The bent over barbell row is an amazing back exercise that gives you a strong and wide back, strong erectors, and carries over to a bigger bench. Having a strong back will also help you with bigger deadlifts and bigger squats.
Warm Up Properly
The more I learn about myself and about other lifters, the more important warming up becomes. I recently learned I’ve been doing too many “warm up sets” that actually are making my work sets harder. The nervous system is finicky and you are going to have to really log your sessions and find what works best for you. All warming up is really doing is raising your body temperature, getting the blood flowing, and getting the nervous system prepared for work sets; these should not stress your body at all.
Log Your Sessions
Logging your sessions is essential to your progress. How do you know what works and what doesn’t if you just go to the gym and throw some weight on the bar? If you do not track your progress and keep tabs on exactly what you are doing in the gym, you could be wasting your potential to grow and get stronger. Log your workouts, kids.
Work towards adding 5 more pounds to the bar or adding another rep to your set. If you do not work towards adding weight or reps to your workouts, you are not going to get stronger and build muscle. Hitting a plateau is a completely different thing.
Remember, the secret to lifting more weight is…. lifting more weight.
We have all seen videos of a mother lifting a car off of her baby or a man picking up a helicopter to help save a pilot. The adrenaline rush that you get to have super human strength is real and can be tapped into if we need it. Our body puts “brakes” on our ability to use our adrenaline so we do not get injured. Having the power to pick up 800 pounds and having the ability to do it is two different things.
You ever see a powerlifting event and see people screaming and look like they would murder the bar if they could? They are tapping into their rage and lifting with their adrenaline. Lifting with controlled anger and treating the lift with some urgency is going to give you more strength. It takes some practice to utilize this, but practice with your favorite songs and you will see how big of a difference it will make.
Record Your Sessions
Recording your sessions will give you a first person view on your form. This is needed if you want to get stronger and stay as injury free as possible. The barbell row doesn’t really have cues for showing weak spots but if you feel your lower back is hurting after your set, you have some video to see if you may be letting your back round or what you might be doing wrong.
The best thing about recording your sessions is you have proof of your huge ass rows when someone asks if you even lift.
Watch Your Form
Watch your form on video and be sure to do your rows safely. You’re going to push yourself and you might get sloppy in form, but just keep it as tight as you can. Nothing worse than getting injured because you were careless. Below are a couple of cues for form.
“Pull With Your Elbows”
When you grab onto that bar and pick it up, picture your body pulling your elbows. Don’t picture holding the bar and pulling the bar to you. It’s hard for me to explain the cue, but when you feel it, you’ll know. You won’t have sore arms and biceps and you will add massive weight to your rows when you feel out this cue.
Play with your grip width when doing rows. People say to use your bench width, others say wider, others say closer, so find what feels the best for you. I prefer mine a little closer than my bench press width; about what my close grip bench would be at.
I always recommend starting at your bench grip width and going from there.
Sit back? This isn’t squats? When you go to pull a deadlift, when you sit back and preload your hamstrings, I want you to do this once you bend into position for your rows. This is going to take pressure off of your lower back and you are going to feel the load on the hamstrings. Just picture standing on your heels and keeping your butt out a little bit more. Just like “pulling with your elbows,” you will have to practice and feel this out. When you hit it right, you are going to know it.
Make Form a Habit
Every day you walk into the gym, get your form down in your head. It takes a lot of reps and a lot of setting up to make your form a habit. When your form becomes a habit, you have no questions on where your grip should be or how your stance should look. Recently I worked with a monolift and different bars and had no problem adjusting to the different bars and racks. You just have to have your form engrained in your head and be able to literally do it with your eyes closed.
This goes along with pulling with attitude but if you really want to get stronger you are going to have to row as hard as you can. Yes being controlled and feeling the muscle work is great, but this is a power move so move the weight as fast as you can. Throughout the whole row you need to think about pulling faster and harder, whether or not it is moving faster.
Pull with force, follow through with the motion and just row like your life depends on it.
Don’t let grip strength limit your ability to row. I can row my heaviest weight without straps but I feel myself losing grip and I don’t tend to pull quite as explosive as I like so I use straps. There’s nothing wrong with using straps so use them and get stronger.
Squeeze the Bar
With any exercise, squeezing the bar is going to engage more muscles and create a response in your nervous system to pull more. Try it and see.
You are on your last set of rows and you feel fatigued. You get your first couple reps out and you start getting so fatigued in your lats you can’t pull full reps, use your glutes and partially deadlift the weight and pull that shit up. Next week use the same weight and if you’ve properly rested and eaten I bet you get them no problem. Be safe but don’t give up.
When I do rows my abs hurt afterwards, it’s a great core builder and having a stronger core will help protect your back and spine from injuries. Be sure to fully breathe into your stomach and flex your abs to create intra-abdominal pressure and really get some reps out. I can’t stress enough how much of a difference this can make on all of your lifts.
Strong Upper Back
Having a strong upper back is the name of the game and barbell rows help build it. Having a strong upper back will allow you to bench more and helps in every lift. Use a good workout routine that will help you build a stronger back so you can really hit your lifts heavy.
I consider a barbell row an assistance lift to your squat, bench, and deadlift.
Assistance lifts that help build a bigger barbell bent over row:
- Face pulls
- 1 Arm dumbbell rows
- Reverse hypers
- Heavy deadlifts
- Rack Pulls
- Seated Rows
- Pull ups
To build strength, your nervous system gets more efficient and recruits more muscle fibers. You must recover properly with food and rest if you want to lift big. Treat your nervous system with respect and cut down stress, eat well, and get enough sleep.
Patience is a must. You won’t be able to row with the best of them your first week and you aren’t going to have a 4 foot wide lat spread in 2 months. Take time and add weight to the bar and get stronger. This is a lifestyle and takes longer than a couple of months to really see progress.
A good goal for you to set is to have your bent over barbell row as strong as your bench press. The closer they are, the more balanced your physique and strength will be. Most lifters’ rows are a lot weaker than their bench and with an increased strength in barbell rows come a bigger bench; keep that in mind.