Barbell Row: Everything You Need to Know 

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The barbell row is one of the best muscle-building exercises in the business, and knowing how to perform it correctly as well as what muscle groups it targets is going to help you become the strongest version of yourself. 

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about the barbell row, including form, technique, benefits, common issues, as well as much more.  

Let’s get straight into it.  

How to Do the Bent-Over Barbell Row 

Step 1 — Grip the Bar, Set the Back 

Practising proper barbell bent over row form always starts with setting up correctly.  

You need to grip the bar at roughly shoulder-width apart and set your back by ensuring it is tensed and straight (avoid arching and all costs). 

Step 2 —  Initiate the Row 

The next step to proper barbell row form is to initiate the row. 

Do so in a controlled manner, and bring the bar up to your lower ribs.  

If the bar leads to your chest or your stomach, you need to alter your bath path.  

Step 3 — Flex the Back, then Lower the Weight 

Once you are at the top position, you need to flex your back by squeezing your lats.  

One of the best barbell row teaching points is to imagine that there is a piece of string attached to both your lats that pulls them together – this will ensure that you squeeze at the top of the movement. 

Slowly lower the weight – do not drop it.  

Once you are in the original starting position, start the process over again for your second rep.  

Barbell Row Technique 

Stance

Place your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing forward. 

Feet

Keep your weight balanced on your midfoot and avoid lifting your heels. 

Grip

Use an overhand grip, with your hands just outside your knees. 

Grip Width

Keep your grip shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. 

Wrists

Keep your wrists in a neutral position, avoiding bending them too far forward or backward. 

Elbows

Pull your elbows back towards your hips and keep them close to your body. 

Torso

Keep your torso parallel to the ground, avoiding excessive rounding or arching of your back. 

Lower Back

Keep your lower back in a neutral position and avoid rounding it during the exercise. 

Knees

Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the exercise. 

Hips

Hinge your hips back and push them forward during the exercise to generate momentum. 

Chest

Keep your chest up and open throughout the exercise. 

Shoulders

Pull your shoulder blades together and down towards your hips during the movement. 

Head

Look slightly forward or down to maintain a neutral position for your neck. 

Way Up

Pull the bar towards your upper abdomen while keeping your elbows close to your body. 

Way Down

Lower the bar back down to the starting position in a controlled manner. 

Breathing

Inhale before pulling the bar and exhale during the pulling motion. 

Between Reps

Rest for a second between reps to maintain proper form. 

Common Issues 

Lower Back Pain 

One of the most common issues that most people experience when they begin to incorporate barbell rows into their routine is lower back pain. 

Because of the somewhat vulnerable position your back is in during the barbell row, if you do not keep your back straight and practise good form, you can easily put additional strain on muscles and tendons that are not able to support such heavy weights. 

Luckily, this can be easily fixed by practising good form, and even if you are experiencing lower back pain now, simply switching your form should make your pain go away.  

Hitting The Knees 

Hitting your knees can be quite painful when doing barbell rows. 

It could even cause an injury. 

This is why it is important to control both the ascent and descent, making sure you are not just throwing the barbell around wherever.  

Cheating 

Cheating on barbell curls is incredibly easy. 

By just using the tiniest bit of momentum, you can increase the weight you can lift dramatically.  

However, this is a mistake that you need to watch out for. 

Not only will cheating be less effective for building muscle and strength and make you look silly in the gym, but it can also increase the chance of injury tenfold.  

If you have to cheat or use momentum to lift a certain weight, it’s time to drop the weight.

Benefits of the Bent-Over Barbell Row 

Upper Back Hypertrophy and Strength 

When it comes to the barbell row muscles worked, it would be ignorant to not mention its back-building properties. 

The bent-over barbell row works the lats and back extremely effectively, making it a great option for those who are interested in upper back hypertrophy and strength.  

Application to Deadlifts and Pulling Movements 

One of the best barbell row benefits is that it has great crossover with other pulling movements like deadlifts and pullups. 

If you are looking to increase your deadlifts or pull-ups, then adding barbell rows into your routine is going to help you tremendously.  

Postural Strength and Control 

Another benefit to barbell rows is that they can help you develop incredible postural strength and control.  

Having a strong back can help in a variety of ways. 

From allowing you to carry all of the shopping home in just one trip to moving furniture without risking injury, having good postural strength and control will help both inside the gym and out.  

