What Is a Barbell Row: The Ultimate Guide

man is performing barbell rows at home

Looking for strength training routines?

Try the Barbell Row!

So, what is a barbell row? The Barbell Row is an efficient full-body exercise. A range of muscles is involved while you lift the weights. It includes your arms, upper- and lower back, shoulders, and hips. Barbell rows are an excellent exercise to work on your biceps and back. Using a barbell and weight plates adds more resistance to level up your workout routine.

Here’s the definitive guide on how to do a barbell row properly.

how to do barbell rows chart

How to Do Barbell Rows

Level up your upper body routine with a barbell. Get to the standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Hinge your back forward with the legs slightly bent at the knees. Push your hips back. Grasp the barbell a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. That’s your starting point.

Start pulling the barbell close to the chest level by bending the elbows. The elbows are placed just past the torso pointing up. Squeeze your shoulder blades while performing. Make a pause for a second at the top of the move.

Return to the starting position by lowering and straightening your arms. Make sure there’s a straight line from the neck to the lower back all the way out. Repeat 8-12 times per set.

Barbell rows are a highly efficient compound exercise. You can level up your Deadlift, Bench Press, and Squats with this exercise. This mix will fire up your full-body muscles for sure.

You have to work on a proper Barbell Row form. Make sure the back is in a natural position. An arched back isn’t allowed as there’s a risk of squeezing your discs. To avoid back pain, don’t hold the barbell in the air between the sets. Rest the bar on the ground while having a break. Don’t round your back when lifting the weights.

Don’t confuse Barbell Rows with Barbell Deadlifts. You shouldn’t shift the workload on your hips. Lower your torso the way so the upper back is focused.


woman showing how to barbell rows

What Muscles Do Barbell Rows Work?

The Barbell Row is a top-notch exercise to amp up a wide range of muscle groups. It’s not only a workout for your arms. Your back, core, and legs are engaged too. Slay barbell rows to show off your back musculature this summer.

Bent-Over Barbell Row: Muscles Worked

So, what muscles do barbell rows work?

  • Arms. Your upper muscles are activated to hold the barbell in your hands when performing. Your biceps are engaged to bend the elbows when lifting weights. Your triceps are also engaged to move your upper arms behind the torso (at the highest point of the exercise).
  • Upper back. Your shoulder blades are placed together when you pull the bar to the chest level. At the top momentum, your lats are activated. Including latissimus dorsi as the biggest back muscle. While doing the Barbell Rows, you also involve your traps and rear shoulder muscles.
  • Lower back. Keep your back in a neutral position to avoid issues with your spine discs pulling out. When you lift the bar, your back may bend due to gravity. The barbell row is a resistance training exercise that requires you to resist force. This is beneficial for strength training and gaining muscle mass.
  • Core. Brace your core while doing barbell rows. This helps to keep your lower back in a proper position. So your back isn’t arched. This exercise helps to strengthen your abs as well. And strengthening leads to gaining mass. Of course, there are more efficient core exercises like the Russian twist or Crunches on a stability ball. But that’s a tremendous addition to your regular abs workout routines.
  • Hips. Your lower body is also engaged when doing the Barbell Row. When you lift your torso, your hamstrings and glutes are engaged to get the barbell off the ground. These muscles also work to keep your back in a proper form. Legs and glute muscles help to stabilize your body when you’re doing the Barbell row. Due to the dynamic and static squeezing of your lower-body muscles, your hips are working out well.

As you can see, Barbell rows are an excellent exercise to strengthen your body. It not only improves your lats, but it’s also beneficial for your core and legs as well. The Barbell Row is recommended to improve your back with heavy weights. Beginner users can start with an unloaded barbell. While professionals can add weight plates over time.


back view of man doing barbell rows

How to Do a Barbell Row: Step-by-Step Guide

Let’s get the nitty-gritty of safe Barbell Row form. Proper movements lessen the risk of getting injured. As the exercise involves using heavy weights like a barbell and discs, you must know what you’re doing.

Proper Lower Back Position

Barbell rows are advantageous for building your back muscles. But only if you do it duly. The bad form may lead to back traumas. To avoid that, let’s check your posture.

