The Best Way to Row

Welcome to another complete guide, this time on the classic back training staple; the row.

Now the reason the row has been a staple in weight training for almost as long as weight training has been around, is it’s a fantastic exercise for upper/middle back muscular development, with the lats, rhomboids and middle and lower traps being heavily involved. It’s also super important for complete shoulder health, as a row done correctly not only involves those previously mentioned muscles but also the smaller stabilisers of the shoulder, like the teres minor and subscapularis, along with the rear delt.

Rows can be looked at not only as the primary horizontal pulling movement for strength and muscle gains for the back, but also as a great equaliser in the constant war on bad posture and shoulder/neck pain. By strengthening the muscles around the thoracic spine and scapula it helps correct the common issue of kyphosis (rounded shoulders) which can lead to further issues like shoulder impingement and shoulder dyskinesis. I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements for those products that help your posture, by pulling you into a better position. Rows help create that but with your muscles already on your back.

The perfect row, in my opinion, is almost two movements smoothly rolled into one. This involves the movement at the shoulder blade, and then the movement at the elbows. At the shoulders, the retraction and depression at the top of the movement, or most shortened position, and then subsequent pronation as we return to the starting point. The elbows move from full extension into flexion and back. Now this is applicable for every variation of row unless you’re specifically trying to achieve something with a certain variation. Cable rows, T-Bar rows, one armed rows all have the same foundational principles; we want to train both the shoulder and elbow joints at bringing a weight closer to our body and away.

The three most common issues I have when trying to teach my clients to row here are:

  • Leaning too far back
  • Elevating the scapula instead of depression
  • Not being able to move the shoulders independently of the arms at all.

When were presented with this problem the usual method of regression is best, but specifically by breaking the row into two separate movements. First it helps to identify the position you want to be in, so start by moving the weight without bending your elbows, this will force you to engage your back muscles responsible for retraction, allowing you to start to feel the movement you need. After that slowly incorporate the elbows into the movement as well, making sure you squeeze hard at the top, continuing to reinforce the correct movement patterns. If you’re looking for a more in depth explanation and exercises to try to fix any issues, along with demonstrations of bad reps and how to identify them, please check out my video.

Until next time, lift smart and lift heavy!

Written By Coach Cayne Schultz