The barbell row – not only is it a key assistance exercise for increasing your squat, deadlift and bench press, but it’s also one of the most effective ways to build a thicker back. Done properly and with the right strength equipment, it’s a full body compound exercise which also recruits the use of the glutes, hamstrings, hips, abs and biceps.
But we don’t need to tell you how great the barbell row is – you’re probably already happily busting out set after set as part of your strength programme, BUT… are you really getting the most out of them?
Here are 5 simple tweaks you can make to take your barbell row up a notch. Bring on the bat wings!
1. THICK BAR TRAINING
Your back may be strong enough to row a heavier weight, but if your grip is failing first then you won’t be training heavy enough to properly fatigue the traps, rhomboids and lats.
Regular training with a thick bar will ensure your grip strength is keeping pace with your other strength gains. Add a couple of sets of thick bar rows to your programme using a dual grip row bar and your standard-grip rows will start to feel easy in no time.
2. UNDERHAND GRIP
Do you use an overhand grip for your barbell rows? Switch to an underhand grip position and you will transfer more load to the biceps – not only will you be working your biceps at the same time as your back, but you’ll also be able to lift heavier. Greater load = greater gains!
The underhand grip also helps to reinforce the ideal hip hinge position and prevent rounding of the back – a massive weakness for most lifters when it comes to deadlifts and Olympic movements.
3. EXTEND THE RANGE OF MOTION
The end of range point for a barbell row is when the bar meets your chest, right? With a normal barbell, that’s as far as you can go, but using a cambered or handled grip row bar allows you to extend the range of motion for increased muscular and strength development.
4. ISOLATE YOUR UPPER BACK
The posterior chain is under a significant amount of stress in a bent over row position. Many athletes struggle to hold the correct position for a full set, which means those last few reps usually end short – the lower back starts to go, the weight is lowered way too quickly or dropped to the floor. This means that time under tension during that crucial eccentric part of the lift is not as long as it could be.
Supported rows with a freestanding prone row bench allow you to take the lower back out of the equation and focus the movement on where it really counts, resulting in slower, more controlled reps that fully engage the lats, increasing isolation of the upper back without fatiguing or overusing the lower back.
5. TEST YOUR HORIZONTAL PULLING FORCE
How often do you test your 1RM for squat, deadlift and bench? It’s something we do all the time, but testing and monitoring your horizontal pulling force is important too!
Many athletes, particularly rugby teams, include horizontal pulling force tests as part of their regular fit testing. Calculating your pushing to pulling power ratio can really help to optimize your training.
A little inspiration for you – here is Gloucester Rugby team doing their push pull testing as part of their pre-season fitness testing…