Muscles Worked by the Bent-Over Barbell Row 

Latissimus Dorsi (Back) 

The primary muscle that is worked by the bent-over barbell row is the latissimus dorsi, more commonly known as the lats. 

These are the “wings” that bulge out of the side of one’s back once developed, and they can make a person look much wider and thicker. 

Spinal Erectors (Lower Back) 

Another area that the barbell row hits is the spinal erectors; these are the muscles at the bottom of your back that can be seen when under physical stress or during select poses.  

While these muscles might not be the most prominent, they play a significant role in many major exercises like the deadlift.  

Hamstrings 

Despite being a back-builder, the barbell row can actually hit the hamstrings to quite a noticeable degree. 

These are the muscles that are at the back of your legs or opposite your quads.  

Barbell rows shouldn’t be used as a primary movement for building hamstrings, but they can help bring this muscle group up if you do not do any other isolation exercises for the hamstrings.  

Scapular Stabilizers 

Last but not least, barbell rows work the scapular stabilizers.  

Once again, these are not the most noticeable muscles, but they can play an important role in overall strength.

Who Should Do the Bent Over Barbell Row? 

Strength and Power Athletes 

The barbell row is an incredible exercise for strength and power athletes such as powerbuilders or powerlifters.  

Barbell rows are great at targeting a bunch of muscle groups in the back, meaning they have great carryover to other lifts like squats and deadlifts.  

However, it is important to note that the barbell row should be used as an accessory movement in conjunction with other strength exercises. 

If your primary goal is to build your deadlift, you will need to do barbell rows alongside deadlifts in order to see any crossover.  

Fitness Athletes and the General Population 

Because of the fact that barbell rows are such good muscle-builders, they are an excellent exercise for those who just want to build some muscle or improve their body composition. 

Barbell rows are extremely effective at building various large muscles in the back, meaning they have a ton of bang for buck when it comes to their overall muscle-building potential. 

Pair this with the fact that they require no special equipment and are easy to do with good form and doing barbell rows becomes a no-brainer.  

Bent-Over Barbell Row Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations 

To Gain Muscle 

To gain muscle with the barbell row, it is recommended to do 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps on upper body days. 

You do not, however, want to do barbell rows and pullups/chin-ups on the same day. 

Both of these exercises target the same muscles, and if you include them both on the same day, the effectiveness of your workout will be diminished greatly. 

This is why it is recommended to swap between barbell rows and pullups on different days to maximise growth and keep things interesting.  

To Gain Strength 

If gaining strength is your main goal, it’s best to do 3-8 reps of barbell rows for 3-5 sets.  

In order to maximise your overall strength, it’s best to include barbell rows, pullups, and deadlifts into your routine.  

The barbell row is a great back-building exercise, but it is not as good at building overall strength as compound exercises like the deadlift. 

This is why it is important to use the barbell row as an accessory movement, not a primary strength-builder.

To Improve Muscle Endurance 

To build muscle endurance, you will want to do 4-5 sets of 12-20 reps with barbell rows.  

Just make sure not to overtrain by also performing similar exercises on the same day. 

Bent-Over Barbell Row Variations 

Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

A weightlifting exercise where a person leans over with a dumbbell in each hand and pulls them towards their chest. 

Kettlebell Bent-Over Row

Similar to the dumbbell bent-over row, but with kettlebells instead of dumbbells. 

Bent-Over Barbell Row Alternatives 

Pendlay Row

A barbell exercise where the weight is lifted from the ground to the chest, then lowered back down to the ground between each repetition. 

Seal Row

An exercise where a person lies on their stomach on a bench and pulls a weight towards their chest with a neutral grip. 

Barbell Dead Row

A variation of the deadlift where the weight is lifted to the waist and then lowered back down, targeting the upper back muscles. 

Barbell High Rows

An exercise where a person stands with a barbell in front of them and pulls it towards their chin, targeting the upper back muscles. 

Chest-Supported Row

A weightlifting exercise where a person lies on a bench with their chest supported and pulls a weight towards their chest, targeting the upper back muscles. 

Yates Row

An exercise similar to the barbell bent-over row, but with a closer grip and a slight bend in the knees. 

T-Bar Rows

A weightlifting exercise where a person stands with a T-bar machine between their legs and pulls the weight towards their chest, targeting the upper back muscles. 