Don’t arch your back when lifting the barbell. This may lead to hyper-extending your lower back. Your spine discs may be squeezed and cause health issues with your back. That’s why make sure your back is in a neutral position. When lifting weights, try to keep a straight line from the lower back to the head.

Bracing your core helps to lock your back position. So your spine discs won’t slide. If you don’t brace your abs, your back will start to bend. You don’t want to perform the Barbell Row with a round back.

There are few exercises that keep your back in a neutral position. For instance, Pull-ups, T-Bar Row Machines, Dumbbell Rows, and Inverted Rows don’t do that. But Barbell Rows and Deadlifts do. Thus, if you learn how to do a Barbell Row properly, you’ll improve your lower back like a pro.


woman is standing behind barbell

Proper Feet Position

Barbell Row’s feet stance is a bit wider than when performing the Deadlift. But not as wide as for Squats. Your feet’ position depends on the grip variation you choose. The narrower you grasp the bar, the narrower your feet position will be. So your legs don’t go against your arms. Your heels must be somewhere between the hip-width and shoulder-width apart.

Your starting position plays a significant role in proper posture. When the barbell is on the floor, place your feet under the bar. So the bar goes across the mid-foot line. That’s a perfect balance point. When your raise the bar off the ground, pull the gear to the chest keeping this vertical line over the balance point. Hinge your torso forward to accomplish the movement.

If you place the bar over the toebox, it will force your torso forward. This will get you out of balance. And if you place the gear close to your shins, you can’t lift the barbell properly. Thus, mid-foot is ideal.

Another point to consider, your feet are always flat on the ground. When you perform the Barbell Row, don’t move your feet. Still feet position strengthen your balance point. The better balance – the better performance. The better control you have, the more weights you will be able to load over time. Don’t raise your heels off the ground. Or you’ll end up falling down. Make sure you don’t raise the toes either. Your feet are fixed on the floor.

As for the toes position, keep them slightly out from each other. Your toes are pointed in the same direction as your knees are. So your knees are slightly outside as well. In case of the knees pointed forward, you’ll hit them with the barbell while raising the gear. Place your knees slightly outward so the bar can be lifted flawlessly. If you hit your knees while doing Barbell Rows, that’s a sign of incorrect position.


hands in gym chalk to hold barbell

Proper Gripping

Grasp the bar the following way. Your thumbs are close to you while the rest of the fingers wrap the gear outside. That is called a full-grip. The full grip is the best hand position on the barbell when doing the Barbell Row. Such a position allows you to grasp the bar well. The more confident you can hold the bar, the less you will move it when lifting.

Gripping the barbell makes the shoulders and arms contract more. So the muscle groups are more engaged. The full grip position makes the Barbell Row highly efficient to perform.

Some athletes use thumbless gripping. That’s the position when all the fingers wrap the bar from the outer side. The thumbless grip may help you feel the exercises. But it’s not so efficient and it’s hard to secure the barbell when lifting heavy weights.

Besides, when you grip the bar with your palms outward, you place your wrists in a non-neutral position. In case of heavy lifting, you may end up with elbow pain or a wrist injury. That’s why it’s recommended to grasp the bar as you do with the Deadlift. Place your palms faced towards you.

Grasp the bar tightly with your fingers all over it. So the skin on your palms wraps the gear around. Place the bar close to the fingers. This position will help you to prevent calluses. You have to grasp the barbell tightly so it won’t move in your hands. Grip the gear well to avoid wobbling.

You can consider wrist straps when doing the Barbell Row. In case of heavy weight that you can’t grip well, straps will come in handy. Use chalk and wrist straps to improve your gripping. Alternatively, you can try a hook grip. Such gear is recommended for heavy lifting only. Beginner athletes don’t need any straps. Raising the bar with your bare hands will develop your gripping strength ability. That’s important to add some weight over time.


Proper Grip Width

So, how far should your wrists be apart from each other? The grip width is a crucial part of proper posture. The grip can be narrow, medium, or wide.

Wider grip allocates the Barbell Row exercise. It cuts the range of movement when gripping wide. Such a wrist position can make you hinge your torso forward. And your back is no longer parallel to the floor. If your arms are short, you may end up with an arched lower back, which is unacceptable.

Try a medium grip position. It’s narrower than when you do the Bench Press. And it’s a bit wider than when you do the Deadlift. The average wrist grip keeps your back in a horizontal position.

