The Exercise This Top Strength Coach Recommends
Walk into any gym and you’ll usually find a traffic jam at the bench press. But if you were to point out a man with an impressive physique, I guarantee he’s not pressing all day long.
I promise he’s putting a premium on exercises that work his backside. And there’s one exercise in particular that I bet he never skips: the barbell row.
The Benefits Of the Barbell Row
1. Better posture
The barbell row targets your upper back muscles—your middle and lower traps, your rhomboids, and the stabiliser muscles in the back of your shoulders—helping to pull your shoulders back. When there is a strength imbalance between your chest and your back, your shoulders will hunch forward.
2. Bigger lifts
The row trains your trapezius and rhomboids—muscles that help keep your shoulder blades from moving as you bench press. The more stable your shoulders are, the more strength you can generate in your arms and chest.
It gives you a more stable “platform” to press the weights from, and decreases your risk of shoulder injury.
3. An athletic physique
A thicker, wider, more muscular upper back results in the coveted V-shaped torso.
4. More total-body strength
Strong lats, traps, and rhomboids prevent excessive spinal rounding during the deadlift and squat. That means you can hoist heavier loads with better form and less injury to your back, and build more strength, muscle, and power from head to toe.
5. Beat Jason Bourne in hand-to-hand combat
Actually, no, it won’t. I wish.
My step-by-step tips:
1. I prefer to start the movement with the barbell on the floor instead of from a standing position. This helps you better emulate the deadlift and helps you generate more strength.
2. Pay attention to your feet. This stops your knees from caving in and increases lower-body stability. Make as if you’re about to jump as high as you can—but stop before you actually leave the floor. Now look at your feet. This is the position your feet should stay in throughout the movement.
3. Walk your feet under the bar so that it runs horizontally across the middle of your feet.
4. With only a slight bend in your knees, push your hips backward (as if you were trying to close a car door) until your hands grab the bar. You should feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings and your chest should stay lifted at a 45-degree angle.
5. Pretend there are oranges in your armpits. Now try to make orange juice by crushing them as hard as you can. This activates your lats and keeps your upper back from rounding.
6. Initiate the movement by pulling the weight about 2.5cm to 5cm off the floor. Let it hover there for a couple seconds.
7. Pull your elbows toward your hips, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top. Pause.
8. Return to the starting position, allowing the shoulder blades to move. You should feel them wrap around your rib cage as you lower the weight. This allows for more stability in the front shoulder and less stress on your biceps tendon.
Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., is the co-founder of Cressey Performance inHudson, Massachusetts, and the author of the blog Because Heavy Things Won’t Lift Themselves.