Three staple free-weight rowing exercises that meet the bill include bentover barbell rows, plate-loaded T-bar rows, and one-arm dumbbell rows. Here’s how to do each.
Barbell rows are fantastic because they’re such a basic exercise that they can be done anywhere, even in the crudest possible gym, as long as you have a barbell and some weights. As with any rowing motion, be careful not to go too heavy. And, as the aforementioned meatheads apparently aren’t aware, it’s a myth to think you have to go excessively heavy to stimulate deep muscle growth in the back. In fact, excessively heavy work on rows will cause a lower-back injury. In order to avoid this, the first caveat is to tend to form first, and only as long as that’s strict through every rep can the weight be advanced.
Even though you’re bending over, begin the bentover row with your eyes up and forward (i.e., looking in the mirror and not down at your feet) and keep your lower back arched and concave at all times in a ski-jump position, which, if done properly, positions your butt sticking out behind you. Staying bent at the waist, grasp the barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip, and raise the bar of the floor just slightly. Execute your first rep by driving your elbows back toward the ceiling as you bring the bar to mid-abdomen. As the bar rises, focus on keeping your chest out and bringing your shoulder blades together behind you. Let the barbell down in a controlled fashion. Don’t ever lose the protective arch in your lower back.
I can confidently say that 99.9%of the people I see doing one-arm rows are just not getting the full benefit of the motion. That’s usually because they can’t resist going too heavy. As a result, the elbow never gets high enough to effectuate the stress on the upper-inner back that’s needed to stimulate the gnarly growth I’m talking about.
Keep in mind that you must feel the scapula move toward the spine on every rep. If you’re not sensing that “grab,” then the weight is too heavy. Start with a properly weighted dumbbell and position yourself on a bench with one knee up toward the back of the bench and your arm on the same side posted toward the front of the bench. Your eyes should be up and forward, with your lower back arched and concave at all times. I tend to favor a small rotational movement because it helps keep my ego in check and not go too heavy.
I start the pull with the dumbbell handle perpendicular to the direction of my spine. As I raise the weight, I rotate clockwise on the right side and counterclockwise on the left side, so that the dumbbell ultimately ends up parallel to the direction of my spine and tight against my side. For added intensity, I try and get as much height as possible, momentarily squeezing at the apex of the movement, then lowering it in a slow and controlled manner.
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