T Nation

Bent-Over Rows

Anybody row what they bench? Think you should be able to?

And about rows: Ass back, body at about 45 degrees, pull to gut, below rib cage. Sound pretty much correct?

there is way too many variations and styles of the bent over row (all of them being good) to make that type of ratio comparison.

some notes on barbell rows

Bent over rowing is an excellent movement for the upper body. Work this movement hard and don’t be surprised if you see increases in the squat, bench press and deadlift as well an increases in muscular development. One of the great aspects of the bent-over row is that there is a wide variety of techniques and variations to chose from which means that just about anyone can find a method of performing this movement regardless of their body structure. The important thing is to ensure that your technique is fairly consistent so that increased poundages are the result of strength gains, not in favorable advantages in the biomechanics of the lift.

The width of your hand spacing should be slightly wider than your shoulders, but this will vary with each individual. Your hand spacing and grip should put you into a position where you can strictly row with the greatest amount of weight. You can use either a pronated or supinated grip. The pronated or overhand grip tends to hit the upper back harder, while the supinated grip tends to work the lower lats a bit more. Experiment with both variations and see which one works best for you, or even use both grips in an alternating fashion. I have found that the supinated grip works best when using an E-Z curl bar to take the strain off the wrists. Use plenty of chalk and or resin on your hands to ensure a firm grip. If you happen to train at a commercial gym that does not allow chalk (somebody should really invent flesh colored chalk) then purchase some resin bags and place them in a large colored sandwich zip-lock bag. You can dip your hands into the bag and get plenty of resin and there will be no waste at all.

Take a good solid stance, with the feet about shoulder width. Lean forward and bend the knees just slightly so that you nearly settle your abdomen onto your thighs with the hips being the center of gravity. The angle of your upper body can be anywhere from parallel to about 45 degrees though I believe that you should try and get as close to parallel as you can. People with a longer torso tend to do a bit better with a higher angle than an individual with a shorter torso. Make sure the back is flat and stable keeping a slight arch in the lumbar region before the weight is pulled off the floor. There are numerous opinions on the exact part of the torso that you try to pull the bar into. This will vary from individual, but somewhere in the upper abdominal region, just below the sternum is a good reference point. If you are using a supinated grip, you might get want to pull just a bit lower into the abdominal region.

Because you are pulling a barbell from a position in which you are bent at the hips, considerable stress is placed on the lower back muscles. You should not attempt to add momentum to the lift by yanking or jerking upward with the lower back muscles and extending the body. Lack of proper form means the targeted area does not receive maximum stimulation and can often lead to lower back injury. Heaving and cheating the weight up is very easy to do as the movement is not very natural to start with and the position makes it difficult to use a mirror to monitor and correct your form. There are a couple of things that you can do to eliminate the heaving aspect of the row. First of all, many books and magazines advise that when the bar is lowered to get as much as stretch as possible-it sounds like good advice, but what happens is that once your arms are straightened, in an attempt to get even more of a stretch, you relax and begin dropping the upper body downwards which causes rounding of the back. This places the body into a weakened condition, so that when you attempt to pull the next repetition, you are forced into performing a body swing in order to compensate for the inadequate position. Just lower the body to arms length and pull it back up. Another way to teach yourself to do the movement correctly is to have a training partner place their hands on your upper back along each side of the spine. Have them hold their hands steady and you will be able to gauge whether you are keeping your back stable or not.

I will throw another little tip in here that Marty Gallagher taught me, use straps, but DO NOT wrap your thumbs around the bar—the contraction in the back is incredible and it takes the arms/biceps out of the movement as much as possible. I do 1-2 sets without straps, and then 1-2 with, so this is a “finishing” movement for me.

keith

With a barbell alone it can be tough to get that much and stay balanced. I like to use my 5ft Oly bar for these. I do rows with 315 for multiple sets of 3. I’ll bench about 365 for multiple sets of 3. Neither to failure. I’m sure if I had one of the old T-Bar style units that allow you to lay flat out at a 60 degree angle and take the stress off the lower back, I could row more. On the seated Hammer Strength row unit, I do 350-410lbs.

Just keep that back strong.

DH

[quote]tinman915 wrote:
Anybody row what they bench? Think you should be able to?

And about rows: Ass back, body at about 45 degrees, pull to gut, below rib cage. Sound pretty much correct?[/quote]

Excellent posts by Keith and Disc!

I will only add that I think the movements cannot be compared so easily. When you are Bench Pressing you are basically lying on your back (plenty of support). With the Barbell Row you are bent over (virtually no support). I would think that not many people would be able to Row as much as they Bench.

In spite of what the latest guru’s tell us about “muscle balance.” Attempting to Row as much as you Bench is not practicle.

Yep, the difference in body positioning and support makes a 1:1 ratio of benching strength and bent-over rowing strength pretty much impossible for me. I do find on seated cable rows that I pull about the same as I do for a barbell bench, even more so if I don’t use a shoulder-width pronated grip (my preferred handle/grip combination for best scapular retraction). Of course, things like cable system friction and different manufacturers are going to alter the actual resistance from system to system to some degree.

