Disclaimer: As with any of these exercises, if you are experiencing pain while performing them and your technique is good, please see qualified professional who can help diagnose your pain. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, your personal trainer/strength coach is not that person (me included).
What it Does For You:
As you can see from the previous paragraph there are a lot of benefits which include:
- Building great back strength (both upper and lower)
- Teaches a people to squeeze their shoulder blades down and back (when performed correctly)
- Helps to teach people hinge from their hips, with a neutral spine
- Teaches how to create great upper back tension
How to Perform the Exercise:
I generally like to teach this exercise at the same point in my beginners training program as I do the Romanian Deadlift (there will be a Technique Tuesday on this exercise soon as well). My reasoning for this is that the Bent Over Barbell Row starts at the same position as you would be when you are at the bottom of the Romanian Deadlift. For those of you not familiar with this, here is how you’ll get into position.
Gripping the barbell in both hands tightly, with your arms straight, and standing tall, you will begin to push your hips back away from the barbell, while keeping them high. The knees should bend slightly, in order to help you maintain a pretty vertical shin. You should feel your hamstrings begin to garner a whole lot of tension. At the bottom position your spine should be in it’s most neutral position possible (head looking down at the ground), and be at a slight incline of 10-15 degrees. The bar should be about halfway down the shins, hovering just above your mid foot and not out in front of the toes. Here are some of the cues I like to give my clients to help them with getting into position:
- Push your butt back and up
- Stay Long through your spine
- Keep the bar over the balls of your feet
- The Bar should be about mid shin
Once you’re correctly positioned at the bottom you are ready to begin the exercise. To do so begin to pull the bar towards the middle of your abdomen as you simultaneously squeeze your shoulder blades together hard. As you squeeze your shoulders back and together make sure that your shoulders are not rising up towards your ears (think long through your cervical spine).
One of the most common mistakes I see people make when doing this exercise (and with most pulling exercises in general) is that they focus too much on the distance their hands are traveling rather than what their shoulder blades are doing through the movement.
Once you have completed the pull return down the same path you traveled with the barbell to the starting position. Often times as the reps continue, I’ll see people have a tendency to bring their torso upright inch by inch on every rep, until they are almost upright on the last reps. This drastically changes the exercise as well as shortens the range of motion, and forces you to engage the upper part of your traps more and more. I’ve found more often than not, a lot of the people I see have pretty overactive upper traps already so we don’t need to encourage that too much more and want to keep you out of that area on this exercise. To ensure people are back to the correct starting point I like to tell my clients that they need to make sure the bar is at least an inch below their knees before beginning the next reps.
Here are some of the cues I like to use with my clients are:
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together hard
- Keep Your Shoulders away from your ears
- Squeeze the barbell as hard as you can
- Pull the barbell to the middle of your abdomen
- Make sure the bar is at least an inch below your knee before you begin the next rep.
When performed correctly, the Barbell Row should look like this:
If you are a beginner lifter, this should be your primary pulling exercise or one of a few. Focus in on the technique, while keeping the load of the barbell challenging for you. I personally like to keep the rep range with my beginners in the 6-10 rep range but performing quite a few sets (4 seems to be a pretty solid number for most of them). This will allow you to really emphasize the contraction at the top of the rep with an appreciable amount of weight to generate strength gains, but also provide enough volume to help solidify the movement pattern.
If you are an intermediate to advanced lifter, this makes for a great accessory barbell exercise on a Deadlift day or Upper Back day, depending on how your program is set up and what your goals are. in your case it’s ok to dial back on the sets doing 2-3 sets as long as you’re still getting in enough volume to still elicit the gains in size or strength that you are looking for.
No matter who you are and where you’re at, this exercise will have some carry over for you. Give it a try (correctly) and see what you’ve been missing for so long.