The bent over row is a full-body exercise. Although it is predominantly a back exercise, the nature of the barbell bent over row means that other muscles are also recruited to hold the body in a static position. These include the calf complex, tibialis anterior, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, erectus spinae, trapezius and rhomboids. In addition, to perform the rowing action, the body will recruit the latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids and biceps.
Because the exercise uses a large number of back muscles, it’s known as a posterior kinetic chain exercise. This is beneficial as these muscles are responsible for the extension of the spine, which is generally good for posture and for everyday movements such as bending over and picking things up.
In addition, it’s a very good exercise for a personal trainer to set for a client wanting to improve their muscle size and muscle tone, as they will be lifting heavy weights during the exercise and the movement recruits a large number of muscles.
How to perform an over-hand grip barbell bent over row
To perform the movement, the client should stand with their feet just wider than hip-width apart, with an upright, stable posture and the barbell either on the floor or on a rack in front of them.
They should then bend slightly at their knees and hips and pivot at the hip until they are at a 45° angle to the floor and grip the bar with their palms facing down. Once in that position, the shoulder blades should be retracted with slight tension between them and the core muscles should be braced to keep a neutral spine.
From that position, the bar should be kept in-line with the shoulders and while it is being lifted in a controlled fashion, your client will squeeze their elbows and shoulder blades back. The bar should then be lowered to the length of the arms, again ensuring complete control throughout, without bouncing or swinging.
Progressing the exercise
The usual methods of progression apply: endurance to strength to hypertrophy.
Due to the static nature of the exercise, a personal trainer may find that their client feels fatigued in the lower back before they feel fatigued in the latissimus dorsi, which is the primary mover. If this occurs, the fitness instructor should explain to the client that this is not a sign of injury but simply the fact that their lower back is not used to being in this position for a long period of time and therefore has become fatigued. Over time, they will strengthen their lower back and, allowing the client to carry more weight through the latissimus dorsi.
The benefits of the exercise
Most personal trainers will be aware that as people tend to exercise in front of the mirror and focus on training the front of the body, it can lead to muscular imbalances, such as kyphosis (rounding of the shoulders).
By training the muscles on the back of the body through this exercise, it can retract the shoulder girdle, improving both posture and the aesthetic look of the body. It also means the client is less likely to develop an injury.