How To Perform Barbell Bent Over Rows For A Strong Upper Back

Fit woman performing underhand barbell bent over rows.

Barbell bent-over rows are an excellent exercise for the development of a strong back and improving your posture. Strengthening your upper back will help you pull your shoulders back and keep you back in alignment.

Barbell Bent Over Rows Summary

  • Primary Muscles Worked: Upper Back (Latissimus Dorsi, Infraspinatus, Rhomboids, Teres Major, Trapezius)
  • Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Biceps Brachii, Deltoid, Erector spinae, Posterior, Triceps Long Head, Erector Spinae, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus, Adductor Magnus
  • Equipment: Barbell
  • Mechanics Type: Compound
  • Force: Pull
  • Utility: Auxiliary

How to Properly Perform the Barbell Bent Over Rows

Proper Positioning Is Important

  1. Start with your face parallel to the ground and centered over the bar.
  2. Next, lift your chest.
  3. While you bring your chest up, drop and lower your shoulders by relaxing them and extending your arms.
  4. Breath into your belly and tighten your core.
  5. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width for a strong base.
  6. Finally, lower your hips back, keeping your center of gravity over your midfoot.

Performing Barbell Bent Over Row Procedure

  1. Once you are in the proper position, you can pick up the bar by doing a partial deadlift. You can grip the bar either overhand or underhand. Either way, the bar should be directly over your midfoot.
  2. Keep your abs tight and chest up.
  3. Don’t overextend your hips. Your back shouldn’t rise much higher than where it was at the start of the Barbell Row
  4. Under control, pull the weight up to your lower chest (xiphoid process), while focusing on bringing your shoulder blades together.
  5. Pull the bar until it touches your lower chest and squeeze.
  6. Under control, lower the weight, stop just before your elbow lock. Finally, pull the barbell back up to your chest.
  7. Repeat
Man performing barbell bent over rows with MuscleMagFitness logo background.

Jeremy Ethier Demonstrating Underhand Bent Over Rows

How To PROPERLY Barbell Row For A Bigger Back (Stop Making These Mistakes!)

Muscles Utilized For Barbell Bent Over Rows

Target (Agonist) Muscles

  • Infraspinatus
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rear Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres Major
  • Teres Minor
  • Trapezius, Middle
  • Trapezius, Lower

Synergist Muscles

  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Deltoid, Posterior
  • Erector spinae

Dynamic Stabilizers Muscles

  • Biceps Brachii

Stabilizer Muscles

  • Adductor Magnus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteus Maximus

Antagonist Stabilizers

  • Pectoralis
  • Triceps, Long Head

Tips for Maximizing the Muscle Building Effects of Barbell Bent Over Rows

  • You can keep your upper body more horizontal to work lower on you back.
  • Keep your Knees to allow you to maintain your back straight.
  • If low back becomes rounded due to tight hamstrings, don’t lower your chest as far until you gain more hamstring flexibility.
  • Do this if you struggle with your lower back rounding. First, deadlift the barbell to standing position. Next, lower your chest as far as you can, keeping your back straight, but no further.
  • Focus on pulling your elbows to the ceiling, not pulling with your hands. Changing this focus will engage you back more as you pull your shoulder blades together.

Common Errors While Performing the Bent Over Rows

  • Bar Is Too Far Forward. You must keep the bar close to your body. If the bar is too far forward, you will be more likely to ben your back to maintain a proper center of gravity.
  • You are standing Too Upright. Remember, you are not deadlifting. So lower the weight if you are overextending your hips.
  • You Are Lifting With Your Hips. If you are jerking the weight up with a hip extension, then you are not effectively working your upper back.

Variations of the Bent Over Row

These variations are intended to work different subgroups of your muscles or work your same muscles in slightly different ways. You will find that you will get stronger faster if you rotate these exercises frequently and not perform them all together. There are plenty of variations to the exercise. Some other variations include:

Additional Exercises To Compliment Your Rows

DeadliftsThe Deadlift is an excellent exercise for your entire body. As one of the core power lifts it is a great measure of your back strength. Deadlifting will also improve your posture, but it will focus on strengthening your lower back and keeping your lower back straight.
Machine Seated Row. Machine row is a great compliment or alternative to the barbell bent over row. You can change out handles to work different parts of your back.
Lat Bar Pulldown. Performing lat pulldowns or chin-ups are other great exercises for developing a strong back.
HyperextensionsHyperextensions target your erector spinae, while also working your gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductor magnus.

Fitting In Barbell Bent Over Rows To Your Strength Training Routine

Barbell bent-over rows should be a go-to exercise for most strength training routines. If you struggle with performing bent-over rows, start out with a lighter weight, and work on your form and flexibility. If you are looking for more exercises to build a strong back check out 7 of the Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding and Strength Training.

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