[quote]tinman915 wrote:
Anybody row what they bench? Think you should be able to?

And about rows: Ass back, body at about 45 degrees, pull to gut, below rib cage. Sound pretty much correct?[/quote]

tinman,

note in Keith’s post that your body should be somewhere between horizontal and about 45 degrees. aim for the former. i keep my hips and knees more or less fixed and touch the plates to the ground as i stretch (but not totally relax) on the bottom. i am pretty tall, so my body remains around 20-30 degrees all of the time.

note: if you are shorter, there are multiple ways to add weight to a bar without using 45’s!!!

Keith,

nice post. thanks. is it not reasonable to expect approximately equal strength in the bent over barbell row and the barbell bench when both exercises are performed in that individual’s strongest groove? i employ a lot of antagonistic training with horizontal push/pull and vertical push/pull, and i actually row a bit more than i press. i may be a bad example because i suck at pressing. or maybe i am a good example because i have been consistently rowing for a long time.

regardless, barbell rowing is underutilized and more often than not is performed incorrectly. i see more people squat than row, and that is amazing. i wonder why everyone wears long pants when it’s 110 deg and has tweaked shoulders?

BFG

I could 1-arm bent over row 95lbs, but my max bench was only 155.

that’s what 6 years of cycling will do to you - can’t push for beans.

For us vertically challenged folks, I suggest using a support platform such as the kind you see for deads. Mine is 3’x3’ and about 8" high. Works great. Has a large “footprint” for stability and some room to move. This elevation allows me to use the 45’s on the bar to row with. Gets way too crowded with “quarters” really quick.

Best,
DH

[quote]BFG wrote:
tinman915 wrote:
Anybody row what they bench? Think you should be able to?

And about rows: Ass back, body at about 45 degrees, pull to gut, below rib cage. Sound pretty much correct?

tinman,

note in Keith’s post that your body should be somewhere between horizontal and about 45 degrees. aim for the former. i keep my hips and knees more or less fixed and touch the plates to the ground as i stretch (but not totally relax) on the bottom. i am pretty tall, so my body remains around 20-30 degrees all of the time.

note: if you are shorter, there are multiple ways to add weight to a bar without using 45’s!!!

Keith,

nice post. thanks. is it not reasonable to expect approximately equal strength in the bent over barbell row and the barbell bench when both exercises are performed in that individual’s strongest groove? i employ a lot of antagonistic training with horizontal push/pull and vertical push/pull, and i actually row a bit more than i press. i may be a bad example because i suck at pressing. or maybe i am a good example because i have been consistently rowing for a long time.

regardless, barbell rowing is underutilized and more often than not is performed incorrectly. i see more people squat than row, and that is amazing. i wonder why everyone wears long pants when it’s 110 deg and has tweaked shoulders?

BFG[/quote]

In the cables I can row (230, working sets) way more than I can bench (185, barely a working set). Standing bent-over rows I can do 185. One-arm rows with dumbbells, working sets at 130. So I’m like backwards.

[quote]ZEB wrote:
Excellent posts by Keith and Disc!

I will only add that I think the movements cannot be compared so easily. When you are Bench Pressing you are basically lying on your back (plenty of support). With the Barbell Row you are bent over (virtually no support). I would think that not many people would be able to Row as much as they Bench.

In spite of what the latest guru’s tell us about “muscle balance.” Attempting to Row as much as you Bench is not practicle. [/quote]

Have to agree with Zeb on this one. There are people out there that can Bench over 800 pounds. I doubt anyone is going to Row that.

I enjoy working my back probably more than my chest. That being said, I can’t row nearly as much as my max bench. However, I do find that I’m able to pull more weight on the prone T-bar machine at my gym rather than standing with a barbell. I think standing with the barbell, I’m exerting extra energy just to lift the weight from the floor and rep it. With the prone T-bat machine, my legs are supported and I don’t get winded lifting the weight from the floor.

So, because I’m not intitially exerting myself by lifted the weight from the floor,I’m able to pull a trifle more weight and get a few more reps.

Does anyone else have any insight on this, or is it just me?

the reason that you can do more in the T-bar row is the same reason that most guys can press ( bench/incline, etc) more on smith machine than than can on free weights. When using a t-bar, it finds it own groove and is in a fixed plane, meaning you can just bear down and pull, quite a bit different than the row.

  • here is a neat little movement, not for the beginner or faint-hearted, but you get into a Shirley, I mean Smith machine, and put a lot of padding on the bar-then get into a bent over position with the upper-middle part of the back on the bar and with some assistance from a spotter you clear the hooks from the support pins. You are now in a bent over position with the heavily padded bar across your back–now shrug your upper back and scapula upwards and try to pinch your shoulder blades together-sort of like a Kelso Shrug, but the bar is on your back-very, very effective.

I also like the angled shrugs.

Great poast Keith Wassung. It’s nice to see a intelligent poast every once in a while.

[quote]daniel_lamon wrote:
Great poast Keith Wassung. It’s nice to see a intelligent poast every once in a while.[/quote]

Yeah, too bad your POST wasn’t very intelligent. :stuck_out_tongue: