Want to add a great exercise to your routine? How about the barbell row? What makes it so special? We have all the info you’d ever want about the barbell row right here.
We love highlighting some of the absolute best exercises here at Gym Junkies and the barbell row definitely shines bright.
It’s an effective exercise that can be mastered by just about anyone and can be added to your current routine for a killer back workout.
Take caution, though, because if this exercise is not performed correctly and with good form, you are going to jack up your back big time. Don’t worry. We will explain the proper form and everything else you need to know.
What Is A Barbell Row?
The barbell row has always been a staple around the weight room for building a huge and defined back. Many weightlifters, powerlifters and overall gym junkies across the nation use them for both lower and upper back exercises. All it takes is you and a loaded barbell to perform. But it must be done the right way, or it will not be worth doing at all.
Basically, you are using the strength of your back to support a certain amount of weight, while you pull up the barbell from about your knees (depending on how long your arms are) to your hips.
Seems simple enough, right?
It really is. But, there are a few things you have to pay attention to.
What Are The Benefits Of Doing A Barbell Row?
Barbell rows are good for you in many ways. They can improve your balance, strength, stability and, of course, the size of your back muscles.
Build your lats like there is no tomorrow – One of the prime movers in the barbell row is the latissimus dorsi, which is one of the biggest muscles in your upper body. When your lats are in shape, this can give a great presentation of your entire physique.
Your traps are also going to thank you – The barbell row works all three areas of the trapezius muscles and that is just awesome!
Rhomboids for everyone – If you’re not sure what those are, we will explain. They’re the muscles that are responsible for scapular retraction. A simpler way to put it is that they move your shoulder blades inward and they get targeted greatly while doing a barbell row.
Shapely shoulders – There are three areas to the deltoid (shoulder) muscle. Most exercises will typically target the front and middle sections, leaving your rear delts neglected and giving a not-so rounded shape to your shoulders. But, because the barbell row is a pulling exercise, your rear delts are targeted directly during both the concentric and eccentric phase of the lift.
Stability will be greatly improved – You may not look at a barbell row as a full body exercise, but it is. Every muscle from those in your hands all the way down to your feet is working to stabilize you during each and every lift. This, in turn, will increase your overall stability!
Fat will be a thing of the past – Being that the barbell row works so many muscles at once, you will automatically burn more calories than if you did an isolation exercise such as lateral raises or overhead pulls. The more muscles worked at once, the more fat that is going to fry.
You will have better posture – The barbell row can increase the strength and imbalances between your back and chest. This will help you carry those shoulders back.
These Are All The Muscles Worked In A Barbell Row
The barbell row does not just work the back. That’s why it is so high on our list of awesomeness.
Which muscles does the barbell row work?
A quicker answer might be to tell you which ones it does not work. With that said, let’s break it down into the primary movers and all of the others worked by the barbell row.
Primary Movers: Lats, rhomboids, and traps
Other Muscles: Biceps, rear delts, rotator cuff muscles, lower back muscles, hamstrings, glutes, calves, shin muscles and even the muscles in your feet. These all act as stabilizers.
Let’s Talk About Safety For A Minute
Don’t let my stressing the safety part of the barbell row discourage you from including it in your workout routine. It’s just always best to be aware that any back exercise done working with heavy weights can be risky if it is not performed with the utmost care.
One thing to think about is if you already have some sort or back issue such as an injury or back pain, this exercise may not be for you. But, I’m definitely not a doctor, so if you feel like it’s something that could help you, talk to your doctor first to make sure you are cleared for such an exercise. Performing this type of exercise with pre-existing back issues could worsen the condition for sure, that’s why it is best to get checked out first.
The barbell row is associated with a higher risk of lower back injuries than the cable or dumbbell row.
The reason is because people fail to engage their core during the exercise, or they lack core strength all together and start with too heavy of a weight. Do not let your ego get the best of you. Use a proper weight that allows you to perform each rep to high standards.
How To Perform The Barbell Row The Correct Way
As mentioned, if you are not going to do it right, don’t even give it a go. It’s not worth your back and the setbacks you will have by getting injured. However, if you are ready to pay attention and do this exercise safely, read on and go get your back stacked.
A proper barbell row will start with the bar on the floor, not in your hands. Step up to the bar and place your feet right under the bar to where it is about mid-foot. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and your toes pointing outward just a bit. Hinge at your hips and push them back as if you are closing a car door with your butt. Slightly bend your knees and keep pushing your hips back till you can reach the bar. You will feel a stretch in your hamstrings at this point.
