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Barbell Rows: 3 Variations to Build a Bigger & Stronger Back

This back exercise is notorious for it's crazy pump and ability to create a bigger and stronger back.


There are multiple variations to this exercise, yet all predominantly target your upper back, with primary movers being your trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi.


This exercise also requires the recruitment of your core, lower back, and your arms when properly performed.


Making for one of the top compound exercises to target back.


Let's fly into a few of my favorite variations of this exercise and talk about form.


Starting with the most common, the 45 degree pronated grip variation.


Now that you've seen how the exercise is supposed to look, let's break it down into pictures.


Starting from the beginning, first align your feet at approximately shoulder width apart under the bar.


Next, align your grip pronated (palms down) at just outside shoulder width apart. This allows you a greater range of motion when pulling through your elbows.


For any compound exercise, I usually perform it without shoes because it makes me feel more grounded except for this demonstration. A good pair of flat soled lifting shoes will also do the trick.


With your feet properly placed and grip locked in, the next step is lift off.


Start by engaging your lower back and core. When you're properly engaged, you should create a straight line with your back, almost parallel to the ground.


As you can see, I'm using a training belt in this demonstration.


I use a training belt because it helps me remember to keep my lower back and core engaged, helping avoid any injury.


After firing out of the set position with your lower back and core engaged, I like to come to a standing position, similar to as if I performed a deadlift.


This is important for better activating your back muscles, as you can see my shoulders are rolled back as I pinch my shoulder blades, activating the same muscles that are about to be recruited during the rowing portion of the exercise.


Leading into the next frame, notice how my eyes are locked onto something that is directly in front of my vision when standing.

Keeping your eyes locked onto something in front of you helps keep your head up and lower back/core engaged.


Focus on rolling your shoulders forward, allowing a good stretch (extension) through your upper back muscles, which will increase range of motion (ROM) and muscle fibers recruited.


Come down to roughly a 45 degree angle between your upper body and the ground, keeping a slight bend through the knees.


While maintaining the same stance, pull the bar up to your midsection.


Notice how I roll my shoulders back, squeezing my shoulder blades, in doing so, puffing out my chest.


When rowing, focus on kicking your elbows out behind you.


Imagine as if there were a string pulling through your elbows, meanwhile keeping the bar roughly parallel with your thighs throughout the exercise.


Continue to repeat the last 2 demonstrations until failure in your form or strength, and that's how you successfully complete the Barbell - Bent Over Row (Pronated Grip) at 45 degrees.


Now that you have the demonstration of how to properly complete the Barbell - Bent Over Row, I'm going to show you how to add different variations to the exercise.


Starting with switching up the angle of your stance from 45 degrees to 90 degrees, keeping a pronated grip.



For the 90 degree variation, your stance should be the same as the 45 degree variation with feet aligned at shoulder width apart and pronated grip outside of shoulder width apart.


As you can see, my back is at or close to parallel with the ground.


My shoulders are rolled forward, increasing range of motion with my upper back muscles.


This is the set position, for each rep I reset to this starting point which takes all the momentum out of the exercise. Lifting from the ground each time.


When firing off the ground, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades and pulling through your elbows.


You can see that my lower backs positioning has increased minimally and my upper back past the belt is arched as I've activated my entire latissimus dorsi, along with my trapezius, rhomboids, rear deltoids, and biceps.


If you're looking to target your overall back, this variation should be a no brainer in your routine.


Again, repeat both demonstration pictures until failure in form/strength.


Now that we've seen how the Barbell - Bent Over Row looks at 45 and 90 degrees, let's change up the grip.



This next demonstration I will be showing you how the Barbell - Bent Over Row looks at 45 degrees with a supinated grip (palms out).


This variation is entirely similar to the pronated grip, but in turn activates more of your biceps.


I would recommend using this variation if your workout split involves both back and biceps on the same day.


Just like the pronated version, feet at shoulder width apart, hands aligned outside of shoulder width, and leaning at roughly a 45 degree angle.


When thinking about how it feels to roll your shoulders forward, allow your shoulder blades to completely relax and not flexing a muscle in your arms except your forearms (grip).


Again, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling up through your elbows.


As you can see, my biceps are more activated than in the other demonstrations.


If you're new to this exercise, I advise starting light and feeling out your form starting from the ground up.


If a lifting belt is available to you, use it. I adjust mine so its not super tight but tight enough to remind me to always keep my core and lower back engaged.



Key Takeaways:

  1. Align feet at shoulder width apart.

  2. Align grip outside of shoulder width apart.

  3. For 45 degree variations, come to a standing position before bending into position.

  4. Come set, allowing your shoulder blades to relax, rolling your shoulders forward.

  5. Fire into flexion by squeezing your shoulder blades, rolling your shoulders back, puffing your chest, and focus on pulling through your elbows.

  6. Repeat 4-5 until failure of form/strength.

  7. Use a lifting belt if available to you.

I hope you found this blog demonstration of the Barbell - Bent Over Row helpful and informative. Make sure to leave a like at the below and leave a comment if you have any questions about how to complete the exercise!


If you're looking to incorporate this exercise into your workout routine or looking to try something new, contact Dylan Kosek by filling out the Flight Physiques Questionnaire on our Home Page. Dylan will be in contact with you within 24 hours to begin your FREE 1 on 1 consultation.


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