Have you ever wondered about the different types of rows and which will build more muscle? Should you incorporate them both into your training or choose one or the other?

Barbell Bent Over Row

The barbell row is a compound movement where heavier weight is used to overload your entire back. Bending over, a barbell is held with both hands and rowed toward the chest. Start with low weight and focus on form before going heavy to reduce injury possibility. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and bend from your waist. Your chest should be kept up and your back straight. A belt can be worn to help brace your core and prevent back rounding. With controlled movement, you should squeeze your elbows close to your body and back so that the bar touches your sternum. Then slowly return the bar back down until your arms are fully extended to achieve a maximum stretch of the back muscles. Once you have got this down using lighter weight you can slowly start adding on more weight.

The barbell row is great for not only working your back, but also assisting in core strength and grip strength. The strength you build while doing it will also carry over to other compound lifts such as the squat and deadlift. Not to mention other back exercises. Use a slow tempo rather than using your body to jerk the weight to prevent injury and build more muscle. Getting a thick back from rows will assist you in having a base for pressing movements such as the bench press.

Check out this video for further information on the barbell row.

Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row is a safer alternative to the barbell row that allows you to work one side of your back at a time. This can allow for a better mind muscle connection as you’re only focusing on one side. It also helps you focus on building up the weaker side of your back. You will notice if one side is weaker. In the barbell row, the stronger side can often take over the movement and do most of the work. Here, you are forcing your weaker side to do the same amount of effort.

Once again, start with lighter dumbbells and master your form before going heavy. The position of your body is quite similar, but one knee is usually placed on a bench. Or you can have the arm that is not rowing holding onto a bench or rack for support while you row the other arm. Using your lats, squeeze your elbow up close to your side, then slowly return your arm back to the bottom. Once again, make sure that your back does not round and you keep your chest up. A great way to prevent this is to try an incline dumbbell row. By putting a bench on an incline, you can lay your chest against the bench and then row the dumbbells. This will prevent possible back rounding and save you from injury.

Here’s some additional tips for the dumbbell row if you aren’t feeling it in your back as much as you think you should be. Really focus on rowing from your elbow rather than just moving your arm up and down. This should allow you to feel it in your lats more. Row the dumbbell up with a slight angle rather than straight up and down. It should be rowed back towards your legs, which will also help you feel it in your lats. Squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement should also help incorporate your back muscles even more. Make sure the movement is controlled and you are not swinging your body to get the weight up.

Perfect your form further by viewing this video.

So Which Is Better?

Now that you’ve learned some benefits of each and are probably wondering which you should be doing. I would recommended doing both so that you get both of the benefits from each. This will ensure that you are overloading your back with heavy weights from the barbell version, and also exclusively focusing on each side of the back at a time with the one-arm row version. Whenever asked to choose between two exercises, I always say to pick both. But if you did have to choose?

Dumbbell rows will be the superior in training for hypertrophy; that is muscle growth and appearance. One reason for this is that the barbell row can be very dangerous if done incorrectly. You are bending over, putting your back in a dangerous position and rowing a heavy barbell up and down. For an inexperienced lifter, this can result in injury very quickly. Additionally, you are using a lot of stabilizer muscles while doing the barbell version. Your legs and core are trying to keep your body stable while you row, which somewhat takes your back out of the movement. You are exerting a lot of energy trying to keep your body in the safe position, so you cannot put 100% of your focus into working your back muscles.

Again, your back is not supported in any way as you are bent over. When rowing a dumbbell, your other arm is stabilizing your body by holding it in the correct position. This takes your core and legs out of the movement. Meaning your back muscles can do all the work and be activated a lot more. This leads to more muscle breakdown and in the end, more muscle growth. This is the ultimate goal with any exercise. Often, lifters will stop their barbell row because their legs or lower back just can’t keep up. This means they are missing out on a few extra reps because other stabilizing body parts have failed even before their back has.

Another point to consider is the potential wear barbell rows can have on your lower back. If you’re doing your other compound movement like the squat and deadlift, you know that these already can place tension on your lower back. So opting out on the barbell row may be a good idea so that it can be in great condition for these movements. Why put extra stress on your lower back if you can simply just do an alternate version of the exercise that works your back even more? Instead of rowing heavy weights bent over, do so when you deadlift. Overload your back that way instead. Also, once form has been mastered you can row heavy dumbbells. This covers the overload portion of your rowing.

Let me know what you learned in this post and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below!

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