- To get the most out of a bent over row, you need the right form
- Don’t sacrifice form for weight
- Think of the bent over row like a flipped over bench press
Fun fact, only about 10% of all the bent over rows ever performed have been correct.
That number is waayy too high.
While not a complex movement like a Clean and Jerk, the bent over row is one of the worst offenders of being performed wrong. And I put the blame completely on the fitness industry for that.
The Bent Over Row is one of the best exercises to build a wide strong back but the caveat to that is you have to do it right.
So in this article I’m going to run through a few common mistakes, how to fix them, and then show you what good bent over row form looks like.
Bent Over Row Muscles Worked
Before we jump into the mistakes, I want to talk about your back.
Yes, that part of the body no one thinks about until you’re laying on the floor in pain.
And while we are at it, let’s also talk about how your shoulders roll in and your stiff neck from sitting at a desk all day.
When you’re sitting at your desk all day your shoulders and neck tend to come forward creating tightness in your upper back. Your lower back gets weak because you’re always hunched over or leaning back in your chair.
Doing these for a day might generate some soreness but over months and years can lead to serious issues.
All these issues can be solved with a bent over row…and some workplace ergonomics.
The bent over row works all the muscles of the upper back, rear delts, and helps stabilize your lower back as you support the weight.
Strengthening your back helps your posture so you can walk and play with your kids around with confidence rather than being all hunched over like Quasimodo.
Now let’s get into the mistakes.
Piss Poor Body Angle
By far the biggest mistake, and why it’s lead batter, is body angle.
Lifting is a physics game. Levers, angles and force all play an important role in lifting weights. If you change the angle of an exercise you change the emphasis point (aka the muscles doing the work).
Take a flat bench press and an incline bench press as an example. Both work the chest but the incline bench press’ emphasis point is higher up on the chest near your collarbone due to shifting the angle from your body.
Same goes for the bent over row. The higher the angle of your torso the higher up on your back the emphasis point. Now since we want our upper/midback to be jacked AF, going upright isn’t going to do it. You need to lower the angle of your torso so it’s almost parallel to the floor.
This puts the emphasis on your mid back right where we want it.
Not Using Full Range Of Motion
Taking your muscles through a full range of motion is going to be one of the biggest drivers of muscle growth.
And with the bent over row, I don’t see that when watching most people do them.
Most people keep the weight in the strongest 60% of the movement from 2-3” from the belly to elbows slightly bent at the bottom.
The problem with that is you aren’t working on your weaknesses which is why progressing the exercise to add more weight is so tough.
Full range of motion for the bent over row is elbows fully extended at the bottom with your shoulders slightly rolled forward to the top position of the bar touching your upper belly right right below your rib cage.
At any point in your set where you can’t do that full range of motion the set is over. Any reps after that are just stroking your ego and adding unnecessary fatigue.
When it comes to building strength and muscle, consistency in your range of motion is paramount.
When you standardize a range of motion for a movement it prevents adding more reps that aren’t hitting the target muscles because you’re squirming, using body english etc.
I like to call this terminal consistency.
Terminal consistency allows you to have a consistent range of motion every rep, every time. So when you increase the weight or reps each week you know you’re getting stronger and building muscle and not compromising form to get there.
Focusing on terminal consistency with all your exercises will help you reduce volume considerably while still seeing results.
Looking Up Instead of Down
Who doesn’t like to check out their form in the mirror while doing an exercise?
Seeing your muscles in action while also looking around to see who is in awe of your strength (more on that in a sec).
For many people, there is a tendency to look up when doing this exercise.
Well that “looking up” position puts a lot of strain on your neck and makes it more likely to pinch a nerve.
Keeping your neck and head in a natural position where you look down on the floor solves all that.
Rounding Your Back
If you ever want a surefire way to fuck up your back, make sure to round your lower back while lifting something.
I herniated a disc (that required surgery) lifting a toilet seat with a rounded back. A freakin toilet seat.
