The Five Best Rowing Movements You’re Not Doing
13/01/2022 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 17 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
Horizontal pulling is woefully under-utilised in the functional community, where the pull-up seems to get all of the best press.
Limiting your pulling to a single range of motion doesn’t only leave gaps in your strength, functionality, and the overall development of your physique, but the risk of shoulder pain may accompany a high volume of pull-ups alone. A traditional grip pull-up grip puts your shoulders into ‘internal rotation’, which can be difficult for trainees that spend most of their day desk bound and suffer from bad posture and sticky mobility.
Horizontal rows, especially those using dumbbells or kettlebells provide not only a much more neutral grip, ideal for shoulder health, but they allow you to make adjustments to your technique on the fly helping you to find a comfortable range of motion and keeping those joints healthy.
Rowing movements are also crucial for hitting those ‘mid back’ muscles, that aid in posture and stability in heavy lifts such as power cleans, deadlifts and front squats.
For the more mirror conscious, rows contribute that thick, ‘3D’ look; because nobody wants to disappear when they turn sideways.
Here’s our top picks for 5 rowing variations you need to add to your routine.
Named after legendary bodybuilder and coach John ‘Mountain Dog’ Meadows, this unusual barbell movement hits your mid-back, unilaterally whilst also challenging your grip.
Position a barbell in a landline attachment or wedged into a corner, loading your plates onto the opposite end. Stand at the end of the bar, hinge down with a staggered stance and grip the thick end of the bar with an overhand grip. Pinch your shoulder blade back and draw your elbow back, behind your body, raising the bar towards your hips, pause here for a count then slowly lower the weight to the floor before repeating.
Chest Supported Bench Row
Even if you’re already integrating rows into your training roster, it can sometimes be difficult to ensure you’re really ‘hitting’ the lats and muscles of your mid and upper back. Excessive body movement and poor hinge mechanics can be a (literal) pain in the back. Hit the bench to take away the guess work.
Position yourself with a pair of dumbbells, chest down on an adjustable bench, set at around 45 degrees. Your chest should be as close to the top of the bench as possible, with your chin over the top. You may have to secure the base of the bench with dumbbells or plates to prevent it rocking forward. Allow the dumbbells to drift forward, with your arms at full extension. Focus on pulling hard into your hips and holding a strong squeeze at the top of each rep before slowly lowering the bells back to full stretch.
Head Supported Row
Keeping all of the ‘accountability’ that the chest supported row gives you in terms of keeping your form sharp and avoiding excessive momentum, but still allowing you to load your back completely without the support of the bench.
Set an incline bench to around 45 degrees or stack some boxes to above hip height. Holding a pair of dumbbell hinge over with a flat back and press your forehead against the top of the bench. Allow the dumbbells to drift forward, with your arms at full extension. Focus on pulling hard into your hips and holding a strong squeeze at the top of each rep before slowly lowering the bells back to full stretch. Keep your head pressed firmly against the bench throughout to eliminate excessive momentum.
Band Resisted Inverted Row
Despite protestations that bodyweight movements are ‘for beginners’, or that the inverted row is nothing more than a stepping stone towards the pull-up, there are many ways to up the ante and make the inverted row a muscle-building tour de force in it’s own right. The addition of resistance in the form of band tension forces you to actively accelerate throughout the rep, this type of explosive training helps to recruit more muscle fibres, building strength and size.
Set a band across a set of j-pegs in a rack, beneath a barbell, or anchor either side with heavy dumbbells. Position yourself under the band, so that it crosses your hips like a seatbelt.
Grasp the bar and hang beneath it, assume a strong plank position, creating a rigid structure from your ankles to your head against the tension of the band. Pull your shoulder blades down and back before flexing at the elbows and explosively pulling your body towards the bar. Touch your chest to the bar and hold this position for a second before slowly lowering yourself back into a dead hang and repeating.
Kettlebell Gorilla Rows
A potent movement that challenges not just your lats, but all of the major players in your back; strengthening your posture and pushing your anti-rotational trunk muscles to the brink. The necessity for supple hamstrings and mobility tie your upper and lower body together, teaching your body to work as it’s designed to- as one unit.
With a wide stance, hinge at your hips and grip two kettlebells on the floor, between your feet. Row one bell up towards your hips explosively, lower it back to the floor whilst simultaneously rowing the second bell upwards. Alternate in this fashion, keeping bells in constant motion.
You may think of your weight bench as more of an ‘accessory’ than a piece of kit in it’s own right. But if you think your bench is designed solely for, well, ‘benching’, you’re not using it to it’s full potential.
Add some of these movements into your rotation and upgrade your bench game.
We touched on everything from coaching biases, nutritional myths and philosophies, and how, even though science is incredibly important, it isn’t completely infallible, and that it’s important to develop our own compass especially when it comes to nutrition and training. Enjoy!
On Episode 28 of The Bulldog Gear Podcast AT goes solo to answer some of your burning questions.