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Row: The Complete Guide to Row Form

By Lukas Hambsch

Posted in Exercise Guides, Upper Body, Row

Top position of a single arm row.
Top position of a single arm row.

Row Benefits

The row is a great exercise for working your upper back (lower traps), lats, and biceps. It works some of the same muscles as the pull-up while working more in your upper back. I prefer the single-arm dumbbell row because it doesn't fatigue your lower back and you have a bench to support you. Since you have a bench to support you, like in the bench press, you can make sure your lifts stay balanced. It's also a much easier exercise for beginners than the bent-over barbell row.

Row Progression

Just like the overhead press the single-arm dumbbell row can be done without any prior progression. If you have a place at home to do an inverted row, you can start out with those until you are comfortable with the movement.

To perform the inverted row, you need a bar that's close to the ground. Then you get under the bar with your chest facing the bar and your feet straight out in front of you on the ground. Once you get in position, pull yourself towards the bar until it touches the bottom of your sternum. I recommend starting with the single-arm row because it requires less special equipment and is just as easy to learn.

Row Form

Single-Arm Row

Set Up

  • Place a dumbbell on the ground next to the flat bench. It should be parallel to the bench and aligned with the middle of the it.

Dumbbell on ground next to benchFront view of dumbbell on ground next to bench

  • Put one knee and one hand on the bench so that your outside hand is in position to grab the dumbbell. When doing the single-arm row with your left hand, your right hand and knee will be on the bench.

In position, ready to start single arm row.

  • Make sure your spine is in a neutral, not arched or rounded, position.

Neutral spine while doing single arm row.

  • Pick up the dumbbell and make sure your shoulders are even with each other.

Movement

  • Pull the weight straight up towards your chest as fast as you can. This may be slow, but still focus on moving the weight explosively.

Top position of single arm row

  • Keep your shoulders as even as possible while pulling the weight up. The shoulder on the side you're lifting the weight with will raise and drop slightly, but it shouldn't be drastic.
  • Lower the weight back down in a controlled manner.
  • Once you have completed your set with one arm, move the dumbbell to the other side of the bench and use the same form for that side.

Barbell Row

Set Up

  • Just like in the deadlift, set up the racks so they're a couple inches below your hands when your arms are straight by your side. This makes it easier to rack the bar when you?re done with your sets.

Racks set to be below hands for row

  • Add the weight to the bar while it?s still on the rack.
  • Pick the bar up from the rack by bending through your hips just like the hip hinge.
  • Take a step back from the rack and place the weight on the ground by bending through your hips.

Movement

  • Stand with the bar over the center of your feet.
  • Reach down to grab the bar by bending through your hips.
  • Once your back is straight, not arched or rounded, pull the weight towards the bottom of your sternum as quickly as possible.
  • After the weight touches your lower sternum, lower the weight in a controlled manner. Then begin your next rep.

Common Row Mistakes

Using Momentum or Letting Your Shoulder Sink

If you use momentum to move the weight, you won't build as much strength in your back. If you can't get the weight all the way to your chest without using extra momentum, you should use less weight. For the single-arm row, make sure to keep your shoulders as even as possible throughout the lift. For the barbell row, your shoulders should stay in close to the same position throughout. A very slight bounce is okay, but any more than that is cheating.

When you let your shoulders sink down, it's more likely that you'll use momentum to complete the movement. Keep your shoulders even during the entire movement and focus on using your back muscles to move the weight.

Shoulder too low during single arm row

Arching or Rounding Your Back

Just like during the deadlift and squat, you should keep a neutral, braced spine. If your back arches or rounds you won't be in as strong of a position. By bracing your body and spine for the lift, you'll be able to lift more weight and do so more safely.

Too much arch in back during single arm rowBack too rounded during single arm row

Standing Too Upright

If you stand too upright during the barbell row, you'll work your upper trapezius muscles more than your lats. When done correctly, the barbell row targets your lats and a little bit of your biceps. When you stand to upright you're doing a different exercise that works a different muscle group.

Looking Too Far Up or Down

Keeping your neck in a neutral position is important to avoid injury. If you look up or down while doing the row, your spine isn't in it's strongest position. For the single arm row, look straight down. For the barbell row, look at a spot on the floor a few feet in front of you.