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Barbell Row: An Important Accessory Exercise for all Crossfitters

The Barbell Row is one of the most effective assistance exercises you can do to increase your Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. It will improve the strength of your back, hips and grip and even be useful for improving the power of your Pull Ups and Muscle Ups.


  • To avoid back pain, keep your lower back neutral. Don’t let it round or you’ll squeeze your spinal discs.
  • Don’t hold the bar in the air between reps or your back will tire and round.
  • Rest the bar on the floor between reps.
  • Set your lower back neutral before you Barbell Row the next rep.

barbell row techniqueSource: Stronglifts
Technique for the exercise

The Barbell Row is not only a back or upper body exercise. When you are unracking the bar and setting your stance you will bend at the waist and the glutes, hamstrings, and hips will work to stabilize you even before you’ve done the first pull.

The more weight you use, the more these “other” muscles will be called into action – and on heavy sets, they need to fire to allow the back musculature and shouldergirdle to experience maximum enrollment.

Attention! As useful as the Bent-Over Barbell Row is, if you deal with back issues you might have to find a different way to train this part of your body so you do not get injured.

barbell row muscles worked by the exercises
Engage your lats and strengthen your back


Ideally if the bar is weighted and raised off the ground you would step to the bar and allow the middle of your foot to be directly under the bar. If you are beginning with no weight at all you can simply hold the bar in your hand and let it hang as if it were weighted resting on the floor.

  • The approach and foot placement will be similar to the setup of a Deadlift.
  • Bend at the waist using an overhand hook grip, gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • With your hands firmly placed on the bar and the bar directly over the center of your foot, keep your knees slightly bent and slightly elevate your chest so your back is parallel to the floor.

At this point you will look almost like a runner at the starting line. Head in a neutral position. Back parallel with a slight arch. Hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Legs slightly bent depending on flexibility. The key is to keep the back flat throughout the movement.

Barbell row technique weightliftingSource: Stronglifts
Don’t cheat!


Now that you are setup and in the proper starting position, the rowing movement can begin.

  • Grip the bar firmly and tense your upper back muscles.
  • Slowly pull the bar off the floor by engaging your upper back and lat muscles.
  • You should feel a pulling sensation across your back, this indicates that the lats are engaged.
  • As the lats engage and you begin to lift the bar off the floor in line with your sternum, keep your elbows locked and in position.
  • The elbows play a significant role in the row as well as other pushing and pulling lifts.
  • You will need to find the best position for your elbows. A good starting position will be about 45 degrees from the body.


  • Pull the barbell up in a straight path, close the body by tightening your upper back, lats, and everything in between.
  • Squeeze hard at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower the bar back to the starting position over the center of your foot.
  • By lowering the barbell slowly, you will be able to feel your lats really work.


The Grip is so important that we will take a deeper look into what you should do.

Grip. Wrap your thumbs around the bar. You can squeeze the bar harder when you use the full grip. The harder you squeeze the bar, the less it can move in your hands. Squeezing the bar also contracts your arms and shoulders more. It engages more muscles. This makes the weight easier to Barbell Row. The thumbless grip may help you “feel” the exercise better. But it’s not effective for performing heavier Barbell Rows.

hook grip snatch liftSource: RX'd Photography
Hook Grip can help to increase the weights you are able to lift, and is useful for many other exercises, such as this Snatch

Grip the bar with both palms facing you. Don’t grip it with your palms up. Barbell Rows with your palms facing upwards will work more on your biceps. But it does this by putting your wrists and elbows in an awkward position. You can easily get wrist and elbow pain, especially if you grip the bar wide (like on the Bench Press) but with your palms up. Grip the bar like you would for a Deadlift, with both palms down.

TIP: Try using a Hook Grip. Yes, it will hurt at first, but you will get used to it and it will allow you to lift more weight.


The wider the grip, the more your torso drops. The narrower it is, the longer the range of motion.

Barbell Row with your grip narrower than on the Bench Press but wider than on the Deadlift. Gripping the bar wider like when you Bench Press makes the weight easier to Barbell Row. A wide grip shortens the range of motion by putting your arms at an incline. But this also drops your torso and can put it below horizontal to the floor.

If you have short arms, a wide grip can cause your lower back to round when you Barbell Row. If your lower back rounds, narrow your grip when you Barbell Row. This puts your arms at a more more vertical angle to the floor. It raises your torso and keeps it horizontal to the floor. The weight will be harder to Barbell Row because the range of motion is longer. But your back will be safer. Narrow your stance so your legs don’t push against your arms when you pull the weight from the floor.

Find more great Accessory exercises for Crossfitters and other athletes.

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