Bent Over Barbell Row

How to Perform This Exercise For Building a Bigger Back

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: July 23, 2023

The bent over barbell row is a foundational exercise for a strong and muscular back. But, if done wrong, you won’t get good results and you could even strain your back.

That’s why I’m going to show you how to do bent over barbell rows properly. As well as some variations using dumbbells, cables, and bands.

So you can safely build a better back whether you workout at home or at the gym.

Bent Over Barbell Row

What Is a Bent Over Barbell Row?

The bent-over barbell row is a weightlifting exercise that targets the back muscles. This compound movement is like the bench press for back day.

When done correctly, it can improve overall upper body strength and effectively work the large pulling muscle groups of the back and arms.

Bent Over Barbell Row Muscles Worked

During a bent-over barbell row, the main muscles that are worked are the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. These muscles extend from the middle of your back, up towards your shoulder blades, and down towards your sides.

The bent-over barbell row also indirectly works the biceps and forearms during the arm flexion involved in pulling the bar.

Bent Over Barbell Row Muscles Worked

Bent Over Barbell Row Benefits & Limitations

One of the main advantages of performing bent-over barbell rows is that it is a powerful compound movement. This means it targets multiple muscles and joints in the upper body, making it an excellent exercise for overall muscle and strength gains.

Another benefit of using free weights is that you can do this exercise just about anywhere with a bar and weights, without the need for specialized equipment. Moreover, free weights help in replicating real-world functional movements.

Hence, bent-over barbell rows are a great exercise to enhance your pulling strength and give you a more defined and stronger back.

However, beginners may take more time to master the correct form as compared to machine rows. Also, it is imperative to use proper form while performing this exercise to prevent lower back strain.


  • The compound movement works multiple muscles.
  • You can use heavy weights to build power.
  • It’s a fundamental movement for functional back strength.


  • It requires intermediate-level motor skills and body control.
  • The bent-over position can aggravate the lower back.

How To Do A Bent Over Barbell Row

If you are new to this exercise, starting with just the bar is recommended to ensure you can perform the movements safely. Once you are comfortable with it, you can gradually increase the weight.

Begin with your shins close to the bar, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar outside your legs using an overhand (pronated) grip.

Stand up with the bar, keeping your back straight and shoulders back, as you would in a deadlift. Bend at the hips and lower the bar to the top of your knees, allowing your knees to bend slightly for balance.

Then, pull the bar up and back towards your waist by squeezing your lats and retracting your shoulder blades. Exhale as you lift, and inhale as you lower the weight back towards your knees.

Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, which is generally 3-7 for strength or 8-12 for muscle growth.

Here are the basic steps to do a bent-over barbell row:

  1. Step up to the bar with feet about shoulder-width
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width
  3. Stand up with the bar, then bend forward until the bar rests just above your knees
  4. Pull the bar up and back toward your navel, while keeping your back straight
  5. Slowly lower the bar back to your knees
  6. Repeat for the desired reps.

Bent Over Barbell Row Video

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Bent Over Barbell Row Form

The description and video above should give you a great starting point for performing the bent-over barbell row effectively. But here are some additional tips to help you master perfect form.

  • Keep your back straight at an angle of about 45 to 60 degrees.

  • Think about pulling up and back towards your waist, not straight up perpendicular to the floor.

  • Do not slouch forward or stand up too straight.

  • Do not bounce or use your legs to generate momentum.

Bent Over Barbell Row Variations

The bent-over barbell row shown is just one version of the exercise. Alternative ways to perform it include changing the grip, equipment, or body posture.

Underhand Bent Over Barbell Row

Holding the barbell with your palms up is called a reverse grip, also known as an underhand or supinated grip. Although it may appear to be a minor modification, it can significantly aid in focusing on your lower lats compared to an overhand grip.

Smith Machine Bent Over Row

A Smith machine has a barbell attached to rails that are vertical or at a slight angle. Often, the bar is a counterweight, so it’s not as heavy as a traditional barbell.

How Much Does A Smith Machine Bar Weigh?

With a Smith machine row, your body position and hand placement are the same as when using a barbell. But the bar’s travel may differ slightly since it’s guided by rails.

Still, I’ve found this variation to work very well because it requires less stabilizing muscle recruitment and isolates your back.

Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row technique can help you focus on developing your upper lats and enhance your ability to perform Olympic lifts. To do this exercise, you must bend forward, keeping your back parallel to the floor.

With each repetition, you start from a stationary position with the weight on the ground. Then, you pull the barbell directly towards your chest, keeping your elbows flared out.

Landmine Row

Finally, the landmine row is a type of barbell row that requires straddling the barbell with one end attached to the ground. This variation creates a set path of movement, comparable to the Smith machine.

Bent Over Barbell Row Alternatives

Many of you may not have access to a barbell and plates to do this exercise, and that’s fine. I will give you some variations for an at-home workout or with different equipment.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row

When using dumbbells, the main difference is that your hands are not linked together by a bar. However, the movement is essentially the same. Dumbbells offer more range of motion because the bar will not hit your stomach.

Additionally, you can experiment with different hand positions or even rotate your hands while performing the movement.

Cable Bent Over Row

When doing cable bent over rows, you have two options. One is using a bar or other attachment connected to a single cable. Another is using a straight bar connected to cables on each end.

Whichever you choose, the cable pulley should be placed near the floor. Then the movement is the same as it is with the barbell.

One advantage of cables is that they provide more even resistance throughout the entire range of motion.

Resistance Band Bent Over Row

If you’re working out at home, you might not have access to the above equipment. But you can easily pick up a set of resistance bands for under $30.

When using resistance bands, stand on the center of the bands. Then bend over and perform the rowing motion as described above. To increase the resistance, widen your feet.

More Resistance Band Back Exercises

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More Back Exercises & Workouts

The bent-over barbell row is an essential exercise for your back workouts, pull day or total body routine. It helps develop overall back strength and thicker, more defined muscles. It also has multiple variations, making it adaptable to any gym setup.

However, it’s recommended to incorporate other back movements in your workouts for optimal results. Here are some additional back exercises and workouts to inspire you.

Full Dumbbell Back & Bicep Workout

Wide Grip vs Close Grip Lat Pulldown for Back

Best Dumbbell Back Exercises

Complete Pull Day Exercises List

Based on the information provided, you have a solid foundation for achieving your goals of building a stronger back. If you found this article helpful, I believe you may also find these additional resources to be valuable.

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By |July 23, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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