The Bent-Over Barbell Row can be considered a full-body-exercise rather than a mere strength and size builder of the upper back, and it is yet another “King of Exercises”, provided it is performed with correct technique. Unfortunately, same as with the Barbell Squat, the Bent-Over Barbell Row is likewise often executed with poor form, failing to achieve the muscular gains and thickness throughout the upper back and lats, which this exercise is well-known to promote. On You Tube, many popular online trainers publish videos, demonstrating a Bent-Over Barbell Row performance which leaves much to be desired. It is no wonder that this causes confusion about how this exercise should be performed correctly. 

Most people can be seen incorrectly performing the Bent-Over Barbell Row, hinging forward just 45 degrees or even less at the hips, halfway between standing up and bent over, and pulling the barbell towards their belly buttons. This bungled version of a standard barbell row tends to result in a short, shrug-like motion that mainly engages the trapezius muscles. The major reasons for such an improper exercise posture and execution are either poor core/ lower back strength, poor hamstring flexibility, and/or using a too heavy weight-load. 

Make no mistake, in order to fully reap the Bent-Over Barbell Row’s multiple benefits, you can’t avoid bending over. This means you have to hinge forward at the hip until your torso is almost parallel to the ground while maintaining a neutral spine, safely supported by isometrically contracted back-extensors and abdominal muscles. Maintaining this torso position throughout the entire exercise without rocking up and down, pull the barbell up from a point over your feet towards your lower rib cage in a straight, vertical line, making sure to keep your knees out of the barbell’s path. Doing so, use a shoulder-width grip, don’t allow your elbows to flare out more than 45 degrees, and always keep the barbell in its straight vertical path without any forward-backward deviation. 

Once the barbell has touched your lower rib cage area, lower the bar under control until your arms are straight again and the plates are just a short distance off the floor. On initiating each subsequent repetition, first pull your shoulders back and focus on driving your elbows back, rather than solely pulling with your arms right from the start. Last, but not least, while performing the exercise, ensure that your neck stays aligned in a straight line with your back.

Without doubt, the Bent-Over Barbell Row is a quite challenging lift, and maintaining the bent-over position while repeatedly pulling a loaded barbell toward one’s lower rib-cage (not the belly button or hips!) requires a significant amount of strength in the core, lower back, glutes and hamstrings. 

If you should happen to lack the required mobility strength in your core or your entire posterior chain to safely perform the row, the solution is most definitely NOT to bungle this highly beneficial exercise by performing it with incorrect posture half way between standing up and bent-over. Instead, first strengthen your abdominals and back extensors, and also work on improving your hamstring flexibility, until you can assume the required bent-over position maintaining a safe neutral spine throughout the entire exercise. Rounding your back while in bent-over position must be avoided at all cost, as this can easily incur an injury to your spine. Learn the proper execution of this invaluable upper back builder with light weights first, before moving on to heavier loads. A Smith machine may also be an acceptable tool to acquaint yourself with the proper technique of the Bent-Over Row, as here you don’t need to control the barbell path; it just runs vertically up and down along the Smith machine’s guide rods, which enables you to focus exclusively on your own posture and on engaging the target muscles. 

Until you manage to get the proper technique of Bent-Over Barbell-Rows right, it may be a good idea to substitute it with less challenging back exercises, such as the T-Bar Row or the Seated Cable Row. 

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