When choosing exercises for a workout, it’s very important to select moves that help you perform better in your daily activities. The bulk of your routine should consist of movements that have the greatest carryover to real life.

Few exercises translate to the real world as well as the barbell row, also known as the bent over row. Whether you are 15 years old trying to gain strength, or 65 and want to remain free of back pain, this exercise will help you accomplish your goals.

What is a barbell row?

The barbell row is a compound movement, meaning that it involves more than one joint movement. It’s especially important for developing your backside. Additional benefits include:

  • stronger arms
  • developed lats and rhomboids
  • stronger abdominals
  • stronger glutes and hamstrings
  • increased hip range of motion
  • increased spine stability

These all have a profound effect on reducing or preventing lower back pain.

Learning how to do a proper barbell row can easily be accomplished with a bit of practice.

Focus on three key points: The starting position, the movement, and the breathing.

All three of these must come together to ensure that your movements are the strongest and safest they can be.

This barbell row example uses an Olympic bar. Modify as needed.

How to perform a barbell row

Starting position

  1. Stand upright with the barbell resting on the ground at your feet.
  2. Unlock the knees and bend over from the waist to place both hands on the bar.
  3. Overhand grip the bar with hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Brace the core. With a flat back, lift the bar off the ground until the shoulders are slightly higher than the hips and the spine is almost parallel to the ground.

Note: In this position, your abdominals and glutes should be squeezing tight to help support your low back.

The movement

  1. From the bent position, pull the bar in toward the body, making contact just below the chest. You should clearly see your elbows rise higher than your back at the highest point of the row.
  2. Lower the bar down to its starting position and repeat.

Note: Make sure to not round the upper back or shoulders at the lowest point of the row.

Breathing

  1. Exhale on the pullup while bracing the core.
  2. Inhale while releasing down and pause at the bottom of the row, brace, and repeat.

Grip position

Use a double overhand grip, also known as a pronated grip.

Weight selection

This exercise can be adjusted to accommodate more specific training goals, but use the following as a general guide:

Strength with maximal size change: 5 sets of 1-5 reps at heavy weight.

Strength with minimal size change: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps at moderate to heavy weight.

Endurance for lean defined muscles: 2-3 sets of 15-30 reps at light to moderate weight.

Note: Increasing cardio training and maintaining a stricter diet will significantly reduce body fat percentage while lifting.

Next steps

The barbell row is a great exercise for all ages. It may help reduce the risk of lower back injury. Remember to keep a flat back and brace the core, stabilizing the spine. Never compromise good form for heavier weight. Always try to stay under control.