reps, the bar does not dangle from the arms. You separate each repetition by a breath and a reset of the lower back.

Your lower back position is crucial when rowing from the floor. Doing so enables your hamstrings and glutes to help move the bar. Barbell rows work not just on your lats, upper back, and arms but also your low back and hip extensors.

It would be best if you held your lumbar spine in extension like it is in a deadlift for the same reason. Your knees are already extended and are not involved much. When doing barbell rows, your back angle changes as the bar comes off the floor with rows. This transmits force to the bar. In the finish, the elbows bend, and the bar slams into the lower rib cage.

Photo by Sahil Khaliq on

The bar will leave the floor from a position below the scapulas, just as in a deadlift. Still, unlike a deadlift, the back angle will never become vertical in a barbell row. It will not rise much higher than the shoulders at about 15-20 degrees above horizontal.

You can barbell row light weights in a curved bar path to the belly as you warm up. But as the bar gets heavier, standard pulling mechanics will prevail. Approach the bar with a deadlift stance, but not quite as close. The bar will operate over the mid-foot, as it does in all heavy pulling exercises. As you add weight to your barbell rows, the bar will adjust itself to the correct position over the foot.

You can use a hook grip or straps on barbell rows with heavier weights. The grip width can vary quite a bit, but it’s about the same as the bench-press width is the best place to start. It would be best if you fixed your eyes on the floor a few feet before you.

Photo by Mike Jones on

Take a huge breath, and raise the bar from the floor with straight elbows to get it moving. Continue bringing it up by bending your elbows and slamming the bar into the upper part of your belly. But don’t try to look straight ahead because doing so will overextend your neck. Don’t look straight down.

The most important part of the technique of the barbell row is the back position. It would help if you locked your spine into extension, with the chest up and the lower back arched the whole time the bar moves. Leads with your elbows, you should think about slamming your elbows into the ceiling. After the bar contacts your belly, lower the bar back to the floor. Exhale, take a new breath and reset your back before each rep.

Don’t attempt to hold the bar against your belly at the top or lower the bar too slowly. The barbell row is like the deadlift in that you intend your work to be concentric. Since you are essentially dropping heavy weights, use bumper plates for rowing. Each rep starts and stops on the floor. The row requires you to create the floor with a hip extension, not a knee extension.


With light weights, you can perform rows with your arms. But, hip extension becomes more critical as you approach working set weights. Barbell Rows begin with your arms straight and your chest coming up. As the bar leaves the floor, you raise your back angle. You use your hamstrings and glutes to keep your back rigid. Your knees will be nearly straight and unlocked. Your hips are higher than they would be in a deadlift before the bar moves up.

This initial hip extension starts the weight up. Your elbows catch the momentum and carry the bar up. Your prime movers when doing barbell rows would be your:

  • lats
  • triceps
  • biceps
  • forearm muscles
  • posterior deltoids
  • smaller muscles around the shoulder blades

Your trunk muscles that stabilize the spine acts as a rigid platform to generate force. Your muscles change actions during barbell rows. Your hamstrings and glutes work to anchor the pelvis after the initial step off the ground. And your lower back during the final rowing motion is caused by the upper body.

Photo by Adrian Stancu on

Barbell row has your lats working across the back where the muscle fibers are parallel to the bar. You control the finish position when the bar touches the abdomen. Rows are not helpful at weights so heavy that form is tough to maintain.

You can row a weight fifteen pounds lighters than what you cannot row at all. A row that is not finished will not engage the range of motion that is unique to barbell rows. For this reason, you use sets of five or more reps since you can row weights for just a triple cannot be done correctly.

As with any ancillary exercise, getting perfect reps with a lighter weight is suitable for sets of 5, 8, or 10. Do several across than to lose the benefit of barbell rows with a weight that is too heavy. The first few reps will use a slight amount of hip extension (less than 10 degrees) as the set progresses. The upper body becomes fatigued, and more hip extension gets thrown in to get the reps finished.

Photo by Victor Freitas on

You must complete each rep of barbell rows from the top down instead of the bottom up. Be sure to continue doing barbell rows and not deadlifts. Your back should never get much above horizontal. The bar hits too low if your chest is too high on the last reps. The range of motion for the target muscles has shortened, and the weight is too heavy. When the bar gets heavy, your chest will drop to meet the bar as it becomes more serious.

With barbell rows, excessive chest drops indicate too much weight. You might decide that no chest drop is allowable, in which you cannot use heavy weights. Or the rep count counts as long as you can touch your chest with the bar.

Final Thoughts

Barbell rows come with handfuls of benefits for every type of lifter. The benefits attached to it often entail which variation you do, and its intent of use. The hinge mechanics and back strength that come with it have benefits at any fitness level.

Photo by Victor Freitas on

For true beginners or iron veterans, barbell rows are a valuable skill to have. It’s significant at providing carryover strength to other lifts since you can load barbell rows relatively heavily and targets many muscles simultaneously.

For this reason, barbell rows are a fantastic exercise to use when strength from a hip-hinged position is your goal.

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