Barbell Bent Over Row

How To Do A Barbell Bent Over Row
By Alli McKeeApril 2, 2016

Barbell Bent Over Row Exercise

The barbell bent over row is a great exercise to strengthen the musculature of the back and core. It also strengthens the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the arms.

Equipment needed:

A barbell should be used for this exercise. A traditional barbell may be used, and to increase the resistance, lifters may add weight plates to each side. Some gyms have fixed weight barbells which are shorter than a traditional barbell and the resistance is not adjustable. These fixed weight barbells often increase in resistance by 5-10 pounds (50 lbs, 55 lbs, 60 lbs, 65 lbs, and so on). Also, some gyms have barbells that weigh 35 lbs, and occasionally less.

Ability level:


The barbell bent over row may be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. Because most gyms commonly have traditional 45 pound barbells, unless you have access to a lighter barbell, beginners may prefer to start with a different row variation which allows them to start with a lighter resistance. Great row exercise options for beginners include inverted/modified rows (on rings, suspension training straps), inverted rows on a barbell that is set up in a squat rack or on a Smith Machine (use a pronated or supinated grip), single arm dumbell bent-over rows (half kneeling on bench, split stance, or tripod stance with one hand on a bench), seated or standing rows using a band, cable, or machine (can be done with one or both arms).


The barbell bent over row is a great option for lifters with an intermediate level of experience, who have mastered some of the rowing variations for beginners that are listed above. If an upper body pulling workout is being performed, lifters should place the barbell bent over row somewhere in the first half of their workout when their body is fresh. If a full-body workout is being performed, the barbell bent-over row can be paired with a lower body compound movement (but avoid pairing it with any deadlift variation as both require that your body is in a hinging position), or an upper body pressing movement. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the barbell bent over row.


Women who are comfortable with the barbell bent over row may choose to use this row variation as well as increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). The barbell bent over row may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit or barbell complex. Women can also make this exercise more challenging by performing negative rows and lowering the bar in 3-5 seconds as this increases the eccentric component of the movement, or they can add band resistance to the barbell.

Benefits of Barbell Bent Over Rows:

How a woman chooses to use a barbell bent over row is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general barbell bent over rows can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing upper body strength, primarily in the back
  • increasing upper body strength in the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the musculature of the upper arms and forearms
  • increasing core strength in the erectors, scapula stabilizers, and the anterior core
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)

How to perform a Barbell Bent Over Row:

  • Place a loaded barbell on the floor or in a squat rack at about mid-shin height.
  • Set your feet so they are about hip width apart, and keep your knees so they are slightly bent.
  • Get into position by performing a hip hinge and really pushing your hips back. You can pretend that you are trying to push your hips back into a wall that is behind you.
  • As you push your hips back, keep your spine neutral (do not bend at the waist and do not round your upper back), and keep your chest up (but do not over arch your back).
  • Your hands should be just on the outside of your legs. Grip the bar so your palms are facing you.
  • Before you pick up the bar (deadlift the bar to a standing position), take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • Now before you get into your ''rowing stance,'' repeat the same breathing and bracing pattern that you just did, and hinge your hips back so you are in the starting position.
  • Row the barbell toward your waist by initiating the movement with your back, not by pulling with your arms. You should feel the muscles of your back squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. You can pretend that you are tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants.
  • If you are pulling with your back, your forearms should remain relatively vertical and you should be leading with your elbows, not your forearms and hands. Otherwise you are basically performing a bent-over biceps curl.
  • Stop the movement when your shoulder blades can no longer move together.
  • On the lowering portion of the row, stop the movement before the front of your shoulders collapse and rotate forward. They should remain pinned back for the duration of the exercise, and should not be used to create momentum.
  • Maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the exercise. Do not allow your back to round or hyperextend, and do not allow yourself to slowly creep into a vertical stance as this is very common. You will accomplish this by keeping your core braced and rib cage tucked towards your hips.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps
  • At the end of your set, take another deep breath in, brace your core, and deadlift the weight back down to the floor or rack.

Video Transcription: 

Barbell bent over rows are a fantastic exercise to challenge your upper back and your core. Unfortunately, they’re an exercise that gets butchered a whole lot. So a few things to remember.

When you’re doing the barbell bent over row; your lower body is essentially doing a hinge when you’re rowing the weight. So you’re pushed back into your hips and your core is nice and braced as you row. You’re not bending at the waist and rounding the back, you’re pushed back into your hips and sitting back into your hips and glutes.

When you go to row the weight, it’s really important to pull your shoulder blades back and down. What you don’t want to happen is for the elbow to come back past the shoulder, as that’s a bad position for the shoulder to be in. So you want to think about keeping your elbows close to your body and pulling your shoulder blades back and down together, holding for a second, and then releasing.

So I’ll show you what that looks like. Make sure you pick up the weight properly, just like a deadlift, hinge back into your hips, brace your core, and row. One thing that you’ll see is people trying to row the weight all the way to their stomach.  But the problem is that they can’t pull their shoulder blades back that far. They end up here, and then in order to pull the weight all the way to their stomach they rotate their shoulder forwards and pull their elbows back and again, that’s a poor positioning for their shoulder. So make sure you’re thinking: hinge position, pull back into your hips, shoulder blades, core braced, shoulder blades gliding over the rib cage, and squeezing your back together.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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