Barbell rowing: technique, execution, muscles involved

The barbell rowing variant that stimulates the maximum amount of muscle mass is the one in which the bar rests on the ground in each repetition (90 degree torso tilt )

Muscles-involved-in-row with barbell

The barbell rowing involves a large number of muscle groups, both directly and indirectly.

It is the main antagonist of the Bench Press, and therefore, to avoid muscle and aesthetic imbalances, you have to work and devote the same importance

  • Bench Press -> Horizontal Push
  • Barbell Row -> Horizontal Pull

The muscles and areas that will be worked in the Barbell Row will be:

High Back

When we perform the pull, we notice a scapular contraction, and in this we bring the barbell up to touch our chest. Therefore, we are working in the area of ​​the sides, trapezius and posterior delts.

Lower Back

The lumbar region must be neutral, to avoid any risk of injury. Gravity causes the back to bend, as this is determined by the vertical force vector of the barbell. In this way, we can perform the opposite force and strengthen the muscles along the spine: the erectors.


The muscles of the abdomen must resist the tension so that the sword bottom is in neutral position. This force will cause the long-awaited “6-pack”, in particular, we will work on the rectus abdominis. If you are trying to show the abdomen, through this hypertrophic stimulus, it will help you grow. The next step will be the diet…


The hamstring and gluteal muscles work with each muscle contraction, that is, with each execution, moving the bar off the ground. But it will do this to once again maintain the neutral curvature of the lower back. This exercise stimulates and strengthens the muscles of the hips, through dynamic and static contractions.


The forearm muscles work to maintain grip on the barbell. The biceps will allow you to bend your elbow and shift the weight. The triceps will bring the upper arm behind the torso, the long head of the triceps joins the shoulder blade.

The Barbell Rowing Machine will allow to work the whole back , without the need for applying other types of exercises or from other angles, as well as taking time and not strengthening the sword in one piece, and of course the load cannot be very high as it implies greater muscle isolation .

If you are looking to build muscle mass and strengthen your back, while also achieving great muscle density, the Barbell Rowing together with Deadlifts are the best exercises

Rowing-with-Barbell Technique

Starting Position

The starting position start posi placing the feet at hip width , with the toes pointing slightly towards the corners, forming an angle of about 30-45º, according to our flexibility, as in the case of performing one Deadlift .

Come fare rematore con bilanciere

It is important that knees and feet point in the same direction . The barbell will remain close to the tibia, without touching it, several cm away, remaining on the middle of the foot (instep)

Imagine that the barbell draws an imaginary line from the center of the foot to the chest, perpendicularly . If we attach the barbell to the shin, when we shift the weight, we could scratch our leg. During the execution of the movement, the feet will remain close to the ground, we must never lift any part, neither the heels nor the toes

Grip the Barbell

The grip we will use will be the prone.

In this type of grip, we will fully grasp the bar , ie the thumbs should wrap completely. This means that we can tighten the bar more rigidly. Also, a stronger grip leads to recruiting more muscle and, of course, being able to add more weight to the bar. It is recommended to grip close to the fingers, not in the center of the palm.

Larghezza di presa del rematore con bilanciere

For very heavy loads or series, you can use Straps or Grip Straps, to eliminate the grip limitation and get the maximum benefit from this exercise.

Furthermore, we should work on the grip, through auxiliary exercises , to always try to strengthen all parts of our body.

The width of the grip should be narrower than that of the Bench Press and slightly wider than that of the Deadlift . A wider grip (greater than the Bench Press) will reduce the range of motion, causing us to tilt our arms and torso lower, bringing its lower position to 90º.

On the other hand, if the grip is more centered or narrow (lower than Bench Press) we can maintain a position perpendicular to the floor (desired position), without rounding the lower back and our hips will remain in a neutral position. It will still be a much safer position for the back.


The wrists are a weak point in any type of exercise , if obviously we do not maintain a correct position during the execution of the movement.

In the case of the Barbell Rowing Machine, the situation will not be different, if not worse, we can get hurt if we use a wrong grip. As mentioned above, the grip must be complete, i.e. the thumbs will surround the barbell and we will press hard.

Esecuzione rematore bilanciere

In this, your wrists should be straight , never bent, as we would lose our grip, and if the load were high there would be a risk of injury.

If for any of the reasons, the technique is different from what has been explained and the wrists are bent to force and bring the bar to the chest, the most recommended will be reduce the weight of the barbell


The elbows should be locked at the start of the movement . Anything else will create the risk of lower back injury, as the torso will be lower than the desired position (perpendicular to the floor). Another important reason will be to avoid acquiring bad habits, such as execution in the Deadlift; and is that in this exercise, starting from a position where the elbows are locked will be crucial to avoiding a serious bicep injury.

