The bent-over barbell row is a compound lift that builds strength and size in the back, shoulders and arms.
There are multiple variations of the barbell row, which involve different grips (underhand vs overhand), hand positions (wide vs narrow), and bar paths (low vs high).
For the sake of clarity, when I talk about the barbell row, I’m referring to the plain vanilla bent-over-row, which looks like this:
Barbell Row: Form Guide
- Stand with your feet flat on the floor, roughly shoulder width apart.
- Bend forward at the waist while pushing your hips back, adopting a hinged position.
- Take hold of the barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart.
- In the starting position, your arms should be fully extended, with the barbell off the floor.
- Keep your knees slightly bent and maintain a neutral spine (a slight arch in your lower back) throughout the exercise.
- Your upper body should be positioned at an angle slightly above horizontal to the floor.
- Pull the bar towards your rib cage, feeling your shoulder blades squeeze together as you lift the bar.
- Pause briefly at the top, then lower the bar under control back to the starting position, just below the level of the knees.
Barbell Row: Muscles Worked
The barbell row is a compound exercise that works a number of muscle groups, including:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Trapezius (mainly the mid traps)
- Posterior deltoids (rear shoulders)
- Elbow flexors (biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis)
The muscles surrounding the spine, particularly those in the lower back, also have to work very hard just to maintain a neutral spine.
The way the barbell row is done will affect how hard each of those muscles is working.
If you want to focus more on the lat muscles:
- Use a relatively narrow grip
- Keep your elbows close to your side
- Pull the bar into the lower part of your stomach close to your belly button
If you want to focus more on the upper back muscles, as well as the rear delts:
- Take a wide grip
- Flare the elbows out to the side
- Row the bar higher up on the stomach closer to the chest