The barbell bent-over row, one of the few exercise that can either build MASSIVE MUSCLE or waste a lot of your time. Like anything else in life, if anything is worth doing it needs to be done right and this exercise is no exception. Some even consider the barbell bent-over row to be the barbell bench press for your back and for the sake of this article we are going to be discussing the OVERHAND-GRIP version of this exercise.
The difference between overhand-grip and underhand-grip is that the overhand-grip is going to primarily target your UPPER BACK muscles while underhand-grip targets more lats / lower back and traps. So this means that if done properly you should feel this movement throughout your traps, rhomboids and even your rear delts. You will activate your lats as well, but they will not be the primary focus in this movement. In fact, you should be using the overhand-grip barbell row with the goal of working more of your mid and lower traps because these are areas that do not get targeted a lot.
Also, because the barbell bent-over row strengthens the upper back it’s basically counterbalancing what the bench press does for your chest and shoulders and it will ensure good posture while providing a subtle lower-body and core workout as well. This is because you have to stabilize the weight by engaging your core and activating your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves to stand in place and perform the movement.
Now below are the 7 dumbest mistakes gym goers make when performing this movement and after you finish reading, your back workouts will never be the same!
MISTAKE #1: Keeping Your Legs Straight During The Lift
When performing the barbell bent-over row you MUST have a bend in your knees.
Bending your knees will allow you to push your hips BACK so you have a solid base to hold you in place to lift the maximum amount of weight.
If you perform this movement with your legs straight you will place a great deal of the load on your lower back which can cause spinal flexion and in time a lower back injury. You will also be placing yourself in a very awkward position which will greatly hinder the amount of weight you will be able to pull off the floor.
MISTAKE #2: Not Bending Over Enough During The Movement
The more “bent-over” you are, the more range of motion you’ll create during the movement which means more “time-under tension” for your back muscles.
Remember, to build muscle you need to first break it down and there’s a HUGE difference between having your upper body parallel to the ground versus standing up and barely bending over. When parallel, the barbell has a much greater distance to travel in order to reach your torso to complete one repetition.
This means you have to do more work to move the weight.
Remember this movement is called the BENT-OVER row. So BEND OVER and do it right!
The more upright you are the easier the exercise becomes and you can handle more weight, but the load transfers to more upper traps.
Mid and lower traps are usually neglected by most people so why avoid it here? Stay as parallel as possible so you can work on building bigger mid & lower traps as this is what the exercise is intended for.
MISTAKE #3: Standing Up During Your Reps
As mentioned previously, in order to get the most out of the barbell bent-over row your upper body needs to be completely parallel to the floor. What happens to a lot of lifters is that as soon as their muscles start to fatigue they instinctively begin to stand up taller and taller. Like we just discussed, standing tall makes the exercise easier to lift more weight and some of you may be doing this without even realizing it. So the next time you train your back, really pay attention to ensure you’re not standing up as your muscles begin to fatigue. If they do, lower the weight.
MISTAKE #4: Keeping Too Much Tension In Your Neck & Spine
One of the worst things you can do during this movement is place too much tension in your neck / spine. In fact, when doing any exercise you want to keep your neck and spine as neutral as possible to avoid any kind of excess tension which can cause a strain in the muscles in the area or even worse, a tension headache.
This means that if your upper body is parallel to the floor, then your face should be as well.
The biggest reason most gym goers keep their head up during this movement is because they want to look at themselves in the mirror. Well, DON’T. The gains don’t come until AFTER the workout is over so there is no need to admire yourself during your repetitions!
MISTAKE #5: Not Keeping Your Chest Up During Reps
The last thing you want to have happen while trying to build muscle is a week of pain in your lower back. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you keep your chest up during the barbell bent-over row. If you don’t focus on this, chances are you will fall into spinal flexion.
Once you fall into spinal flexion there’s no way you’ll maximize the amount of weight you could be lifting for repetitions. This is because to compensate for the roundness in your lower back your center of gravity will be pushed forward. Remember, in order to maximize your lift you need a SOLID base and that means your hips need to be pushed back. So as soon as you feel your lower back starting to round over you need to stop and reset your form!
MISTAKE #6: Not Properly Engaging Your Core During Your Reps.
As you become stronger you’re obviously going to want to add more weight to the exercise. When starting out core control may not be as important because let’s face it, light weight is light weight. But as you start lifting 150 – 200+ pounds, proper core control can be the difference between making massive gains or damaging your lower back.
You see, before each repetition you need to take a breath in and hold it while contracting your core to keep your upper body as solid as possible during the lift. This is what is going to keep your upper body parallel to the ground, even when under a heavy load.
However, if you breathe out during the repetition you will instantly go into spinal flexion and a great deal of the load will transfer to your lower back.
If you’re new to proper core control you should check out this article HERE. It will not only teach you how to control your core for heavy lifts, but will also teach you how to properly use a weightlifting belt for when the time comes that you need one for MAX LIFTS! Which better be soon!
MISTAKE #7: No Scapula Retraction & You Need To Stop Pulling The Weight With Your Hands.
The final mistake gym goers make when performing the barbell bent-over row is that they do not retract their scapula at the top of the movement and that they do not focus on pulling the weight with their back muscles. In order to fully engage your back during every repetition your scapula should be fully retracted at the top of the movement. In fact, a one second hold at the top is optimal to ensure you’re squeezing the muscles in your back as hard as you can as well.
The reason why most people do not retract their scapula is actually a two part answer. The first part is simply that they’re using too much weight and can’t lift the barbell to their torso to begin with. The second part is that too much attention is placed on pulling the weight off the ground with their hands and this is where mind-muscle connection comes into play.
To really master this movement you need to visualize pulling the weight off the ground with your elbows. So pretend that everything from your elbow to your hand is just a stiff hook holding the barbell. If you don’t, you’ll indirectly activate more biceps during the movement. I know, this might sound a bit farfetched to the untrained lifter. But if you’re able to save energy by disengaging your biceps as much as possible, you’ll be able to pull more weight off the ground which means more muscle gains!
Compound movements like this take time to master, but as long as you’re aware of what not to do you will see significant muscle gains in no time!