In the barbell rowing it is not about performing a curl, as the load is large enough to involve the isolation of this, and also that the purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the back muscles (and for previous reasons, indirectly the rest of the musculature).

Tecnica Rematore

In this case, the elbows will direct the barbell , i.e. in the final position of the complete movement, the elbows should be behind the bust

Two common mistakes:

  1. Bring the chest closer to the bar when we are close to the end of the movement, without reaching the elbows behind the torso
  2. Bend the wrists , to direct the barbell to the chest, while keeping the elbows in the correct position

Both errors result in a c therefore, reducing it in favor of a more correct and healthy movement. It is advisable to improve the technique, as these errors are frequent, the recording and the subsequent visualization of the polls


The barbell rower tries to strengthen the back muscles, and therefore the position we must acquire will be 90 °, that is our torso (muscles of the lower back) will always remain perpendicular to the ground .

Anything else that does not involve this postural behavior will mean that other muscle groups will be involved, such as the legs.

Posizione del torso nel rematore con bilanciere a 90°

The lower back reflects whether we are performing the movement correctly, as well as obviously checking that it is safe

The natural arch of the lower back must be maintained, avoiding both retroversion and anteversion of the pelvis

Low Back

The spine has natural curvatures (lordosis and kyphosis). Although these curvatures exist from an internal anatomical point of view, it is obvious that externally they will not be observed in the same way, since it must be seen as a straight line.

So, if we observe pronounced curvatures, we will understand that there is no neutrality and therefore a stability of the structure

Torso inclination when lifting the load

In the starting position, we will start from a completely perpendicular posture.

Inclinazione del torso nel rematore con bilanciere

By lifting a particularly heavy load, our torso can describe an angle of about 15º, which we can however maintain without involving the hip muscles

In addition to this elevation, we would do a similar movement to the Dead Weight , and this is not the target. We will therefore take a limit of 15 °

Execution-Row with Barbell


The bar starts in exactly the same position as the dead weight: rests on top of the feet, glued to the shins (separating the bar implies more tension in the lower back).

In general, standing on the floor eliminates tension in the lower back and tends to recruit the upper back better in the first phase of the movement.

  • Grab the bar about the same width as you would do a bench press (a little less wide). This way, there will be more transfer to it and it will improve a lot more.
  • The barbell rowing should be the opposite movement .
  • Although it is It is possible to grab it both supine and prone, it is recommended to perform the prone grip with the thumbs around the bar .
  • This way it is like if you were really doing a bench press .

Types of grips

If you opt for a supine grip, the width at which you grip the bar should be lower, the closer the elbows come together the better, for more work in the middle back.

Prone grips minimize biceps action, especially the false prone grip. The supine grip shifts part of the effort towards the biceps in a more emphatic way and tends to shift muscle action towards the middle and lower groups.

It is important that the barbell touch the chest. If the bar isn’t hitting your chest or a solid surface, it’s like doing partial-motion rowing. It will not be finished and you will not make the most of this exercise.

When do I breathe?

We will take a breath in the starting position

So, take a deep breath, hold the air, contract the torso, and do a rowing! This will be life insurance , above all when handling large loads.

Back Position

Always keep your upper back parallel to the ground, do not get carried away by your ego and try to do an incline row

It is preferable to use less weight and do the exercise correctly, progressing in this way will make you progress more generally. If your barbell rower becomes a 45 ° rower you will need to help with your legs, and that would be too heavy a weight . Lower it!

In general, as the angle to the vertical increases, the effort shifts from the upper back groups to the lower and middle groups.

Begin each set and each repetition from the ground and not from above, nor bear the weight without reaching it. The greatest contraction of the upper back occurs if you lift the bar from a standing position off the floor and not let it hang in the air.

How far do you raise the bar?

The answer is simple, exactly in the same place where the bar rests when performing the Bench Press , or at least until there is contact with a solid surface

In general, carrying the bar high to the chest requires a more stabilizing action on the lower back, while carrying it towards the belly moves more effort towards the upper and middle back.

The elbows direct

Pull with the elbows

This is a trick that will help locate the work on the back and do not turn this rowing into a biceps exercise, at the risk that this entails. Pull your elbows towards the ceiling instead of simply pulling with your hands.

Also avoids bending the wrists. Remember to avoid curls

Scapular retraction

It is simply mandatory. And this concept will be applied in other exercises, such as the Bench Press of course.

Final Position

Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top as tightly as possible and open your chest up.

