Bent over barbell row guide: benefits, form and safety tips

bent over barbell row

The most respected row of all is the barbell bent over row. This back day staple exercise and is considered one of the best bodybuilding exercises you can do.

Sometimes called a bent over row, this is a fundamental movement in many muscle-building workouts. Those who want to build muscle use bent over barbell row to target the back, bicep and core muscles. It is also used to increase strength on the big 3 movement for those in the powerlifting and strength circle.

The bent over row is often used to build and strengthen the upper back muscles (latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius). However, it requires help from the muscles of the lower back, spine, and arms to perform it correctly.

Benefits of Bent-Over Barbell Row

A bent over barbell row is one of the most effective exercises you can learn, as it trains muscles and many functions. Here’s a quick rundown of what we consider to be its key benefits.

  • Trains the hip hinge.

The ability to bend your hip backwards — to activate your back muscles while maintaining good alignment from your head to your waist — is a must for anyone who wants to be able to perform well in sports. A three-point stance on the ball, the start of any jump, and the simple act of picking up a grocery bag from the floor all require functional hinge mechanics.

  • It works a whole lot of muscles

As you will see in the next section, the bent over barbell row trains very well the entire posterior side of the body, with some additional stimulation of the biceps, front arms, grip, and spine as well. If your exercise needs to be short, or you are frustrated with the idea that you have to use twelve different exercises to train all of these muscles, a bent over barbell row can make things a lot easier.

Additionally, a bent over barbell row places you in a strong biomechanical position allowing you to use both arms at same time. Thereby, allowing you to use more weight.

  • It reinforces weak points

Some people strive to keep the barbell close to their bodies while performing deadlift or other Olympic weightlifting exercises. The bent over barbell row helps to strengthen the back so that you can maintain control of the bar, as well as tightness in the torso and hips while in a flexible position.

  • Promotes good posture

Most people are slouched. Their shoulders are rotated forward and their upper backs are weakened as a result. If you put more pressure on the chest, you make the problem worse, and you increase the risk of shoulder pain. This tightens the upper back – especially the rhomboids and the middle traps, which pull down the shoulder blades. When these areas are firm, you stand up straight and your shoulders back and chest out. In other words, the bent over barbell row will make you look better and stand upright.

Barbell Row Muscles worked

Barbell Row primarily develops the back muscles of the back, including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids and other smaller muscles that work in the shoulders. The back muscles and biceps also play an important role in this exercise.

How to do it
  1. Take the barbell by gripping with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. With your legs slightly bent, keep your back straight and bend your upper body until you are almost straight.
  2. From here pull the weight up to the lower part of your chest. Pause. And get back to starting point in a slow and controlled manner.
Barbell bent over row proper form
  • Think of the elbows

When you’re ready to begin – lean forward a little, hold the bar – consider pulling your elbows behind you, not pulling the bar up. It will help activate your lats and keep everything stable.

  • Pause at the top

Most coaches will tell you that if you can’t pause at the top of each rep, you have chosen the heaviest weight. Touch the bar on your sternum, pause, and press your shoulder blades together at the top of each rep.

Common mistakes when performing the barbell bent over row

The barbell bent over row requires proper form and when done right can add great strength and build a big back. The problem is most people don’t know how to do it right and end up using technique which is not optimal for your back gains.

Here’s what to avoid:
  1. Using too much heavy weight

This is one of the biggest mistakes, most people doing when performing this exercise going too heavy. Using poor form to lift the weight not only make you miss out on some serious gains and also cause injury to your body.

  1. Not going too heavy

On the flip side, there are times when people actually don’t use enough weight for this exercise and wonder why they don’t have strength or add muscle to their back. This often comes down to doing the same types of routine over and over again and not having enough variety for your rep / set goals. As with any exercise, if you have been doing the same number of reps and set ranges, your body will eventually get use to the routines and you will not feel the need to work hard or be challenged.

If you are the type of person whose been doing 3 sets of 8-10 in the past, try a 5×5 where you lift heavy weights and pause between sets. Bent over row is a great exercise so you can use strength rep ranges too and you will be amazed at how strong your back will be.

  1. Doing just one type of bent over row.

As you already know, your body needs to be challenged in new ways to improve and adapt. One key strategy to make your muscles work harder is to introduce new exercise variants into your routine.

Not just do only the bent over row, there are tons of other row variations you can also do to fully hit all muscles effectively.

  1. Pulling too much with the arms

This goes back to using heavy weight which requires you to use more of your arms. If you are just starting out on bent over rows, and don’t know how to pull with the back. I have a very easy cue you should try to do; pulling with your elbow. By pulling with your elbows, you will start to create strong mind muscle connection.

