Bent Over Barbell Row & 4 Variations

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

Bent Over Barbell Row Muscles Worked

The primary muscles worked during a bent over barbell row are the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. These are the muscles that extend from the middle of your back to your sides and up towards your shoulder blades.

Like other rowing motions, the bent over barbell row increases your pulling strength. And it can give you a thicker more defined back.

How To Do Bent Over Barbell Rows

If this is your first time trying this exercise, begin with just the bar to make sure you can perform the range of motion safely. Once you get the hang of it, you can gradually increase the weight.

To begin, stand with your shins close to the bar, about shoulder-width apart. Then grab the bar just outside your legs.

In the video, you’ll notice I’m using an overhand (pronated) grip. But you can also use an underhand (supinated) grip, which brings more biceps in the movement.

Once you have the bar in hand, stand up the same way you would in a deadlift. Driving through your legs while keeping your back straight and shoulders back.

From the standing position, bend at the hips and lower the bar to the top of your knees. Also, let your knees bend slightly to maintain balance.

Next, pull the bar up and back towards your waist by squeezing your lats and rhomboids. Exhale on the way up, then inhale as you lower the weight back towards your knees.

Bent Over Barbell Row Video

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Bent Over Barbell Row Form

  • Keep your back straight at an angle of about 40 to 50 degrees

  • Pull the bar towards your waist by squeezing your back muscles

  • Do not slouch forward or stand up too straight

  • Do not bounce or use your legs to generate momentum

Bent Over Barbell Row Variations

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

Dumbbells

When using dumbbells the main difference is that your hands won’t be linked together by the bar. Other than that, the movement is essentially the same.

In addition, dumbells allow more range of motion since the bar won’t hit your stomach. And you can play with different hand positions, or even rotate your hands as you perform the movement.

Smith Machine

A smith machine has a barbell attached to rails that are vertical or at a slight angle. Often, the bar is counterweighted 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 they would be when using a barbell. But the travel of the bar may differ slightly since it’s being guided by rails.

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

Cables

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

Resistance Bands

If you’re working out at home, you might not have access to any of the equipment above. 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, simply widen your feet.

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Conclusion

The bent over barbell row is a foundational exercise for your back workouts, pull day, or total body routine. It’s an excellent movement for developing overall back strength while building thicker and more defined muscles.

In addition, there are multiple variations which means that you can incorporate this movement regardless of your gym setup. Check out my related articles below for more exercise tips.

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