  • It’s not enough retract the shoulder blades, it is necessary to move them down also for greater compaction.
  • It is not necessary to maintain the isometric weight. Just touch your chest and drop down .
  • Keep your head down . Don’t try to look in the mirror, you will hurt your neck. Don’t even look at your feet, your back can become rounded, and as with Deadlifts, you can hurt yourself.
  • Just look down slightly.

Video-Row with Barbell (Oar 90 °)

Biomechanical-Analysis of Rowing-with-Barbell

Oars with barbell or dumbbell, in first place; and with pulleys, lever machines and TRX, secondly, they should be important exercises in any compensated planning .

Personally, movement training is one of the ways in which which I support the most, as I consider it easy to organize work to balance a routine. Therefore, the rowers would constitute a horizontal pull exercise since they are performed mainly in antero-posterior planes (although it depends on the inclination in their execution) with force vectors perpendicular to the body.

Although it may be somewhat surprising, for optimal balance: same volume (and similar load ) of weekly horizontal thrusts, where the pressures on benches reign, in relation to the rowers

One of the appreciable differences is the inclination of the trunk while running

Most rowers’ movements involve stabilization of the spine, which involves inherent variables such as load on the spine, degrees of movement of the spine, and to remain immobile during movement.

Spinal load

Shear forces are more damaging to the spine than compressive forces that occur with axial load, however activity spinal muscle to maintain posture can actually create compressive forces.

Carico spinale rematore

Thus, although the rowing motion is anterior-posterior, axial forces will also be significant in the spine.

Degree of movement of the spine

Since the spine is subjected to significant shear forces during movement of rowing, unless the muscles around the spine create forces to prevent movement, these shear forces will cause the spine to flex.

Despite the fact that a certain amount of movement in one of the three spatial planes is considered acceptable in most populations, often reducing spinal motion is better for many individuals , especially flexion-extension.

Rotational motion is somewhat peculiar because in rowing with one hand with dumbbells, as well as in those performed unilaterally, this is greater and should even be the main advantage of its execution depending on the objectives.

Percentuale rom massimo

The graph shows spinal movements in a standardized format, as well as a percentage of the maximum range of motion available in the spinal column.

The barbell rowing is performed with 40% of the maximum available flexion-extension movement , while when performing the cable with one hand allows almost 70% of the maximum rotational movement available


Spinal stiffness describes the ability of the spine to stay still in the plane sagittal , despite being exposed to high shear forces. If the spine moves little during high loads, it is generally considered an excellent indicator of spinal stability.

In addition to the type of exercise itself, this quality will be determined by the subject’s core strength and resistance mobilized.

Attività muscolare addome

Also, it’s true that the unilateral movements seem to activate the obliques more, but awareness and control of the basic set can ensure that no significant differences are created in the activation of the total abdomen between the three exercises shown, thus assuming a solid foundation for its correct execution

Muscle activity

The barbell rowing produces greater overall activity of the back muscles, including the lower back, and further challenges spinal stability by creating high compressive forces and a tendency to move extension of flexion.

Attività muscolare schiena

On the other hand, suspension exercises are suitable for those who suffer from low back pain and avoid both compressive forces on the spine and rotational movements

The rower with barbell according to his inclination

Continuing with the observations of the previous graph, it is appreciated that the barbell rowing is positioned as the best bilateral exponent of this type of exercise, although several variations of it can be observed.

Of course, it will give strength and size to the agonist muscles (dorsal, rhomboid and trapezius in a more prominent way), but also to the spinal erectors, and to some extent, the glutes and hamstrings . When done correctly, the hip joint mechanics can transfer favorably with the deadlift into the phase of maximum hip flexion (at the beginning of the movement).

From experience, I think that the first image that can come to mind when thinking of the rower at most is that of slightly inclined rowing .

Far from being a complement of this exercise, popularity is to understand it as the basic rowing in training; which in my opinion is a mistake. The upper body has a fairly vertical position (about 70 degrees from the ground), which allows us to move higher weights, and this is where it is wrongly associated that activity muscle will be greater than the classic rowing or Pendlay.

The activity of the upper trapezius and biceps is greater than that experienced in these , but if the main goal was to work the dorsal as a whole (with more emphasis on the dorsal and rhomboids), should be replaced by what we will see later.

This movement is limited in terms of range of motion and can clearly indicate a lack of flexibility (shortening) of the posterior chain


Without excluding any variant, but always looking for a training as efficient as possible, the rowing with 90 ° barbell is the horizontal traction exercise that most trains the back in its entirety

If the goal is muscle hypertrophy , the barbell should not be supported between reps or, at best, allow a light touch on the ground.

With the aim of strength-power , the Pendlay seems to be better because there is some muscle relaxation between repetitions, always without losing the adequate protection provided by the core as a whole.

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