Barbell and dumbbell rows are compound multijoint exercises that help develop a powerful, muscular back. The stronglifts system advocates heavy weights and low repetitions that put considerable stress on the musculoskeletal structure, emphasizing the need for proper technique to reduce the risk of injury. Consult a certified fitness trainer if you are unsure how to perform any exercise.
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Performing Barbell Rows
To perform a barbell row, start by adopting a hip-width stance, and bend your knees slightly. Keep your back straight, push your butt and hips back to lean forward and grasp a barbell with a hip-width, overhand grip. Brace your core to protect your spine, maintain your body position and exhale as you row the barbell up to your upper waist with your elbows pointing upward. Inhale as you lower the barbell until your arms are straight in preparation for your next rep.
Performing Dumbbell Rows
The dumbbell row is also known as the single-arm row. Stand beside a bench and place your knee and supporting arm on the bench. Place your standing leg alongside the bench and lean forward to grasp a dumbbell. Keep your back straight and roughly parallel to the floor, then brace your core and exhale as you row the dumbbell upward to your ribs while retracting your scapula or shoulder blade. Inhale as you lower the dumbbell while depressing or rolling your scapula forward. Stop when the dumbbell is hanging straight down in preparation for your next rep. Switch arms after your desired number of repetitions.
Effectiveness of the Barbell Row
The barbell row, also known as the bent-over barbell row, is a challenging movement that engages your latissimus dorsi (or lats), rhomboids and trapezius. Your body position forces the erector spinae of your lower back, as well as other stabilizer muscles such as your hamstrings, glutes, abs and obliques, to kick in to stabilize your body. According to strength coach Charles Poliquin, this reduces the effectiveness of barbell rows in developing your upper back, because energy and focus is diverted from the target area while firing your stabilizer muscles. On the other hand, Mehdi Hadim, the founder of Stronglifts, believes the barbell row is crucial to gaining muscle and strength because you are able to easily apply the principle of progressive overload by adding extra weight to the barbell each workout.
Effectiveness of Dumbbell Rows
The dumbbell row works your lats, rhomboids and trapezius without the stress on your lower back associated with barbell rows, and your body position requires less activation of your stabilizer muscles. You are able to focus more on the target muscles and achieve a greater range of motion, particularly the scapula retraction and depression that is essential for fully engaging your lats and rhomboids.
Weights and Variations
If you are an experienced weightlifter and can handle very heavy weights for the single-arm dumbbell row, make sure you perform the exercise with proper technique and full range of motion to fully work your lats and rhomboids. One disadvantage of using heavy weights is you may be a bit fatigued when you switch arms. Avoid this by working your weaker arm first. Alternatively, do two-arm dumbbell rows by lying face down on an exercise bench with the incline set at approximately 60 degrees.