In case your lower back is arched, try a narrow grip. This makes the arms more parallel to each other. The narrow gripping will raise your torso but still, parallel to the ground. Performing Barbell Rows with a narrow grip might be challenging. As the range of motion is longer. But you’ll keep your lower back safe.

Make sure your hands don’t bother your feet when you grasp the barbell on the floor. Narrow your hands so that they are not facing the feet.


man holding barbell with bent wrists

Proper Wrist Position

Don’t turn into a T-Rex with bent wrists when doing Barbell Rows! Keep them straight while performing. Place your thumbs around the bar for the full grip. It will help to squeeze the gear and keep it secured.

Lock your wrists when lifting weights. So there’s a straight line from the wrist to the elbow. Don’t bend your wrists or you’ll end up with pain. Besides, your gripping is not solid. You can’t lift heavy weights with such a wrist position.

Raising the bar with bent wrists is sometimes called a T-Rex Row. That’s an inappropriate position that shifts workload on the wrong muscle groups. While your wrists are bent, they are overloaded. But you have to engage your back muscles instead. If you spot you look like a T-Rex, lower the bar and get the proper position with your wrists straight.


Proper Elbow Position

Another part of your arm that should be considered is your elbow. When you lower to grasp the bar, strengthen your arms. Bent elbows at the bottom position decrease the range of motion. It also makes the torso posture incorrect that leads to an arched back. Locked elbows prevent bicep traumas. The same goes for Deadlifts. Extend your arms before weight lifting. This will keep your back in a neutral position.

When you raise weights off the ground, proper elbow position is also important. Make sure your elbows are placed behind your back at the top position. If they are not, the weight is too heavy for you. Don’t try to cheat with a bent wrist to reach the chest level. Yes, you’ll accomplish the rep but you may hurt your wrists. It doesn’t worth it at all.

Don’t lower your torso below the horizontal line to meet the barbell. It’s also cheating and it’s inefficient. Unload some weight discs so you can perform Barbell Rows duly.

Look at the mirror, while performing. This will help you to check your posture. If there’s no mirror in your home gym, film your workouts.

If you set your elbows pointed down, this is non-efficient. Secure your elbows pointed at the top like when you do the Bench Press. Otherwise, your torso position will be shifted. And you’ll be out of balance. The elbows can’t touch the torso either. In such a case, the bar will be too close to the legs. And you’ll end up hitting your legs with the barbell. So, when you lift the bar, your elbows are facing the ceiling at a 70-degree angle.


loaded barbell on gym floor

Proper Torso Position

That’s one of the most substantial aspects to consider. Your torso must be parallel to the ground while Barbell Row. There’s a straight line from the head to the lower back. Look at the mirror to fix your posture.

Keep in mind that your torso can lift when you perform a Barbell Row. You’ll feel the exercises are easier to do in such a position. That’s because your hips got involved more. A back decline of no more than 15 degrees is acceptable. So the hips won’t grab much workload from shoulder muscles. Perhaps you need heavier weights if your hips are opening when lifting.

Using too much hip power turns into Deadlifts. Don’t confuse these exercises. Make sure you don’t decline your torso 45-degrees above the line parallel to the floor. Otherwise, it’s cheating and non-efficient. The weight is easier to lift as there’s less work on your upper back.

Your hips can slightly help you to raise the bar off the ground. But don’t shift all the work on your hips. If you find it difficult, try to unload some weight from the barbell. Perhaps it’s too heavy for you.


Proper Chest Position

If you place your chest up, you’re unlikely to arch your back. That is beneficial when doing Barbell Rows. Don’t brace your shoulder blades at the bottom. Brace your armpits to lock the chest position. Your chest posture may wobble between reps. So lift your chest up before doing another rep.

When doing Barbell Rows, pull the bar to the lower rib cage. Make sure you lift the bar in a vertical position from the mid-feet to the chest. That’s a perfect performance. If there’s no straight line, you hit the chest incorrectly. Look at the mirror to check the proper form.

Don’t make a pause with the barbell at the top position. The thing is to raise the bar and pull it to the lower chest. If you do it properly, your elbows will meet each other behind your torso. Once you lift the bar, slightly lower it down. Your shoulder muscles will do their work.