  1. Hyper extended neck

It is important that when doing the barbell bent over row, try and keep your head in alignment with your back that’s how you want your neck positioned. Keep a neutral head position.

  1. Rounded upper back

Most mistakes people make when starting on the barbell bent over row is picking up the barbell and getting into position, then start to row, that’s a very wrong thing to do as this can put your back in a rounded position putting a lot of pressure on your spine. The right way to start is pick up the weight like you would do in a deadlift and come to a full standing position, draw your shoulders back and down, then hinge forward at the hip to about 45 degree angle. This will ensure your upper back is aligned.

Barbell Row alternatives and variations

There are many variations of Barbell Row that offer a slightly different challenge to your back, depending on the use of dumbbells or a barbell:

Dumbbell bent over row

barbell bent over row

“Dumbbell Kickback Palm Down” by personaltrainertoronto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your knees slightly so that your upper body is almost parallel to the floor.
  2. Keep a straight back and a tight core as you row the weights to your chest. Then lower and repeat.
Underhand bent over row
  1. Stand with a barbell with your palms facing up. Bend your knees slightly so that your upper body is almost parallel to the floor.
  2. To keep your back straight, with your elbows close to your body, pull the barbell to your chest, squeezing your back muscles. Pause at the top before returning back to the starting position.
Dumbbell incline row

This variation is very good for keeping a straight back.  Set the bench at 45° angle and lie on your chest with the dumbbell in each hand, letting the weight hang down on the floor. Row the weights up to your chest, squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of this movement, then lower slow and controlled.

Make sure your chest is always in contact with the bench throughout so that your torso stays in proper position.

Pendlay row

barbell bent over row

This tougher barbell bent over row variation is named after Glenn Pendlay, a weight lifting coach. With the Pendlay row, you at the hips while keeping a straight back and your back parallel to the ground. Lower the the barbell to the ground each rep. The form still remains the same just the extra challenge involved in lifting the barbell from the floor with each rep.

Inverted row

: bent over barbell row

The inverted row is performed while hanging from a barbell or suspension trainer. Like the bent over row, it is a full body movement that requires your core to stabilize your body, but you don’t load your back in a hinged position, so there is no pressure on the lumbar. When using a barbell, the inverted row is more stable than when using a suspension trainer, you have to stabilize the handles and get additional range of motion.

Step 1. Hold the handles with your palms facing down, and hang from the suspension trainer at any suitable angle at your strength level. Just make sure there is tension on the straps.

Tighten your abs and draw your shoulders back and down.

Step 2. Row your body to the handles, place your elbows close to your sides, and rotate the handles so that the palms of your hands are facing each other.

One arm Dumbbell Row

Rowing with dumbbells is often preferred than the barbell. The dumbbell allows for free movement — so that your body can find the best way to move based on your mechanics — and it forces you to stabilize your trunk to prevent rotation. It is also good for building gripping strength, and can be trained for both heavy and high reps. It is a basic exercise in the performance of many strength athletes, as well as in those who compete in bodybuilding.

Step 1. Hold the dumbbell with one hand and step into a standing position, aligning the ball of your back foot with your opposite fore arm braced against your front thigh for support. The hand holding the weight should be opposite of the front foot.

Step 2. Row the dumbbell to your hip, and hold it in a high position for a second or two. Lower the weight slow and controlled.

Bent-Over Flye

This variation of row uses light weights but produces a strong scapular retraction (the act of pulling the shoulders together). Keep a slight bend at your elbows, then lift the weights straight to the sides until you reach chest height, without moving your upper body.

One arm — Barbell Row

This variation of row is very good if you are looking to target your lats. You will need a loaded barbell. The form and technique still remain the same just like in the standard rows.

Stand next to the barbell and bend at the hips while keeping a straight back pull one end of the barbell up to your lower chest then lower slowly in a controlled manner.

T-Bar Row

The T-Bar row is an excellent exercise to use if trying to target the upper back more. The T-bar row allows a person to use a neutral grip which can help reduce some of the tension placed on the shoulder joint.

How to do the T-Bar Row
  • Stand with a bar placed directly between your legs.
  • Use a v-grip handle and place the bar directly in the notch of the v handle.
  • hinge forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and begin pulling with your elbows moving behind your body while retracting your shoulder blades.
  • Pull the bar to your body until the plates touch your chest and lower the handle slowly back to the starting position.
  • Repeat the desired number of repetitions.