While many gymnasts prefer other rowing styles — cable and machine rows, for example — the barbell row remains the mother of all back builders. Form errors are more likely to occur with the barbell row than with variants with more support, such as chest-supported machine rows. Nevertheless, the barbell row remains an unadulterated classic that, when performed properly, provides a solid foundation for your back training. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the following common mistakes.
1. NOT BENDING OVER FAR ENOUGH
The barbell row is also called the bent-over barbell row and for good reason: for an optimal range of motion (ROM) you have to bend completely forward. You often see that the exercise is performed quasi-upright. That way you train little other than your traps and your legs, also against a disproportionate effort. For muscle gains in the upper back, which is what the exercise is for, bend over as far as you can without rounding your lower back. Exactly how deep that is differs from person to person, but at least with an angle of 45 degrees.
2. ROUNDING THE LOWER BACK
The fact that many ignore the barbell row may be because the exercise requires a strong, straight lower back. As with deadlifts, systematically rounding the lower back can lead to injury. Moreover, with a rounded lower back you cannot use your pull muscles optimally and therefore you are less strong in the exercise.
Below you can see what we mean: how not to start the exercise and how to correct it.
If you want to spare your lower back, it is better to choose a rowing variant with support, such as the incline dumbbell bench row .
3. NOT STRETCHING THE SHOULDER BLADES
The barbell row is not only meant to build a broad back, but also to build a thick back. After all, the row is the perfect exercise to develop the middle traps and rhomboids, muscles that give you such an impressive alien back.
To optimally stimulate the mid-range of your upper back, you should slightly lengthen, or stretch, your shoulder blades at the bottom of the exercises, without rounding your lower back. By extending we mean pulling them slightly forward so that you can then make a maximum contraction. That then looks like this:
4. NO DEAD HANG
For maximum muscle growth you must create a maximum stimulus and therefore also a maximum ROM, or stretch. With the barbell row, this means that you let your arms ‘hang’ completely at the bottom, like a dead hang, and that you don’t start your next rep halfway through.
What not to do and how to do it, respectively:
5. NOT TOUCHING THE BELLY
Another way to smuggle pieces of ROM is not to touch the belly. The bar should touch your stomach at the top — where exactly, it doesn’t matter that much: touch low, below your navel, you will stimulate the lats a little more (for back width), touch high, more towards your chest, you will stimulate your mid-upper back slightly (for back thickness).
6. USING MOMENTUM
The purpose of the barbell row is not to move the weight, but to train your upper back muscles. It is therefore not the intention to use your entire possessions to be able to move as heavy a bar as possible.
Make sure you’re shifting the weight with your back, so that you don’t sway and sway with your body, or whatever: your hips stay in place and only your arms and shoulder blades move.
So it shouldn’t be like this:
7. NO ECCENTRIC CONTROL
Many iron eaters like to keep up the pace; they conveniently forget how important the eccentric, or negative, phase of an exercise is in creating the stimulus. Not that that phase has to last light years, but at least ensure a controlled movement that lasts for one to a few seconds.
For this reason, Pendlay Rows are not recommended for bodybuilders — they are a great exercise for weightlifters, but lack a controlled eccentric phase.
If hypertrophy is your (main) goal, then you control the eccentric phase:
8. FAILURE BY YOUR GRIP
With barbell rows you train your back muscles first and foremost, so if the set gets too heavy, it must be your back muscles that give up. Is it your grip strength that makes you fail? Then use versa gripps, so that you can fully concentrate on the target muscle.
9. USING TOO HIGH OR TOO LOW WEIGHT
To maximize hypertrophy, it is best to train in different rep ranges. The low range, from 5 to 10 reps, is best used with (weighted) pull-ups and deadlifts. With barbell rows, partly to realize a good mind-muscle connection, it is best to train in the range of 10 to 20 repetitions: not too heavy and not too light.