The Bent Over Row — form, muscles worked & benefits | MuscleSquad

icon Jul 08, 2024 - Cameron Brierley

How to perform a Bent Over Barbell Row

The bent over barbell row is a compound exercise that engages several muscles in the upper body and requires a barbell and a set of weight plates to perform. Most people opt to train this exercise in a power cage, to make it easy to re-rack the bar in between sets, but it’s not essential.

The bent over row forms the backbone of many people’s pull days in the gym — and for good reason. Here’s how to perform the exercise with personal trainer-approved form, along with the muscles worked and a comparison of barbell rows versus dumbbell rows.

Performing a bent over row with perfect form

Muscles worked in the bent over row

The barbell bent over row is a compound movement that activates your back, biceps and stabiliser muscles. Depending on the grip used, you can tweak the movement to target different muscles.

A pronated—or overhand—grip primarily utilises your rhomboids and middle back, which is great if you’re looking to build thickness. It also activates the brachialis in your arm which is an elbow flexor and stabilising muscle.

To prioritise building width instead, use a supinated—or underhand—grip to target your lats, the bicep short head and the bicep long head.

You’ll also feel some minor activation in other parts of your body, particularly your traps and forearms. Because the barbell row is typically one of your heaviest lifts, it’ll really test your grip strength to the point where you might need wrist straps to progress long-term.

Barbell rows vs dumbbell rows

While the barbell row is generally the more popular choice, there are some pros and cons to each variant.

Barbell row

The barbell row is better for developing overall strength and size. It’s a more stable lift, so you’ll find it much easier to load the weight up on a straight bar than you would with dumbbells.

However, some people find its range of motion prohibiting. Since you can only pull the bar up as close as your chest, you don’t get as much of a contraction as you do with dumbbell rows.

Dumbbell row

Dumbbell rows sacrifice weight in favour for precision. You won’t be able to lift as heavy, but since you’re not restricted by a 7ft bar you can increase your contraction by pulling the dumbbell up until it’s parallel with your chest.

It’s also possible to use a neutral grip in dumbbell rows, which isn’t possible with a barbell. Plus, the ability to train unilaterally (single-arm) allows you to address muscle imbalances, which is where one side of your body might be stronger than the other.

Ultimately though, it’s all about personal preference. Complete a few sessions with a mix of barbell and dumbbell rows and see which one feels best. Use that variation as your primary row, but don’t be afraid to mix it up every now and then. Giving your muscles a shock is always a good thing!

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