Proper Shoulder Position

Your shoulders must be in front of the barbell. This can be easily accomplished if your torso is parallel to the ground. Your hips are high and the knees are slightly bent.

If your shoulders are behind the bar, look at your hips. Perhaps they are too far behind and you’re off the balance. Or your knees are too flexed. Your shoulders must be in front of the barbell like when you do Deadlifts. But here, your hips are higher so the torso is set horizontally.


man lifting barbell to the knees

Proper Knee Position

Keep your knees unlocked when performing Barbell Rows. Your legs are not fully straight with your knees bent. In case you bend your knees too much, you may hit them when lifting the bar. So keep your legs straight with your knees slightly flexed.

If your knees are pointed forward, you may hit them with the barbell. Keep the knees slightly outward like when you do Squats. This means your toes are positioned outward too. The perfect angle is 30 degrees out. If you do so, the bar won’t hit your knees when raising it off the ground. That’s especially recommended for athletes with long thighs.

Don’t keep your legs fully stretches when Barbell Row. Your hips can help you a bit to lift the bar off the ground. But still, the upper back does most of the work. If you feel your knees straighten when your lift the bar, the weight is too heavy. Try to unload some disks from the barbell.


Proper Hip Position

When doing Barbell Rows, your hips should be set higher than when you do the Barbell Deadlift. Unlock your knees to raise your hips. Lift them till your torso is in a horizontal position.

Don’t fully extend your legs by raising the hips too high. And make sure you keep the knees back to avoid hitting them.

Try not to overload your hip muscles when raising the barbell. They can help you a bit when lifting heavy weights. As your upper back muscles grab the most of the work.


Proper Head Position

As we mentioned, keep the straight line from the head to the lower back. That means don’t raise your head when doing Barbell Rows. Otherwise, you could overextend your neck and squeeze out the spinal discs.

Don’t look at your feet either. Otherwise, you may end up with an arched back. Keep the head in a neutral position to line up with the torso. First, you can practice the proper Bent-Over Barbell Row form with no equipment. Look at the mirror and check the posture. This will save your neck from injuries. Alternatively, you can film your workout to check the posture. This will prevent you from raising your head.


Barbell Row Breathing Technique

Breathe in well at the bottom position. Grasp the bar and brace your core. This will help to fix your posture and put the spine in a horizontal position. Do a Barbell Row and lower the bar. Breathe out when returning to the starting position.

Don’t exhale at the top when Barbell Row. This will keep your torso braced and your chest up. Such stability prevents arching your lower back. Hold your breath while at the top position and start exhaling as soon as you reach the bottom. Take a big breath again before doing another rep. Once you breathe in, pull the bar immediately.


Barbell Row Variations

man performing Dumbbell Row

Dumbbell Row

A Dumbbell Row is a single-arm row performed with a dumbbell. You’ll need a bench to do the exercise.

Place your left arm on the bench with the palm facing the bench. The fingers are faced outward. Place your left knee on the bench as well. Grasp a dumbbell with your right hand. Your torso is parallel to the floor. There’s a straight line from your head to the lower back. Your head is faced down to the floor.

Pull the dumbbell to the chest. Your right arm is bent and the elbow is pointed behind you. Do 10-12 reps per set. Then switch arms and legs. Do another 10-12 reps with your left arm.

Place the dumbbell on the floor between reps. This will help to rest your arm well. However, some people prefer to keep the gear in the hand.


how to Pendlay Row chart

Pendlay Row

Pendlay Rows are distinguished by the way of slamming the barbell off the ground each rep. So you don’t hold the bar in the air between reps. You have to do the Pendlay Row and return the bar on the ground. Every rep starts with pulling the barbell out from the ground.

While doing the Pendlay Row, your horizontal position is fixed securely. Your upper- and lower-back muscles work even more efficiently. That’s an excellent explosive exercise. Do 10-12 reps per set.


woman performing Yates Row

Yates Row

Yates Rows require your torso in an upright position. Plus, there’s an underhand grip. The bar is held in the air between reps. You don’t need to put the bar on the floor every time.

