The benefits of training your back go well beyond aesthetics, with your back muscles being essential in just about every movement you do. Strengthening these muscles help you build up the main support structure for your entire body and will assist in;
- Improving your posture
- Reducing your risk of injury
- Increasing your lifts
- Reducing lower back pain
- Developing your physique
When it comes to building your back muscles, there are few better exercises than rows. It’s a reasonably basic movement that can be performed in a variety of ways and with a range of different exercise equipment. Including some variation in the row exercises you use in your pull sessions will help you target different parts of the back and allow you to engage other muscle groups in your body.
The other great thing about row exercises is that they can be adapted to all levels of fitness and experience, and can be progressed and regressed depending on your client.
Add these rows to your upper body workouts to build more back strength and size:
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
- You can use a flat or incline bench for balance. Start with a neutral spine, knees slightly bent, both feet on the floor and with your non-working arm on the bench
- Pull the dumbbell into the side of the body, keeping the elbow close to the body
- Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position
By working one side of the body at a time it allows you to work through weak spots by focusing on building up strength imbalances. You’ll also increase your arm and grip strength as you squeeze the dumbbell.
- Stand upright with hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar
- Assume a bent over position with the knees bent at 15 degrees, the trunk 45–60 degrees to vertical, the spine in neutral position, and the bar hanging straight down
- Pull the bar towards the belly button, keeping elbows close to the sides of the body
- Finish the pull with the scapulae fully retracted
- Lower the bar under control, keeping spine in neutral position until the arms are fully extended
This is a compound exercise that works it all – upper back, lower back, lats, traps and spinal erectors. Because you’re working with a barbell you’ll also be able to lift more weight, therefore helping you to build strength and muscle.
- Grip the bar in a pronated grip, slightly outside the width of the thighs
- Lift the bar up to the sternum, staying close to the torso
- Keep elbows higher than the bar
- Keep a neutral spine
If you’re looking to target your shoulders, this row variation will hit the front and middle heads on the deltoids, as well as your upper back.
- Grab a light set of dumbbells and start in a plank position with your feet spread wide
- Grip the dumbbells with your palms facing parallel to each other
- Row the weight upward until your upper arm is slightly higher than your torso, then slowly lower it back down to the ground
- Repeat the motion with the opposite arm
The renegade row brings your core into the mix, with the plank positioning requiring you to engage the stabiliser muscles of the abdominals, spine and shoulders. This exercise is also unique as it requires anti-rotational strength of the obliques. Add in a push up between rows for an extra challenge!
- Place a bar at about waist height on a Smith machine or squat rack
- Lower yourself to the ground underneath the bar, grabbing it with an overhand grip with your hands positioned directly above your shoulders
- You can fully extend your legs and rest your heels on the ground, or bend your knees and plant your feet on the ground
- Pull up with your arms to lift your chest to the bar. Your body should remain straight, and glutes and core tight throughout the entire movement
- Pause for a second at the top, squeezing your shoulder blades, before slowly lowering to the starting position, with your arms fully extended
Often used as a progression to a pullup, the inverted row is a great exercise for beginners. It can be made easier and more challenging depending on the height of the bar and the way you position your feet, making it a very versatile exercise.
- Sit on the bench with legs almost fully extended, spine in a neutral position, arms fully extended, and scapulae slightly protracted
- Commence movement by pulling the handle towards the stomach, keeping elbows close to the sides
- Finish with elbows pulled back past the trunk, scapulae fully retracted, and the body in an upright position
- Return handle to the starting position
The main benefit of the cable row over other row variations is that by using a cable, there’s constant tension on your muscles throughout each rep. This taxes your back muscles slightly differently than other free weight back exercises.
Dumbbell Incline Bench Row
- Set a bench to a 45-dgree incline
- Grab a pair of dumbbells, and approach the bench with your chest toward the angled pad, then lean onto it
- Plant your feet firmly on the floor, and let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the dumbbells to your ribcage
- Slowly lower back to starting position
By supporting your chest on a bench, you take the pressure off the lower back and eliminate some of the stability required to perform the row. This allows you to better isolate the upper back in particular and enforces strict technique.
- Set up the TRX so the handles hang at chest height
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding the handles with your palms facing each other
- Lean back until your arms are extended, taking your weight
- Pull your chest up between your hands, keeping your elbows close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you
- Pause at the top of the move, then slowly lower until your arms are extended again
One of the main advantages of a TRX system is that you can train your posterior chain without needing heavy, bulky fitness equipment. Suspension trainers are lightweight, easy to transport, and easy to store, making it possible for you to hit these muscle groups in practically any environment.