I know you regularly performed underhand barbell rows until you tore your left biceps doing them. Would you still recommend them to others?
What happened to me was not due to deficiencies with the exercise or even with my technique. The underhand barbell row is an effective exercise that I’ve always performed while using the strictest of form. Fact is, my biceps had reached its limit and probably would have gone no matter what I did. It was “my time,” so to speak.
Needless to say, I was forced to adjust my back routine after tearing my biceps, which meant switching from an underhand to an overhand grip. I prefer the underhand grip because it puts the biceps at a mechanical advantage, therefore allowing heavier lifting. To illustrate my point, try doing reverse curls with the same weight with which you can perform a standard barbell curl. Heavier weight coupled with strict form equals greater intensity, and anyone who knows me can tell you that’s the key to my workouts.
It’s important to use proper technique when performing rows (or any exercise) and to warm up properly. For rows, I suggest positioning your torso at about a 70-degree angle in relation to the floor. At this angle, the lower back is more stable and the lats are placed in a mechanically stronger position than when the upper body is parallel to the floor. This means you can lift heavier or more intensely.
When lifting the barbell, concentrate on using only your lats to move the weight. Don’t jerk the weight up or use momentum to get it moving — just pull it, forcefully but smoothly. Hold the weight at the top position for a second before lowering it at a pace slightly slower than the positive portion of the movement. Remember, you’re stronger in both a static hold and in the negative portion of a rep than you are in the positive portion. If you cannot hold the weight or control its descent, you didn’t use only your lat muscles to get it there.
For me, the barbell row has always been the bread-and-butter exercise for building back mass — it’s as good a foundation movement as they come. Whether you use an underhand or an overhand grip is up to you and should be based on how each one suits your particular structure and needs. One thing is for sure: If you want a big back, you’re going to have to row! - FLEX