Row To Grow

by Jarueba Taylor

Nothing says strength and power like a well defined thick back. A strong back will not only make you look more aesthetic, but will also make you more mobile and powerful. One of the best ways to develop a thick strong back is through rowing motions.

Rowing exercises work the lower traps, rhomboids, lats, and spinal erectors. While rowing is one of the best exercises for the back, how you row and what type of rowing you do makes a significant difference of which back muscles are emphasized. To truly hit a bunch of different back areas you should use a variety of row types.

Let’s look at five different types of rows and how they affect the development of the back.

Pendlay Row

The Pendlay Row is one of the best rows for adding slabs of muscle to the back. The reason for this is because the Pendlay Row is performed in such a strict manner. A Pendlay row starts with the barbell on the floor, and the move is completed with a flat back as you pull the barbell to your chest. There is little to no momentum so there is virtually no cheating and the back muscles have to do virtually all of the work. With other types of rows, people can swing or jerk to get momentum to perform the row, not so much with the Pendlay Row. With virtually no momentum the back muscles are forced to pull to the max creating an environment to pack on slabs of muscle rather quickly. Although the Pendlay row is a stricter form of rowing, do to it’s strict execution it places less strain on the lower back as with a traditional bent over row.

One Arm Dumbbell Row

The next row we look at is the one arm dumbbell row. The one arm dumbbell row is another exercise that is great for adding slabs of muscle to the back. The one arm dumbbell row is a movement where you can really isolate your lats individually because its a unilateral movement. This exercise is also beneficial if a person has one side that is a little stronger than the other. Because each side of the back has to row individually it can help with strength imbalances from side to side. One arm dumbbell rows also help build stability. Because one arm dumbbell rowing is a unilateral movement it will help build stabilizer muscles in the back and core. You can also load the dumbbells pretty heavy because the grip on a dumbbell is one of the most advantageous ways to hold and pull for maximum power.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Chest supported rows offer all the benefits of various types of rows with minimal risk. Think of the chest supported row as the little brother to the Pendlay row. Think of it as a smaller dumbbell version of a type of barbell row. Chest supported rows while stricter, also tend to be better at building muscle because there is no momentum from other body parts to help get the weight up. It is a more stable movement rowing wise, because your rowing motion is braced and supported. The supported chest can help you pull more weight because your back is does not have to stabilize nearly as much as a unsupported row variation.

T Bar Row

If your goal is a thick dense back, then T Bar Rows are a must in your back training protocol. Most of the time T-bar rows are done with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) this is the strongest pulling position. This gives T-bars an advantage over most forms of bent over rowing. Using both hands to grip gives you a leverage advantage. This advantage can be used to load more weight. This also gives T-bar rows an advantage over forms of dumbbell rowing. The only major drawback is, because people can load more weight with a T Bar row, once the weight becomes heavy it is very easy to break form. At our gym we are very fortunate because we have a custom made “Trident Bar”. With this bar we can do multiple variations of T Bar rowing. The unfortunate part of T bar rowing for most gyms is they simply do not have one. If you are lucky enough to have access to a T Bar, make it a staple in your back training.

Pulley Row

Pulley Rows are probably the best cable version of rowing. Don’t think just because you are not rowing a barbell or dumbbell that pulley rows are not as good as most form of rows. A properly performed pulley row will give your back an insane pump due to the pulley row being able to isolate the back more. Because the pulley row is more of an isolation movement and on a pulley system, it is easier to perform higher rep sets. Your muscles will not fatigue quite as quickly as with barbell and or dumbbell rowing. Because you can often get more reps with a pulley row, you can also get some really good muscle pumps in the back.

Pulling it all together

If you really want to add some serious muscle to your back, then you need to row. Rowing will work multiple areas of your back depending on what type of row and what your goal is. Your best best for building up different areas of the back is to use a variety of different row movements. You should include the use of barbells, dumbbells, cable apparatuses and multiple angles when trying to build the muscles of the back.