Bent over barbell row is a basic (multi-joint) exercise that is intended to develop back muscles. The exercise purposefully works out all the muscles of the back, the rear deltas and biceps. The back of the thigh and abdominal muscles also participate in the work (holding the tilt position). This is the most effective exercise for developing a massive, wide and V-shaped back. Therefore, it should be performed at the beginning of the back workout.
Varieties and technique of bent-over barbell row
Bent-over barbell row differs in grip types and body tilt. In width, the grip can be wide, medium and narrow. In terms of the location of the hands, it can be direct (overhand) or reverse (underhand). The wider the grip is, the more the upper back will work. Accordingly, the narrower the grip is, the more the lower back will work, and the load will also be shifted to the inside of the back (to the spine). The most effective grip is shoulder-width one or slightly wider.
The tilt of a body also affects which parts of the back will work harder. The more the torso tilts, the more the lower back will work. But, with a large inclination of the body, the lower back will experience strong load, which often leads to its injury. Accordingly, the less body’s tilt is, the more the upper back will work. I advise you to choose the middle ground and do the exercise so that there is an angle of about 80-90 degrees between the body and the hips (medium tilt). In this way, the entire back will receive maximum load.
Let’s take a closer look at each type of grips (overhand and underhand).
Overhand bent-over barbell row
The exercise is performed as follows: come the barbell, remove it from the rack and step back a little so that the rack do not interfere with you. Then, bend your legs slightly to relieve stress from the knee joints, bend forward while keeping your back straight. The head also looks forward when performing the exercise, the neck and spine should be on the same line. Begin to perform the exercise, smoothly pulling the barbell to the lower abdomen until it touches.
It is that point in which the maximum stress of the back muscles is achieved when the elbows are behind the back. Then gently lower the bar to its original position until your arms are straightened. At this point, the maximum stretching of the back muscles is achieved.
Underhand bent-over barbell row
The technique is absolutely identical to the overhand bent-over barbell row. Due to the reverse grip (underhand), a greater load falls on the biceps of the arms compared to a direct grip (overhand). But the range of motion of the bar increases, which allows us for more stretching of the back muscles. Therefore, I advise you in this exercise to do several sets with a overhand grip, and several sets with a underhand grip.
In addition, bent over barbell row can be performed in the Smith machine. In this variation of the exercise, the main thing is to take the correct position of the body at the barbell, because you will not be able to pull up or move the barbell, since it walks along the rack. The benefit of the Smith machine is that the bar always moves along the correct trajectory and it does not sway. But there is also a drawback here, when performing the exercise in the Smith machine, fewer stabilizer muscles work.
Tips on performing bent-over barbell row
1) Do the exercise smoothly, concentrating on stretching and stressing the back muscles.
2) Do not hold your breath while doing the exercise. Pull the barbell toward your lower abdomen as you exhale, and lower as you inhale.
3) Don’t chase after weights. Heavy weights will break your technique, which is likely to affect your lower back and lead to its injury.
4) Do not throw your head back and do not lower it down. The head should look forward, then the chance of injuring the cervical vertebrae is zero.
5) Keep your back straight during the exercise. Rounding the back can lead to the injury of a spine.
6) Use an athletic belt and lifting straps when doing the exercise. An athletic belt will support your torso and prevent injury. And the lifting straps will help to strengthen the grip.
7) And the most common mistake when doing the exercise is pulling the abdomen to the bar and bending the wrists. This shortens the range of motion of the barbell and reduces the usefulness of the exercise.