13 Row Variations to Amp Your Upper Body Workouts

13 Row Variations to Amp Your Upper Body Workouts

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Most exercisers prefer working the muscles on the front of their bodies — i.e. the ones they can see in the mirror. But when it comes to building total-body strength, the muscles of your “posterior chain,” which run from your shoulders to your calves, are just as important.

Your back makes up a significant portion of that chain, and strengthening it — primarily with pulling exercises — can not only help correct postural issues and muscle imbalances, but, in so doing, can also reduce your risk of injury and improve workout performance. “It might sound counterintuitive,” says Openfit Senior Manager of Fitness and Nutrition Content Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., “but doing pulling exercises can help boost your bench.”

Enter: rows.

 

What Muscles Do Rows Work?

Rows primarily work and strengthen the the rhomboids, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. You’re likely familiar with the “lats,” the large fan-shaped muscles on either side of your back that are among the largest in your upper body, says kinesiologist Ryan Campbell, a training specialist at Anytime Fitness of Southern Wisconsin. When strengthened, they’re what help give your torso that coveted V-shape.

There are two main types of pulls: horizontal and vertical. “Both horizontal pulls and vertical pulls hit the same muscles, but horizontal ones like the bent-over rowemphasize the rhomboids and traps while vertical ones like the pull-up emphasize the lats,” Thieme says.

“That’s why you need a variety of different pulling exercises in your workouts — they all challenge your muscles in slightly different ways, and in so doing, can help you optimize muscle growth, strength, and balance,” Thieme says.

Rows, however, don’t stop at the back. Because they’re large, compound exercises that move not only the shoulder joints but also the elbows, rows also train the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis to help sculpt and strengthen your arms — no curlsrequired.

 

13 Row Variations You Need to Try

To help correct existing front-to-back muscle imbalances and optimize total body strength and power, most experts recommend performing two pulling exercises for every pressing exercise. “As those imbalances begin to even out, you can go to a one-to-one ratio,” says Thieme.

Here are 13 of the most effective row exercises you can integrate into your existing workout routine.

Renegade row

renegade row exercise

This advanced move combines a plank with an alternating single-arm row to work your core and back from multiple angles.

  • Assume a push-up position with your hands gripping two hex dumbbells. Your hands should be in line with and slightly wider than your shoulders. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your core engaged, elbows tucked, and body straight from head to heels, lift the dumbbell in your right hand to the side of your torso.
  • Pause, and then return to the starting position. Repeat, this time rowing the dumbbell in your left hand. Continue alternating sides.

 

Cable upright row

This upright row focuses on the traps for a strong, sculpted upper back.

  • Set the pulley of a cable machine to its lowest height and attach a straight bar.
  • Grab the bar with both hands, holding it at arm’s length in front of your thighs. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping the bar close to your body, raise it until your elbows reach shoulder height.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the bar to the starting position.

 

Bent-over dumbbell row

dumbbell bent over row exercise rear delt exercises

When it comes to sculpting a V-shaped torso, it’s tough to beat the bent-over row. This classic dumbbell variation works each side of your body independently, making sure that your dominant side (the right for most people) doesn’t do more than its share of the work.

  • Stand tall with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Engage your core, push your hips back, bend your knees slightly, and keep your shoulders squared (i.e., not hunched) as you lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Allow the dumbbells to hang at arms’ length with your palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked, back flat, and torso stationary, pull the weights to your sides as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the weights to the starting position.

 

Seated cable row

Performing a row in a seated position with your feet braced increases your stability, making this variation a good option for beginners. As you master proper row mechanics, you can move on to more advanced row variations, such as the bent-over row.

  • Secure a double D handle to a cable row machine. Grip the handle in both hands and take a seat with your feet on the platform, your knees bent slightly, and your arms extended in front of you with the cable taut. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your chest up and torso stationary, pull the handles toward your torso, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you drive your elbows behind you (don’t let them flare out).
  • Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.

