Barbell Bent Over Row

Exercise Name:
Name: Barbell Bent Over Row
Also Called: Barbell Row, Pendlay Row
Muscles Worked:
Primary: Lats
Secondary: Back, Biceps, Rear Delts
Classification:
Function: Strength, Explosiveness
Mechanics: Compound
Force: Pull
Equipment:
Main: Barbell
Optional: Chalk, Weight Lifting Straps
Guidelines:
Experience: Beginner
Rep Range: 3-8
Training Tempo: 1 – 0 – X – 1
Related Exercises:
Variations: Reverse Grip Bent Over Row, Yates Row, Rear Delt Row
Alternatives: Inverted Row, Cable Row, T-Bar Row, One Arm Dumbbell Row

Instructions with Pictures

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Use a hip width stance with bar over midfoot (very close to shins).
  • Bend at hips and flex knees to lower torso to parallel.
  • Hold bar using a wide pronated grip with arms fully extended.
  • Ensure that scapulae are over bar.
  • Arch lower back; extend thoracic spine look at floor to keep neck neutral.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Retract scapulae, flex elbows and extend shoulders; explosively pull bar to upper abs and extend thoracic spine when nearing the top.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause, but do emphasize thoracic extension and upper back contraction during the instant at the top.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Lower bar to floor and return to starting postion.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the barbell bent over row motion until the set is finished.
  • A 3-8 rep range yields the most desirable results. Doing more than 8 reps isn’t detrimental; you just can’t train explosiveness nearly as well.

Common Bent Over Row Errors to Avoid

Mistake: Solution:
Poor range of motion Start from the floor on every rep. Touch bar to upper abs; not chest. Can’t do it? Reduce the load and use the back muscles to pull; not the arms (see below).
Pulling with arms Scapular retraction and having a solid back arch are key. Also, focus on contracting the back muscles and “feeling” them work. Still can’t get it right? Try face pulls and scapular wall slides.
Bouncing Bouncing the bar off the floor is cheating. So let it come to dead stop before beginning the next rep. This should only take a half second or so.
Using jerking momentum Don’t jerk your torso up. Maintain the same hip and knee angle. Have a tight starting stance and use weight you can handle. Note: It’s normal for the torso to go up/down slightly when lifting heavy. Think of it as a byproduct of the “equal and opposite reaction” to pulling.

Barbell Bent Over Row Tips

  1. Assume a “tight” starting position. By this, I mean that there should be tension through your body: back arched, hips high, hamstrings taut, arms straight. Without actually lifting the bar, push through your feet and pull through your upper torso (keeping torso at parallel, of course).
  2. Imagine the opposite of a bench press, and you’ve got the barbell bent over row motion in a nutshell. Rows train the antagonist (opposite) muscles of those trained on bench press, which in turn increases your bench.
  3. Keep your torso parallel to the floor (or a tad higher). Why? So you can initiate reps from the floor and thus train explosiveness. Despite being closer to the floor, range of motion isn’t affected; you can still start/end each rep with straight arms. Plus, you pull up (not at an angle), which trains the back more efficiently and evenly.
  4. Pull your elbows back and up. This cue helps me activate my back muscles if I visualize it while actually doing it. If I don’t, then I tend to use my arms more.
  5. Pull the bar to upper abs or lower chest. You shouldn’t have to think about this. If you don’t naturally pull to this area, then your body position requires correction.
  6. Explode up as fast possible on the lifting phase. It’s okay, even advised, to slow down a bit when just learning the technique. Generally though, lift as fast as you can without losing control.
  7. Always use correct bar height (i.e. the height with 45 lb plates on; ~8″ high). Using anything smaller than 45s (for your biggest plates) puts you too low. Here’s some tricks for rows with less than 135 lbs (bar + two 45s):
    • Use bumper plates. These come in any weight, but are the same height as 45s.
    • Place an 8″ block or step beneath each end of the barbell
  8. Rotate elbows slightly inward before starting each rep. This puts your upper arms in the right position (tucked) as you begin the upward rowing motion.
  9. Sufficient thoracic extension is crucial for a strong mid/upper back arch as you approach the top of the motion. If you slouch, you actually need some thoracic extension at the starting point just for a neutral mid/upper back.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

This is a top-notch exercise choice for all levels of experience; beginners, intermediates and advanced weight lifters alike.

I believe the barbell bent over row is the best back exercise for beginners because it serves some crucial functions for new trainees…

…It trains the entire back musculature in unison, facilitates rapid strength progress and improves various components of technique on other lifts (from deadlifts to bench press).

The barbell bent over row can be just as great for intermediate and advanced trainees as it is for newbies.

If you’re experienced, this should be a high priority lift if your goal is to improve overall back strength and power…

…On the other hand, it’s not critical if your goal is increased back muscularity. Even then, I’d include it in my routine, but with a less prominent role.

Some folks should consider avoiding barbell rows. It’s unfortunate, but you may not be cut out for them if you:

  • Have a lower back injury (or any back injury). Wait until you heal. In the meantime, do lying or seated rows (if able).
  • Have such poor scapular and/or thoracic spine immobility that it’s impossible to activate the back muscles to any significant degree. Relevant mobility/flexibility work and a pull:push exercise ratio of 2:1 to 3:1, should help.
  • Can’t get close to parallel due to inflexibility. Barbell rows at 45° are a quick fix. But you must address the inflexibility, which often stems from lordosis (anterior pelvic tilt + tight hip flexors). Abs, hams and glutes work, plus hip flexor and lower back stretches help.

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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2 comments
Abhishek says April 30, 2016

Please advertise your website more. You have put up really great info about correct exercise principles. I am sure everyone who reads any article here will benefit a lot. Also put up video tutorials if possible!

Reply
    Alex says May 2, 2016

    Thanks for the encouraging feedback, Abhishek! I’ve been slowly but surely doing more promotion, and plan to increase it in the coming months. Stay tuned for more great articles.

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