Machine Rows

An exercise where a person uses a weight machine to simulate the motion of a rowing exercise.  

Inverted Rows

A bodyweight exercise where a person lies under a horizontal bar and pulls themselves up towards it, targeting the upper back muscles. 

Reverse Grip Barbell Row

A variation of the barbell bent-over row where the person uses an underhand grip, targeting the biceps and upper back muscles. 

Barbell Row vs Power Cleans 

Barbell Rows Are Safer Than Power Cleans 

One of the main advantages of the barbell row over power cleans is that they are much safer. 

Power cleans involve throwing a ton of heavy weight over your head, and as you may expect, this makes power cleans pretty dangerous. 

The barbell row, on the other hand, only involves lifting a moderate weight to your chest, making it much safer in comparison. 

Proper Form on Barbell Rows Is Easier Than Power Cleans 

Power cleans are notoriously hard to perform.  

It can take years of training to properly master the power clean, and the same just can’t be said for barbell rows. 

You can master the barbell row within just a few sessions or less. 

As long as you keep your back straight and bring the bar to your lower ribs in a controlled manner, you can’t go wrong.  

Most Gyms Don’t Have Equipment for Power Cleans 

The simple fact is that most gyms just do not have the right equipment for power cleans 

To do power cleans, you may need an Olympic weightlifting suit, a strong wooden floor base to start from, and rubber-coated weights that are not going to damage said floor. 

Not every gym is going to have this kind of inventory.  

Barbell Rows Build More Upper-Body Muscle 

Somewhat surprisingly, power cleans are relatively ineffective at building upper body muscle. 

Most of the power comes from your legs, and the exercise revolves around building as much momentum as possible which takes the emphasis off your muscles. 

The barbell row, on the other hand, is a great muscle builder. 

When done correctly, you can build your entire back with just barbell rows alone.  

There Are Easier Ways to Build Explosiveness 

While power cleans may be good at building explosiveness, there are easier/more effective ways to achieve similar goals.  

Power cleans target your whole body, albeit never really hitting a single muscle group all too efficiently. 

By simply focusing on improving explosiveness in other exercises like the squat, bench press, or shoulder press, you will experience far greater results.  

Power Cleans Won’t Increase Your Deadlifts 

If deadlifting is important to you, then it’s important to know that power cleans have next to no crossover. 

Power cleans do not hit the back very well, and the time under tension for the legs is minimal at best.  

If you want to increase your deadlifts, you need to focus more on back builders like the barbell row or pull-ups.  

No Power Cleans Then? 

If you want to be a competitive Olympic weightlifter or just enjoy trying out different exercises from time to time, then power cleans are a great exercise. 

However, if you are just interested in building overall muscle and strength and are not actively seeking to build up your power clean, then doing them might just be a waste of time.  

Barbell Row – FAQs 


What Muscles Does the Barbell Row Work? 

The barbell row primarily works muscles in the back, such as the lats and traps.  

It also hits biceps but to a much lesser degree. 

Can Beginners Barbell Row? 

Yes, beginners can barbell row.  

The barbell row is a relatively safe exercise that uses less weight than other compound exercises, making it great for beginners.  

What are Good Barbell Row Progressions? 

Some good barbell row progressions are pendlay rows, T-bar rows, and inverted rows. 

What are the Differences Between the Dumbbell and Barbell Row? 

The differences between the dumbbell and barbell row are that dumbbell rows provide greater isolation for certain back muscles, while barbell rows allow you to use more overall weight.

How High Should I Row the Barbell to the Chest? 

You should try to get the barbell as close as you can to the lower rib cage. 

If you are bringing the barbell to your chest, you are practising barbell rows incorrectly.  

What Should I Do If I Can’t Keep My Back Flat During a Bent-Over Barbell Row? 

If you can’t keep your back flat during a bent-over barbell row you should reduce the weight and focus on your form.  

This will help you avoid injury and increase your strength in the long run since you will have a stronger base to pull from.  

We hope this article will be of use to you.  

The barbell row is one of the most effective back-builders out there, and including it in your routine is going to give you countless benefits. 

Whether you want your back to bulge out of your shirt or just want to become the strongest version of yourself, the barbell row has a little something to offer to everyone.  

If you would like more informational fitness content, don’t be afraid to check out the rest of what we have at MovingForwards

See you next time.