Tip: Better Barbell Rowing

What to do before you ever lift the bar, plus some great advice about form.

Photo Credit: Jason Haden

Here's how to make the basic barbell row more effective:

  1. Engage your lats before you ever pick the bar up off the floor. Notice how I turn my elbows back and squeeze my lats down. The lats help to stabilize the lumbar spine.
  2. Set your base. The old analogy is, "You can't shoot a cannon out of a canoe." So before you pick the bar up, you need to stabilize through the midsection by breathing into the diaphragm. This will push the abs down, push the obliques out, and activate/contract the lats. This will help to solidify a strong position in the lumbar spine, lessening your chance for injury.

The other part of setting your base is to keep your weight on your heels and load the posterior chain. Every compound movement you do has to start with a base to work from and stabilize the support structure involved.

Form Nazis vs. Actual Big Guys

There seems to be two camps when it comes to rows. There's the form Nazi camp who says you have to stay super rigid and not move your knees or torso at all, other than to hold position. And then there's the people who go way, way too heavy with rowing movements.

But the commonality with guys who have built big backs usually falls somewhere in the middle. It's hard to row with any significant amount of weight if you're trying to do rows like a Pilates instructor.

However, if you've turned a row into a movement that resembles a monkey on meth trying to mate with the barbell, then it's kinda hard to actually feel the rhomboids and upper back contacting.

Here is my take: Make sure the barbell is below the knee at the bottom part of every rep. Torso raising a bit to move the concentric (lifting) portion of each rep if fine as long as you're not standing straight up. If you're getting some twerk action going on, lighten the weight.