Bar Row: technique, execution, and muscles involved

Bar Row: technique, execution, and muscles involved

The Bar Row exercise that stimulates the biggest amount of muscle mass, is the variant which places the bar to rest on the ground on completing each rep (inclining the torso 90 degrees )

Muscles involved in the Bar Row

The Bar Row involves a large number of muscle groups, both directly and indirectly.

This exercise serves as a principal antagonist for Bench Press, and both exercises should be given the same importance, in order to avoid imbalances or disproportion in both the aesthetic and muscular sense.
  • Bench Press -> Horizontal Thrust
  • Bar Row -> Horizontal Pull

The muscles and areas that will be worked out as part of the Bar Row are:

Upper Back

When performing the pull, we notice a scapular contraction, lifting up the bar until it touches our chest. Therefore, we are working on the area of the lats, trapeziums, and posterior deltoids.

Lower Back

The lumbar region must be neutral, to avoid any risk of injury. Gravity causes the back to bend, as this is determined by the vertical force vector by the bar. In this way, we can perform opposing force and strengthen the muscles along the spine: the erectors.

Abs

The muscles of the abdomen must withstand the tension so that your lower sword is in a neutral position. This force will help work on getting the much desired “6-pack”, specifically, when working on the abdominal rectum. If you are looking to tone and define your abs through hypertrophic stimulus, this will help you to grow them. The other crucial part, of course, is diet…

Hips

The femoral and gluteal muscles work with muscle contraction, that is, through each execution, when moving the bar up from the ground. Your body will do this in order to maintain muscle curvature during the movement. This exercise stimulates and strengthens the hip muscles, through dynamic and static contractions.

Arms

The forearm muscles work to maintain grip on the bar. The biceps will allow you to bend your elbow and move your weight. Your triceps will bring the upper arm up to behind the torso, with the long head of the triceps meeting the shoulder blade.

Bar Row will allow you to work out the whole back, without the need to do other types of exercises or approach the group from other angles, or require such an amount of time, only working out one part of the back individually, where of course the load can’t be very high, as it implies greater muscle isolation.

If you are looking to create muscle mass and strengthen your back, while also obtaining great muscle mass, the Barbell Row with Deadlift is the best exercise to do and you can combine the two.

Rowing Technique with Barbell

Starting position

The starting position begins with placing the feet in line with the hips, with the tips of the feet facing outwards slightly, forming approximately an angle of between 30-45º, according to our flexibility, as is the case when performing a Deadlift .

How to do a bar row

It is important that the knees and feet are pointing the same direction. The bar will rest close to the tibia, not making contact, several cm apart, keeping it in between the feet (instep).

Try to imagine that the bar will draw an imaginary line from the centre of your foot up to your chest, in a perpendicular fashion . If we rest the bar on our shins, when lifting the weight upwards, we might hurt ourselves. Throughout the execution of the movement, the feet stay flat on the ground, it’s important that we don’t lift any part of the foot up, especially not the heel or toes.

Grip the bar

The grip of choice here is the prone grip.

In this type of grip, we are going to fully grasp the bar, that is, the thumbs should wrap around the bar. This will mean that we can grip the bar tighter. In addition, a stronger grip leads to involving more muscle, and of course, being able to add more weight to the bar. It is recommended you grip close to the fingers and not in the middle of the palm.

Width of grip rowing bar

For very heavy loads or series, you can use Straps or Grip Straps, to eliminate the grip limitation and get the maximum benefit from this exercise.

It also goes without saying that we should work on grip in general, through auxiliary exercises, since we should always be seeking to strengthen all parts of our body.

The width of the grip should be tighter than that of the Bench Press and slightly wider than that of the Deadlift. A broader grip (greater than that of the Bench Press) will shorten the range of movement, causing us to tilt our arms, and the upper body to lean further forward, bringing its position lower than 90º.

