What are Barbell Rows?

D. Messmer

Barbell rows are specific training exercises that use free weights to work the upper back muscles, the shoulders and the biceps muscles. They require the athlete to bend forward while gripping a barbell, then to pull that barbell toward the chest. The exercise itself is relatively simple to perform, but it is crucial that the athlete pays close attention to his or her form, because failure to perform barbell rows correctly can lead to a back injury.

Barbell rows work the upper back, shoulders, and biceps.
Barbell rows work the upper back, shoulders, and biceps.

To begin the barbell rows, the athlete should stand straight with his or her feet roughly shoulder-width apart or, depending on how stable the athlete feels, possibly with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The athlete also should hold the barbell in the front using a pronated grip. While still firmly gripping the weight, the athlete then bends at the waist while also allowing a slight bend in the knees. It is important that this bending motion involves a slight arching of the lower back in order for the lumbar area of the back to have proper support. When in the proper position, the athlete will be facing the floor, but the upper body will not be completely parallel to the floor — the shoulders should be a little higher than the hips in order to maintain proper balance.

Barbell rows strengthen the biceps.
Barbell rows strengthen the biceps.

The arms should, at this point, be hanging below the torso and should be perpendicular to the floor. To perform barbell rows, the athlete then uses the upper back muscles as well as the biceps muscles to pull the barbell toward the chest. When the barbell is close to, or touching, the chest, the athlete then relaxes the back and arm muscles and allows gravity to pull the weight back toward the floor. When the arms are back to their original position, the athlete has completed one repetition of barbell rows.

While performing barbell rows, there are a few points that an athlete must keep in mind in order to protect the back from injury and in order to maintain balance while in a position that is potentially precarious. First, the feet should always remain flat on the floor, and the lower back should be slightly arched. At no point should the upper back or shoulders curve or hunch toward the floor. It also is crucial that the athlete does not perform the repetitions too quickly, because extra momentum can affect the athlete's balance and cause him or her to tip forward. For this same reason, it is important that the athlete does not attempt to perform barbell rows with an excessive amount of weight.

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