When performed properly, the bent-over row is an excellent exercise for developing the middle back and correcting posture for rounded forward shoulders. When performed poorly, the exercise resembles the look and feel of a hunched over weary bell-ringer.
Here’s how to correctly perform the Barbell Bent-over Row:
- Begin the exercise standing tall and gripping the barbell shoulder width or just wider (the grip can be underhand or overhand – the latter is the strongest grip while the former isolates and works the biceps more).
- From the upright position descend down by moving at the hips (not the lower back or knees) in a similar fashion to a deadlift – keeping the shoulders just forward of the bar. Keep the knees fixed in a slightly bent position and maintain this throughout the entire lift
- Whilst maintaining vertical shins, lower the bar to a point that is midway down the lower legs. By this stage the torso should be in a horizontal position – maintain this posture throughout every rep of the exercise.
- When in position, proceed to pull the bar up towards the upper abdomen, aiming to drive the elbows vertically towards the ceiling and squeezing the shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
- Upon the bar touching the abdomen, proceed to lower the weight down under control to the start position where the arms are straight and the barbell is close to the shins.
The most common mistakes when performing a bent-over row and its variations are:
- Rounding of the back – be sure to maintain a horizontal torso position throughout the entire lift. The more upright one’s posture becomes during the lift, the more the upper Trapezius muscle group is worked (the muscles heavily involved in shoulder shrugging movements).
- Jerking at the hips to move the weight up – this is often observed when the weight is too heavy for the lifter to maintain proper form.
- The weight is too far in front of the shoulders and a ‘sitting back’ posture is assumed – this will not work the middle back appropriately and make lifting more difficult.
You can vary this exercise by dragging the bar diagonally up the thighs to the lower abdomen – this is a variation popularised by former six-time Mr Olympia Dorian Yates and focuses on the lower portion of the middle back.
Rep ranges between 5-15 work well for the barbell bent-over row.