On the other hand, if the grip is more centred or narrower (less than the bench press) we can maintain a position perpendicular to the floor (the most desirable position), without rounding our lower back, while keeping our hips in a neutral position. This is, in any case, a much safer posture for the back

Wrists

The wrists are a weak point in any type of exercise, if we do not maintain a correct position during the execution of the movement.

In the case of rowing with a bar (Bar Row) this is no less true, in fact, it is even more serious and we could do ourselves a lot of damage if we perform a bad grip. As mentioned above, the grip must be a full one, that is to say, your thumbs should be fully wrapped around the bar, in a tight grip.

Bar row execution

It’s important that the wrists stay straight, never bent, since we would lose our grip, and we could risk injury if the load of weight is high.

If for any reason, you find that your technique is different from the one we are showing you in this article , and that you have to bend your wrists to bring the bar to your chest, the most recommended action is to lower the weight of the bar

Elbows

The elbows should be in a locked position at the beginning of the movement. Any other position would create a risk of lower back injury, as the upper body will be lower than the desired position (perpendicular to the floor). Another important reason for this is to avoid picking up bad habits when doing exercises like the Deadlift. In this exercise, starting with the elbows in a locked position is crucial to avoid a serious bicep injury.

In a barbell row, bear in mind that we are not trying to perform a curl, since the purpose of the exercise is the strengthening of the muscles of the back (and as mentioned, indirectly strengthen the rest of the muscle structure).

Rowing technique

In this case, the elbows guide the bar, that is, in the final position of the complete movement, the elbows should be kept behind the rest of the body

Two common mistakes:
  1. Bringing the chest closer to the bar when we are near the end of the movement, without pushing the elbows back behind the torso
  2. Bending the wrists, to direct the bar to the chest, still keeping the elbows in good position

Both errors pertain to a situation where your weight load is too high, and reducing it is the wisest choice, which will result in a more correct and healthier movement. If you want to keep improving your technique, you can record your lifting and then view it afterwards

Torso

The Bar Row’s main aim is to strengthen the back muscles, and therefore, the position that we should take up for this exercise is 90º, that is, our torso (lower back muscles) will remain perpendicular to the ground at all times.

Any other variation that doesn’t involve this this posture means that you are involving other muscle groups such as the legs.

Torso posture with bar 90º

The lower back posture gives us a good idea of whether we are executing the movement correctly, in addition to of course checking that it is safe

The natural arch of the lower back must be maintained, avoiding both retroversion and anteversion of the pelvis

Lower Back

The spine has natural curvatures (lordosis and kyphosis). Although these curvatures exist from an internal anatomical point of view, it isn’t seen like this “on the surface”, looking more like a straight line.

For this reason, if very noticeable curvatures can be seen, this should be interpreted as a lack of neutrality, and therefore instability of the structure

Tilting of the torso when lifting the weight load

In the starting position, we will start from a completely perpendicular position.

Inclination torso

When lifting a load, especially a heavy one, our torso can maintain an angle of about 15º, which, however, we can maintain without involving the hip muscles</ em>

Beyond this figure, the exercise will start to look more like a deadlift, and this is not the goal. Due to this fact, it’s important to set a 15º limit

Execution of the Bar Row

Start

The bar starts in exactly the same position as when doing a deadlift. The bar rests above your feet, against the tibias (separating the bar from them implies putting greater tension on the lower back).

Generally speaking, being stood upright with your feet firmly on the floor takes away stress on the lower back and tends to better occupy the upper back in the first phase of movement.

  • Grab the bar at roughly the same width you would do for a bench press (slightly less wide). This allows for a greater transfer to it and will greatly improve quality.
  • The Bar Row should be done in an opposite movement.
  • Although you can grip in both supine and prone techniques, it is recommended to use a prone grip with your thumb firmly around the bar.
  • This is how it really transfers the exercise to the bench press.

Types of grip

If you opt for a supine grip, the width at which you grip the bar should be smaller, the closer the elbows are together the better, to allow for more work in the central area of the back.

Prone grips minimise the action of the biceps, particularly the false prone grip. The supine grip moves part of the effort to the biceps in a more stressed way and tends to shift the muscular action towards the middle and lower groups.

It’s important that the bar touches the chest. If the bar does not hit the chest or any solid surface, it is like only doing the exercise partially. You won’t allow yourself to properly finish the full movement for the exercise and as a result, won’t be getting the most out of the exercise.

When should I breathe?

We should take a deep breath in our starting position

This should be a very deep breath, holding in the air, tightening our torso, and proceeding to row! If we start out like this, it’ll prove to be a lifeline especially when lifting large loads.

Positioning the back

Always keep your upper back parallel to the ground. Be sure not to let your ego get the better of you by trying to do an inclined row

It is much better to use less weight and perform the exercise correctly, as doing things in this way will help you progress more generally. If your Bar Rowing ends up being a 45 ° Row, and you’re helping yourself with your legs, you are probably using too much weight. Lower it.

In general, as the vertical angle increases, the effort moves from the upper groups of the back to the lower and middle muscle groups.

Start each series and each rep from the ground and not from above, and don’t try to withstand the weight without reaching to the ground either. The greatest contraction of the upper back occurs if you pull the bar up from the ground whilst in a standing position, and definitely not if you let it just hang in the air

Up to what point do I need to lift the bar?

The answer is simple, exactly to the same point where you rest the bar when doing Bench Press, or at least until you contact a solid surface

In general, bringing the bar up to the chest requires more stabilising action from the lower back, while bringing it to the stomach puts more tension on the upper and middle back.

Let your elbows guide you

Lift with your elbows

This is a trick that will help you focus your workout on the back, and not turn this row into a bicep exercise, with the knock-on risk that entails. Pull your elbows towards the ceiling instead of just pulling with your hands.

This also stops also you from bending or twisting your wrists. Remember to avoid curling! This is not a curl exercise!

Scapular Retraction

This is simply mandatory and a technique that will be applied in other exercises, including the bench press.

End position

Try to tense and squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can while pushing your chest upwards.

  • It is not enough to simply retract the scapulae, it is also important to move them down for greater compaction.
  • It is not necessary to keep the weight isometrically elevated. Touching the chest and going back down is more than enough for this exercise.
  • Keep your head down. Don’t try to look in the mirror as this could result in neck ache. Don’t look at your feet either, your lower back could become rounded, and similarly to the deadlift, you could injure yourself.
  • You just need to tilt your neck slightly.

Video of Bar Row (Rowing at 90º)

Biomechanical Analysis of the Bar Row

Both the bar or dumbbell row, in addition rowing with pulleys, lever machines and TRX are exercises which should definitely feature as important components of any workout routine.

Personally, training by movement is one of the methods that I most encourage given how easy it is to organize the workout and balance a routine. Therefore, rowing would constitute an exercise in horizontal traction since it is mostly executed in anteroposterior planes (although it depends on the inclination in their execution) with force vectors that run perpendicular to the body.

Although it may seem surprising, in order to achieve an optimal balance: do the same volume (with similar weight load) of weekly horizontal thrusts, where the bench press is king compared with rows.

One of the appreciable differences is the inclination of the torso when doing them

Most rowing movements involve stabilisation of the spine, which involves intrinsic variables such as the weight on the spine, the degrees of movement of the spine and the ability to remain immobile during the movement.

Spinal load

Shear forces are more damaging to the spine than compression forces that occur with axial load, however the muscular activity of the spinal muscles to maintain posture can actually create compression forces.

Spinal load

Therefore, although the rowing movement is anteroposterior, axial efforts will also be significant in the spine

Degree of spinal movement

Since the spinal column is subjected to significant shear forces during rowing movements, unless the muscles around the spinal column create forces to prevent its movement, these shear forces will cause flexion of the spinal column.

Despite the fact that a certain amount of movement in any of the three spatial planes is considered acceptable in most populations, reducing spinal movement is better for many individuals, especially flexo-extension or torsion movements.

The rotational movement is somewhat peculiar because in one-hand dumbbell rowing, as well as in exercise that is executed unilaterally, this flex is great and could even be the main advantage of the exercise depending on your goals..

Maximum rom percentage

The graph shows the movements of the spine in a normalised form, as well as a percentage of the maximum range of movement provided by the spine</ p>

The bar row is performed with 40% of the maximum flexo-extension available, while performing the row one handed with a cable allows for 70% of the ROM.

Stiffness

Spinal stiffness describes the ability of the spine to remain stationary in the sagittal plane, while being exposed to high shear forces. If the spine moves little during high loads, it is generally considered a very good indicator of spinal stability.

Looking further than this individual exercise, this factor is determined by the person’s own core strength and resistance used.

Muscle activity abs

Secondarily, it does seem that unilateral movements activate the obliques more, but staying aware and keeping control of the core set can ensure that there are no significant differences in total abdomen activation when looking at the three exercises shown, providing a solid base for it to be carried out correctly.

Muscle activity

The Bar Row fosters increased overall activity of the back muscles, including the lower back, and further challenges spinal stability by creating high compressive forces and a tendency for flexo-extension movements.

Back muscle activity

On the other hand, suspension exercises are suitable for those who suffer from lower back pain and help to avoid both compression forces on the spine and rotational movements

Bar Row according to inclination

If we look at the information shown on the previous graph, it’s easy to see that the Bar Row is positioned as the best bilateral exponent of this type of exercise, although different variants of it can be observed.

This exercise will also strengthen and increase the size of agonists (ridges, rhomboids and trapezius more prominently), but also spinal erectors, and to a certain extent, glutes and hamstrings. When done correctly, the mechanics of the hip joint can transfer favourably to a deadlift in the maximum hip flexion phase (at the beginning of the movement).

From experience, I think the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about rowing is that of inclined rowing.

Far from being a complement to this exercise, the trend is to see this as the standard rowing in training; which in my opinion is a mistake. The upper body has a fairly vertical position (approximately 70 degrees from the ground), which allows us to lift heavier weights, and this is where it is often wrongly assumed that muscle activity will somehow be greater than in a Classic Row or Pendlay Row.

The activity carried out by the upper trapezius and biceps is certainly greater than that experienced in these rows mentioned above, but if the main objective is to work the dorsal as a whole (with greater emphasis on the dorsal and rhomboids), it should be replaced by the exercise that we’re going to see in the next article.

This movement is limited in terms of the range of movement that it permits, and can clearly denote a lack of flexibility (shortening) of the posterior chain

Conclusions

Without ruling out any variant, but always trying to achieve the most efficient training possible, the 90-degree Bar Row is the horizontal pull exercise that most works out the back as a whole

If the goal is muscle hypertrophy, the bar should not be rested between repetitions. At the most, you could allow it to lightly touch the ground.

When aiming for strength-power, the Pendlay Row seems to be better as long as there is a little muscle relaxation between repetitions, always bearing in mind that we shouldn’t lose the protection provided by the body’s core as a whole.

Bibliography

  • Bradsley, C. (2012). How do rowing exercises differ?. http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com. Recuperado el 18 de mayo de 2015 de http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2012/10/24/how-do-rowing-exercises-differ/.
  • Contreras, B. (2014). How to do a Bent-Over Row. http://bretcontreras.com/. Recuperado el 18 de mayo de 2015 de http://bretcontreras.com/how-to-bent-over-row/
  • Fenwick, C. M., Brown, S. H., & McGill, S. M. (2009). Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(2), 350-358.

Related articles

Assessment: Bar Row

Growth of back muscles - 95%

Effect on muscle mass - 95%

Easy to perform - 85%

Gain strength - 92%

Link to other exercises - 95%

92%

HSN Evaluation: 4.75 /5
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About Mario Muñoz
Mario Muñoz
Mario Muñoz is passionate about everything that is related to the world of fitness. But what he enjoys the most is the research field.
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