The Bent-Over Row Is Way More Than Just a Back Exercise
While rows are primarily a back exercise, they recruit the rest of your body as well-which is what makes them a must-have for any strength-training routine. The dumbbell bent-over row (demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) is just one of many ways to reap the benefits, but it may just be one of the most accessible.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row Benefits and Variations
"The main muscle group targeted is your back, more specifically the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids," says Lisa Niren, head instructor for running app Studio. You can even tweak the row slightly to target different parts of your back: "Pulling the weight higher to your chest works your upper-back muscles while pulling the weight closer to your waist works your mid-back muscles," she says.
Take care to keep the shoulders "down and back" the entire time to ensure you're working the correct muscles, says Christi Marraccini, trainer at NEO U in New York City. "Especially toward the end of your set, when you may be tempted to let your shoulders creep toward your ears," she says.
The bent-over row (and any back exercises, for that matter) are important to incorporate into your strength routine to maintain the balance of strength between the back and front of your body. "The bent-over row is the perfect complement to the bench press because it targets the muscles on the opposite side of your body," says Heidi Jones, founder of SquadWod and Fortë trainer. (Try supersets of the bent-over row with a dumbbell bench press or push-ups for a killer-but balanced!-lifting set.)
The bent-over row exercise also targets your biceps, as well as muscles in your shoulders and forearms, plus your legs and core. (Yes, really.) "The abdominal and lower-back muscles contract to stabilize (or keep your body in place) while performing the exercise," says Niren. "Strengthening these muscles improves your posture and spinal stability, reducing the risk of lower-back injuries." (Related: Why It's Important to Have Strong Abs-and Not Just to Get a Six-Pack)
On the flip side, however, the bent-over row may irritate the lower back in some individuals. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the standing bent-over row put the largest load on the lumbar spine compared to the inverted row or standing one-arm cable row. If the standing bent-over row causes lower-back pain, try the inverted row with a suspension trainer or hanging under a barbell. Or, to make it easier overall, select smaller dumbbells.
Want an added challenge? Try flipping your hands to an underhand grip (dumbbells horizontal, parallel to shoulders and wrists facing forward away from your body) to target your biceps and lats even more, says Jones. If you want to load even heavier weight, try the bent-over row with a barbell and an overhand (palms facing your thighs) grip.
How to Do a Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and holding a medium- or heavy-weight dumbbell in each hand by sides. With knees slightly bent, hinge forward at the hips until torso is between 45 degrees and parallel to the floor and dumbbells hang below shoulders, wrists facing in. Engage core and keep neck neutral to maintain a flat back to start.
B. Exhale to row dumbbells up next to ribs, drawing elbows straight back and keeping arms in tight to sides.
C. Inhale to slowly lower weights back to starting position.
Do 4 to 6 reps. Try 4 sets.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row Form Tips
- Keep your eyes focused on the floor slightly in front of feet to maintain a neutral neck and spine.
- Keep core engaged throughout each set and try not to move your torso at all.
- Focus on squeezing shoulder blades together at the top of each rep.