Traditional barbell rows can put undue stress on the lower back, especially if you have a history of lower back issues. The risk just doesn't outweigh the reward when there are so many other options to choose from. Not to mention, you hardly ever see them done well. The "row" usually deteriorates into something that resembles a monkey humping a football.
Dead-stop rows (otherwise known as Pendlay rows) are better because the pause helps to keep the set under control and minimize cheating. But most people can't lower the bar all the way down to the floor without rounding their lower back, again making it a risky choice.
The Split-Stance Rack Row
To make barbell rows more lower-back friendly, try split-stance rack rows:
- Set the bar up in a power rack at a point where you can bend over and still keep a flat back, which will be somewhere between mid-shin and knee level.
- Address the bar with a split stance with the feet spaced about a foot apart, choosing whichever grip you like best.
- From there, row just like you would a regular barbell row, resetting the bar on the pins after each rep.
I like these better than regular barbell rows for a few reasons:
- Rowing from the pins lets you work in a range of motion that you can do safely.
- Using a split stance helps take a lot of stress off the lower back by allowing you to post up on the front leg. (You should feel this in your glutes.) You'll find it's much harder to round your back in a split stance than a symmetrical stance because the front leg serves almost like a safety brake, so it helps ensure that you maintain good alignment.
- The split stance discourages you from cheating too much because it's harder to get leg drive, making for a stricter row that you'll feel more in the upper back and less in the lower back, which is what we're going for.
These also work great if you have the Dead-Squat® Bar because you can take a wider stance without the bar hitting your front leg, and you can pull back farther at the top because you don't have to worry about the bar hitting your chest, making for a huge contraction.
It also allows for a semi-supinated grip, which I love because it hits the lats in much the same way as an underhand barbell row without the undue stress on the wrists that you get from a straight bar.
With both of these exercises, alternate which leg you place forward each set.