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Master the Bent-Over Row For a Stronger Well-Rounded Back

Save time and work your entire back.

The bent-over row is an exercise that takes care of your entire back, but most people don’t take their time to do them. Don’t be like most people.

This exercise is sure to flare up your back and you can easily progress, lift more weight as you go, making it a great option to build a stronger and bigger back.

There are a couple of variations of the bent-over row, however, the one with a barbell is the most common and the main focus of this article. The bent-over row can also be known as the barbell row.

How To Do the Bent-Over Row

  • You can set the barbell on a rack set at hip level or leave it on the floor, but you should be able to deadlift the barbell to get the bar to its starting position.
  • Assume a standing position with legs slightly bent and torso almost parallel to the floor with head, spine and pelvis aligned.
  • Hold the barbell with palms facing down (overhand grip) and with hands a bit wider than shoulder-width.
  • Arms should be fully extended with the barbell barely below your kneecaps. Draw your shoulder blades down and back. This is the starting position.
  • Brace your core and pull the bar towards your belly button.
  • Squeeze your back muscles as you row the bar up closer to your abs.
  • Hold the bar for a brief second at the top of the movement.
  • Lower the bar to initial position in a controlled manner.
  • That is one rep.

Mistakes to Avoid

The bent-over row is a very technical exercise and you must be able to perform to excellence if you want to reap its benefits. There are many mistakes you should avoid.

Since it is not a typical exercise for most people, one of the hardest parts of the bent-over row is to utilise the full range of motion – without it, you will not be recruiting the muscles you should. Make sure you maintain your stance, spine aligned, arms stretched and shoulder blades protracted.

Arching your back can be detrimental not only for neglecting some muscles you should be using but also because it could expose your body to potential injuries.

Make sure you can control the movement without doing it too fast or too slow. If you are going too fast, perhaps you should increase the weight you are using. If you are pulling the bar too slow, you could make better use of lighter weights.

Muscles Targeted

The main target of the bent-over row is your back, but other secondary muscles will also be recruited while performing the movement correctly.

  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Lats
  • Teres Major and Minor
  • Rear Delts
  • Infraspinatus
  • Abs
  • Biceps
  • Lower Back
  • Shoulders
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Read More: Lower Back Workouts to Get Strong and Prevent Injury


This exercise is a compound movement that will flare up your back like no other. The hinging necessary to do the exercise will make you a better athlete overall with any movement that requires you to jump or pick something up from the floor.

Using a barbell in this exercise will allow you to lift heavier weights compared to variations of the exercise that utilise cables, dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands.

Back-MusclesSource: Nigel Msipa on Unsplash

If you are short on time, the bent-over row is the best exercise that will hit three of the five main back muscles (middle traps, infraspinatus, spinal erectors) according to a study published in 2018. The exercise also came out as second best for the other two muscle groups (lower traps and lats).

Working your back as one big single muscle will help you correct and maintain good posture, a problem most of us are facing due to slouching on the couch, having a desk job or looking down on our mobile phones constantly.

How Many Reps and Weight Should I Lift?

The main goal of the bent-over row is to train hard and lift heavyweights. Therefore, most people would be better by performing 4-6 sets of 6-12 reps. If you are new to the exercise, start with 3-5 sets of 5 reps until you have mastered the technique.

To gain muscle and increase strength, a good rule of thumb is to utilise moderate to heavy load on the barbell and do sets of no more than 12 reps.

If you are looking to increase the endurance of your lower back and core, change your tactics. Choose a lightweight and perform 2-3 sets of 20-30 reps with up to 60 seconds of rest between each set.


As mentioned before, the bent-over row can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, cable machine or even resistance bands. The movement standards are fairly the same. However, there are other variations of the exercise that change your endgame.

Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row is versatile and can help beginner and elite athletes alike. You will need only one dumbbell to perform the exercise, one arm at a time.

As you will lift one dumbbell per side at a time, you will burn more calories while doing the exercise, while also correcting any strength imbalances you might have.

Underhand Bent-Over Row

It looks exactly the same as the bent-over row, but instead of holding the barbell with palms facing down, you should have your palms facing up to the ceiling.

The change of the grip keeps your elbows in check and you will activate your shoulders less during the lift, making this variation use more of your lats. Your biceps will also play a bigger role with this exercise.

Inverted row

The inverted row mimics the same movement of the bent-over row but utilises your body weight and gravity to recruit your back muscles.

You can choose to bend your knees on the floor to make the exercise easier.

Bent-Over Fly / Reverse Fly

Another back exercise that utilises the hinge position to your advantage, but with dumbbells and a bigger scapula retraction. It is also commonly called reverse fly.

This isolation exercise particularly hits the delts, which can help you build up strength before trying deadlifts.

Read More: 7 Back Exercises for Building Muscles

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