Keep your chest lifted to a 45-degree angle. Your grip should be about shoulder-width apart and your palms facing towards you. Imagine that there are lemons in your armpits and squeeze them to make some lemonade (yuck, armpit lemonade!). This will help you activate your lats and keep your back from rounding.
Begin the exercise by pulling the barbell about one or two inches off the floor. Let it hover there for just a moment. Pull the weight up towards your chest by moving your elbows towards your hips. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and take a quick pause. Return to the starting position, making sure you extend your arms fully after each pull.
During this exercise be aware that you need to keep your back as flat as it can be. No rounding or arching your back as you pull and return the weight. Keep your chin tucked to prevent looking out and arching your back. Start your lift with a weight that will allow you to do the recommended amount of sets and reps properly without inhibiting your form or range of motion.
Try a few warm-up reps with an empty or nearly empty bar to prime your body for the movement and give you a feel for things. Take it slow. The slower you go, the better off you will be. By speeding up your reps, you run the risk of not keeping your back in the proper position. In other words, you run the risk of doing your reps with poor form. And, of course, poor form could result in injuries.
There are some other ways of doing things. For instance, you can try switching up your grip a few different ways. If you grab the bar with your palms facing away from you, this will incorporate more of the biceps muscles and cause engagement in the abs as well. You can also try a wider or a narrower grip adjusted to your level of comfort. Some also perform this exercise with a flipped grip, one palm facing you, and the other facing away.
Best Time To Do The Barbell Row
If you do a split plan with your routines, it is best to add the barbell row to back or shoulder day, or if you do back and shoulders on the same day, then there you go. If you’re more of a push day pull day person, this one could be added to your pulling exercises with a 4 day split routine for example.
Since this exercise works some pretty large muscles, it should be done before you do your isolation exercises that work the smaller muscles.
The reason is so that you do not lose strength and energy during this move. After all, you will need a lot of energy because of the intensity of this move.
Barbell Workout Routines For Back Day
Always start your workout with a good warm-up, whether you are doing warm-up reps of the same exercise or some dynamic stretching. This will ready your muscles for exercise, make them more pliable and help you to get the best range of motion out of each and every lift.
A good warm-up should last anywhere from three to five minutes. It should also get your heart rate up a bit. This will get the blood pumping to your muscles and get you ready to work hard.
Barbell Row 4 Sets X 8-10 Reps
Seated Cable Row 4 Sets X 8-10 Reps
Lat Pulldown 4 Sets X 8-10 Reps
Standing Cable Row 4 Sets X 8-10 Reps
Straight Bar Lat Pulldown 3 Sets X 12 Reps
Barbell Row 3 Sets X 6-8 Reps
Seated Cable Row 3 Sets X 8-12 Reps
V-Bar Pulldown 3 Sets X 8-12 Reps
Barbell Shrug 3 Sets X 6-8 Reps
Back Extension 3 Sets X 8-12 Reps
Barbell Row 3 Sets X 6-8 Reps
Dumbbell Row 3 Sets X 10-12 Reps
Front Lat Pulldown (Close Grip) 3 Sets X 10-12 Reps
Dumbbell Shrug 3 Sets X 10-12 Reps
Barbell Good Morning 3 Sets X 12-15 Reps
Barbell Row 3 Sets X 6-8 Reps
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown 3 Sets X 10-12 Reps
Underhand Cable Pulldown 3 Sets X 8-10 Reps
Dumbbell Row 3 Sets X 10-12 Reps
Barbell Shrug 3 Sets X 10-12 Reps
Just as a warm-up is important for training, a cooldown is equally important. It’s not common to see guys stretching it out after a manly lift session, but that’s their loss because stretching is very beneficial to muscle gain and flexibility. Not only that, but it can also most definitely enhance your lifting techniques.
After a workout, you will want to do some static stretching. These are the types of stretches that you hold for a small amount of time (up to 30 seconds each). Stretch all of your major muscle groups, grab your protein and hit the shower, because you should be really sweaty by now.
The barbell row is definitely going to improve your back strength and appearance, among many other awesome benefits. Do not forget that the simple barbell row can even benefit your deadlift and other heavy lifting exercises you may be doing. All the more reason to get rowing! Be sure to add it to your routine and see how much of a difference it can make for you.
By Heather Neff, CPT