While performing the Yates Row, your torso is 45-degrees above the horizontal line. Grasp the bar with your palms facing you and the fingers on the outer side. Pull the barbell to the belly button. The hand grip is narrowed, your elbows are close to the torso. Do 10-12 reps per set.


man performing T-Bar Row

T-Bar Row

T-Bar Rows are performed on a special T-Bar machine. There’s a bar that looks like a barbell. It’s placed between your legs. You put your feet on the footrest. There are handles on the sides of the bar. Grasp the handles with your hands with palms facing out. Some T-Bar machines come with a chest rest to place your chest on.

There’s a straight line from the head to the heels. Your torso is 45 degrees above the horizontal line. You can use a barbell instead of the machine. You need to secure one end of the bar in the corner. While lifting another end. Load some weights if needed. Do 10-12 reps per set.


man performing Machine Row

Machine Row

You can perform a Seated Machine Row. That’s usually a rowing machine with a bench where you sit down on. Your torso position is upright. There’s a vertical chest rest in front of you. You need to pull the handles to your chest. Do 10-12 reps per set.

Machine Rows are less efficient as they activate fewer muscles. When performing seated rows, your lower back, hips, and legs are not engaged. As you don’t need to set a perfect balance point. You can do it with no probs when sitting on the bench.

Such a Barbell Row variation is great for people with lower back injuries. If your back is fine, it’s better to do classic Barbell Rows. They are more beneficial for strength training.

Another machine is used to do a Seated Cable Row. The exercise is similar but you need a cable machine here. It’s a trainer with a handle in front of you. You have to pull the cable so the handle is close to the chest. Unlike the previous machine, the cable machine has no chest rest. And again, only upper arms are engaged.


man performing Inverted Row

Inverted Row

Inverted Rows are also called Horizontal Pull-Ups. You’ll need a power rack to perform the exercise. Get down on the floor with your face up. Your upper body is in the power rack.

Set the bar on the power rack so you can reach it with your arms. Grasp the bar with your hands with palms facing out. Use the full grip position. Lift your hips and brace your core. There’s a straight line from the upper back to the heels at the top position.

Start doing a Pull-Up till you reach the chest with the bar. Bend your arms with elbows pointed behind you. Engage your arms and upper back, not your lower body. Stretch your arms back without touching the ground. That is 1 rep. Do 6-1o reps per set.


man working with T-Bar Row

Barbell Row Benefits

1. Strength Training

Lifting heavy weights provide great resistance training. Pulling the bar improves your muscles all over the body. Especially, the exercise is advantageous for the upper body: lower back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps. You’re able to add more weights over time. This will help you to foster your strength.

2. Excellent Explosive Exercise

Barbell Rows are a highly performing exercise. You need to pull weights quickly with no making pauses in between. This trains explosiveness. The faster you raise the barbell, the more reps you can perform.

3. Gain Back Muscles

The Barbell Row is one of the best exercises that target back muscles. With the proper posture we described above, your back is involved more. Pulling weights amp up your back, making the muscles bigger. You work out the whole back musculature with the exercise. So you’ll get an ace look when you turn around.

4. Train Hip Hinges

Not only the upper body but the lower body is engaged in Barbell Rows. The exercise requires keeping the hips back. This posture is essential for similar weight lifting exercises when you need to bend over. The proper leg position keeps you balanced. This is beneficial to take the fullest advantage from the Barbell Rows.

5. Level Up to Other Lifts

When you slay the proper Barbell Row form, it will help you to perform similar exercises as well. Slightly bent knees and hips are beneficial for the Deadlifts. Besides, greatly warmed-up muscles can be improved with other compound exercises.


loaded barbell and water bottle on the floor

The Definitive Guide On Barbell Rows Revealed

The Barbell Row is one of the most popular workouts when it comes to tone your back. The exercise is beneficial for amping up your back, shoulders, core, and legs. With a proper posture, you can get a massive back over time.

Barber Rows, like any other exercise, has its form requirements. Keep your torso parallel to the floor. Your knees are slightly bent. Pull the bar to the lower chest. Inhale at the bottom position and exhale when returning back to the starting point. There are variations of the Barbell Row that slightly differ from each other.

You need to buy a barbell and weight plates to perform the Barbell Row. Keep it in mind when planning your home gym.

Image Source: myneurogym.com, shutterstock.com, pixabay.com.