The bent over row is a valuable exercise; given it helps the user learn to maintain good posture under pressure, become more coordinated, and works multiple large muscle groups in a concentric (positive), eccentric (negative) and isometric (static) fashion.
The main issues people encounter with this exercise is a lack of activation through the target muscles, and high activation through the biceps, rear delts and traps. Whilst all these muscles should be working with the bent over row, we want to focus on the primary worker here – the rhomboids (muscles responsible for horizontal pulling motions).
How to Bent Over Row:
- Grip the bar just outside shoulder width, with an underhand grip, and deadlift the bar off the ground
- At the top of the deadlift, set the feet at shoulder width
- Keeping your back straight, push the glutes back and allow the chest to come forwards, grazing the bar down the thighs
- Stop with the bar in front of the knees, arms straight, and eyes locked on the floor a metre in front of you
- From here pull the bar into your belly button, keeping the arms close by your sides, squeezing the shoulder blades together and down at the peak of each rep
- Slowly lower the bar (whilst breathing out) until it is in front of the knees and the back is on stretch
- Repeat for the detailed number of reps
- Minimise body movement, as this reduces contraction quality
- Do not ego lift – less (weight) is more with this exercise, as it is so easy to do incorrectly
- If you feel it more through the traps with each rep; pause, get the chest lower, and ensure you are rowing the bar toward the crease of the hips rather than the upper abdomen
- Do not go below 4-5 reps on this exercise. It would be safer to use deadlifts and seated row variations for the lower rep, higher weight work
As well as the muscle groups that make up the back and the biceps, this movement will also test the legs and core, as you’re holding the weight and maintaining that position as the bar moves through a range of motion.
If the bent over row does cause you back issues the seated machine/cable row equivalents are absolutely fine to use. As are options like seal rows and single arm rows, but these can be more time consuming and less accessible. All our Flagship Transformation Guides have detailed Exercise Substitution Sections, so if you have a problem exercise we have a safe and effective alternative!