Rounding your lower back sets the emphasis point to your lower back rather than across your whole back.
Think of when you would snap fallen twigs when you were a kid. You’d bend the stick until the middle snapped. All that force is being put on the middle as you bend it and it snaps.
While dramatic, this is what happens when you lift something with a rounded back.
When you keep a flat back and stick your ass out like a girl trying to get dudes to her OnlyFans account you shift that emphasis point across your whole back.
This not only will help you get more out of your bent over row but you’ll also save yourself from laying in agony on the floor for hours on end.
Going Too Heavy
Gaining muscle in the gym is about increasing the weight and number of reps, also called volume, over time. This is the premise behind progressive overload.
Some people try to shortcut that and just use heavy ass weight.
The problem with going too heavy while trying to build muscle is that you start lifting with your ego. Ego lifting only works to build up your ego and you end up looking the same…with a giant ego.
Ego lifting using a lot of body english (momentum), half reps, and shitty form all to stroke the little voice in your head that tells you that you’re the fuckin man.
Building muscle is all about stimulating the muscle and if you’re cheating yourself of a full range of motion or using momentum to swing the weights around you remove a good portion of that stimulus.
Never sacrifice form for weight. If your form is off your muscle building potential is off.
Proper Bent Over Row Form
If we were looking at movement patterns, there’s hip hinge, knee dominant, vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, and you guessed it, horizontal pull.
Let’s agree that the Bent Over Row is a pulling exercise and it’s also in the horizontal plane. A vertical pull would be a lat pulldown.
Knowing how it’s categorized, how would you think you need to position your body in order to do a proper row?
When I’m setting up for a bent over row, I always imagine a flat bench press form flipped over.
Here’s what I mean, if you look at someone doing a bench press from the side their shoulders are roughly at a 90 degree angle to their torso. And since the bent over row is the opposite of a bench press, you want to mimic that same position so it works the muscles opposite of the ones worked in the bench press.
The only way to get in that same flipped over bench press position is to lean over…like way over so your torso is parallel to the ground. And from there, you flare your elbows slightly and row the weight to right below your rib cage.
If you can do this, you’ll row more effectively than everyone except for that one jacked dude in your gym. That dude is a beast.
Is There A Bent Over Row Machine
Bent over rows are one of the best overall back exercises. It checks all the boxes of a good muscle building exercises (heavy weight and multiple muscles worked if you were wondering) but it’s not for everyone.
It could be a bad lower back, a big beer belly you are in the process of reducing or maybe you just have shitty balance. Whatever reason prevents you from doing it right, there are alternatives.
From a machines standpoint here are a few options:
CABLE ROW WITH A PULLUP BAR
T-BAR ROW MACHINE
Reverse Grip Bent Over Row – The Difference
I also wanted to address grip.
Traditional bent over row grip is slightly outside shoulder width and using an overhand grip. So your knuckles should be facing the same direction as your toes.
The idea is you want to mimic your bench press form while doing these. So the top position of a bent over row should look like when the bar is on your chest in a bench press.
Elbows end up being about 45 degrees from your torso.
Now if you want to switch things up and do an underhand grip (knuckles facing your heels), you’ll notice that your elbows are closer to your body.
If we would broad stroke a rule here, your elbows will point in the direction of what muscles are emphasized.
So with an overhand row, the upper/mid back area is emphasized. WIth an underhand row your elbows will be pointed towards your lower lats so they will be emphasized.
Not to confuse you but you can also emphasize your lats with bringing your hands closer together and rowing towards your hips rather than your chest. This would be a good option if you deal with cranky elbows as the underhand version really aggravates the elbow.
Wrap It Up B
The bent over row is one of my favorite exercises, mainly because I’m good at it but really it’s just a great muscle building exercise. But like all exercises it’s muscle building greatness is solely dependent on you using proper form.
If you can use these mistakes to analyze and fix your bent over row then your back will thank you.