The barbell row is responsible for some of the biggest developments in back gains, since Arnold talked about the pump.
Because of the muscles you’re using on this exercise (latissimus dorsi, biceps, rear deltoids, rhomboids, erector spinae and the forearms), it isn’t too uncommon to be rowing 80kg+ in a short space of time.
The barbell row has a few variations, which despite targeting the same muscles, all have differing starting positions such as the pendlay row, the yates row, the landmine row to name but a few.
But for the premise of this article, we will just focus on the standard barbell row.
- The muscles being worked
As I mentioned in the intro, the main muscle being worked during a barbell row are the latissimus dorsi, biceps, rhomboids, rear deltoids, erector spinae and also the forearms, even the trapezius, hamstrings and core are used too, predominantly to stabilise the spine in a neutral position.
- Why do the barbell row?
Is the fact that you’re gonna build a huge back and arms not enough?
No? Well, because of the position of this exercise you’ll also build a lot of isometric strength in your hamstrings and spinal erector muscles.
Do you know what else profits from having isometrically strong spinal erectors?
If you can hold a neutral spine for 8-12 repetitions of heavy barbell rows, guess what? You’ve got a seriously strong back which is only gonna increase your positional strength on a deadlift.
If you’re powerlifter having strong spinal muscles is really gonna help you in pulling a lot more weight in the future of your sport.
If you’re a bodybuilder, well this exercise is gonna add some serious mass to your upper back and arms.
- Step by Step – How to do it?
It’s all well and good knowing what muscles it works, how jacked it’s gonna make your arms and back and how it’s gonna improve your deadlift.
But how do you perform a barbell row?
- The Barbell Row starts with the bar on the floor.
- The bar will cut your feet in half when you’re looking down at it (over the middle of your laces).
- You’ll bend down to the bar, hands placed slightly narrower than where you’d place them for bench pressing.
- Once here, your position should resemble that of a deadlift starting position.
- Now, holding that position, push your knees back out the way of the bar.
- Keep your chest high (imagine you’re ironman and you’re trying to show off your arc reactor to your mate stood in front of you), this’ll help with keeping your chest elevated.
- Once you’re in this position, all that’s left to do is pull the bar in to your arc reactor (chest), ensuring you squeeze your arms past your side as you do this.
- After each rep, make sure that you return the bar to the floor, this is not a yate’s row (what I mentioned earlier).
- Each rep on a barbell row is similar to a deadlift, in that you start and finish each rep on the floor.
You should do all of this on every rep, to ensure that:
- You get the most out of each rep
- Keep your spine safe and injury free
- Things to keep in mind
Because of the compromised position of this movement, it’s all too easy to let your lower back end up in a rounded position, which over time could result in injury.
So ensuring that you’re re-setting your posture on each rep (remember the arc reactor analogy) will keep your posture in a safe and strong position.
- Putting it all together
Below I’ll give you an example of how you can program the barbell row in your current plan, to maximise your growth and strength.
- For Strength development
Barbell row 5×5, work up to a weight which is challenging, which you feel you could probably do another 2 reps at (so 7 reps, but only perform 5), and repeat for a further 4 sets.
Barbell row 5×4, add 2.5kg to the weight that you performed last week. This weight should be more challenging than the previous week, but because you’re only doing 4 reps instead of 5, it will be manageable.
Barbell row, 5×3, add a further 2.5kg to the weight that you performed last week. This weight should be difficult, but because you’re only performing 3 reps, you shouldn’t find it too hard.
- For Hypertrophy
Barbell row, 5×8-12, work up to a weight that you find challenging, a weight which you could probably perform 10 reps of, only do 8 reps, and repeat a further 4 sets.
Barbell row, 5×8-12, perform the same weight as week 1, instead try to push for 10-12 reps rather than settling for 8 reps like last week. If you hit 5 sets of 12, then on week 3 increase the weight by 2.5kg.
Barbell row, now you’ve hit 5×12 on week 2, go back to 5×8-12 reps, but with an additional 2.5kg on the bar from week’s 1&2, aim to hit 8 repetitions. This is known as the double progression method, and is excellent for hypertrophy.
The barbell row.
It’s an extremely effective exercise for not just pure strength, but also for causing all kinds of gains on your upper back.
So, whichever method floats your boat, give it a go in your next program and watch your back and strength grow.
Here’s a link to a video detailing how to barbell row: