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Barbell Rows: Chest vs. Stomach

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Barbell Rows: Chest vs. Stomach
Row a barbell to the lowest ribs. Photo Credit xalanx/iStock/Getty Images

You hinge from your hips, pull a barbell with your arms and squeeze together your shoulder blades. A barbell row seems simple enough, until you start to really examine the movement. How far you hinge and where you aim the bar can make all the difference in a proper barbell row.

Ultimately, you want to hinge your hips to 90 degrees, so your back is parallel to the floor. You hold the bar with an overhand grip hanging straight down from your shoulders over your mid-foot. The most efficient and effective motion is to then pull the bar up in a vertical line from the floor to your lower chest. But, as with most exercises, you sometimes have to make exceptions — for the barbell row, this means that sometimes you'll pull toward your navel.

Hip Angle Matters

A proper barbell row has you hinge forward from the hips so that your back is parallel to the floor. Rising up too high — to, say, 45 degrees — takes a lot of the exercise's emphasis away from your latissimus dorsi and traps and puts it into your hips and thighs.

The angle also matters because the 90-degree angle at the hips allows you to pull the bar more effectively to your lower chest. If you don't hinge enough, you're tempted to pull the bar to the belly button, which sometimes reduces the effectiveness of the row in training the back muscles.

Note that as you pull a heavy weight to your chest, your torso will rise slightly with the momentum of the lift. That's OK, but don't let it go much more than 15 degrees higher than parallel to the floor.

Read More: Bent-Over Rows vs. T-Bar Rows

Other Complicating Factors

Exactly to where on your lower chest you pull the bar depends on your physique and your grip. People with shorter torsos have less choice as to where along the chest the bar will hit. An underhand grip is more likely to encourage the bar to come to a lower position on your chest than an overhand grip.

An Argument for Pulling to the Abdomen

As you hinge forward, you might find tight hamstrings prevent you from getting your back parallel to the floor. Putting a slight bend into your knees helps you find the right hinge angle without making your hammies cry out. However, you might still find it nearly impossible to hinge all the way to 90 degrees.

Also, recognize that a 90-degree hinge from the hips, especially when combined with rowing a heavy barbell, can put a lot of pressure on the low back and just be unsustainable for many people.

A 90-degree angle might be too low for many people.
A 90-degree angle might be too low for many people. Photo Credit Click_and_Photo/iStock/Getty Images

Hinging forward also often manifests in a rounded back, which can cause pain, lead to disc herniation and diminish the effectiveness of the exercise. Engage your abs, visualize your collarbones spreading and reach the crown of your head forward to minimize rounding.

If, however, you find that bending your knees and visualizing a long spine just doesn't get you to the bent-over position that's ideal, hinge less aggressively and pull the barbell to your abdomen. Drawing to the navel keeps your arms pulling back and squeezing your shoulder blades together, rather than shrugging the shoulders and cheating the lift because you're so uncomfortable. Your back will still benefit from the rowing action.

Read More: What are the Benefits of Bent-Over Rows?

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