 

Chest-supported dumbbell row

dumbbell chest-supported row man bench

Stabilizing your torso against an incline bench reduces the stress on your lower back and forces your upper back to do all of the work, optimizing muscle growth.

  • Set an incline bench at 45 degrees.
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, and approach the bench with your chest toward the angled pad, then lean onto it. Plant your feet firmly on the floor, and let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
  • Pull the dumbbells to the sides of your torso, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Pause, and then slowly reverse the move to return to the starting position.

 

Neutral-grip lat pulldown

Emphasize your lats with this vertical row variation.

  • Secure a double D handle to a lat pulldown machine.
  • Take a seat and grip the handle in both hands with your arms straight, back flat, and core engaged. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your torso stationary, pull the handle to your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.

 

Single-arm dumbbell row

one arm row upper back workouts

Stabilizing yourself with your non-working arm allows you to move more weight — and build more muscle.

  • Stand facing a bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back, bend your knees slightly, and place your left hand on the bench, allowing the dumbbell in your right hand to hang at arm’s length toward the floor. This is the starting position.
  • Pull the weight to your side without moving your torso.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the weight to the starting position. Do equal reps on both sides.

 

High row

Performed using a cable machine, this horizontal row targets the traps, rhomboids, and rear delts while also strengthening the biceps.

  • Set the pulley of a cable machine to shoulder height and attach a rope handle, grabbing one end in each hand, palms facing down.
  • Step back so that the cable is taut with your arms extended, standing with your knees bent slightly and your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your core engaged and back straight, pull the ends of rope to the fronts of your shoulders, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.

 

Upright dumbbell row

dumbbell upright row | man

Target your traps with this home-friendly version of the upright cable row.

  • Stand tall holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length in front of your thighs, palms facing back.
  • Keeping your core engaged, back straight, and weights close to your body, lift the the dumbbells until your elbows reach shoulder height.
  • Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

 

Inverted row

inverted row rear delt exercises

Sometimes referred to as a reverse push-up, the inverted row is all about your back, helping to strengthen your traps, lats, and rhomboids while also giving your rear delts a good burn.

  • Secure a bar in a Smith machine or power rack at waist height, and lie on the floor underneath it.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly beyond shoulder width, and hang with your arms fully extended, your body straight from head to heels. Your shoulders should be directly below your hands, and your heels should be hip-width apart. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your core engaged, pull your chest to the bar as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.

 

Standing single-arm cable row

A unilateral (single-limb) exercise, this row variation will also hit your core as it’s forced to work overtime to keep you stable. During each rep, resist the urge to rotate your torso.

  • Stand facing a cable machine with a D-handle attached at about elbow height. Grip the handle in your right hand, palm facing left, and step back so that the cable is taut with your arm extended in front of you. Place your left hand on your hip, and set your feet hip to shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, pull the handle to the side of your torso as you squeeze your right shoulder blade.
  • Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position. Do equal reps on both sides.

Arm-balance row

arm balance row upper body workout

  • Grip a dumbbell in each hand in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your body straight from head to heels. This is the starting position.
  • Pull the weight in your right hand to the side of your torso and then extend it toward the ceiling as you rotate your torso in the same direction. Make sure your arm extends directly above your shoulder and not behind you.
  • Reverse the move to return to the starting position, and then repeat on your other side. Continue alternating sides.

 

Reverse-Grip Barbell Row

Barbell rows generally allow you to lift heavier loads than you would with dumbbells. Because of that, it’s important to master proper rowing form before you try this advanced variation.

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart holding a barbell, palms facing forward.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back and bend your knees so that your back is nearly parallel to the floor. The barbell should hang directly below your shoulders at arm’s length. This is the starting position.
  • Pull the barbell to your upper abs, squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your elbows close to your torso.
  • Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.

About

K. Aleisha Fetters is an experienced nutrition and fitness writer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She has written for print and online publications including TIME, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, SELF, SHAPE, U.S. News & World Report, Weight Watchers, Men’s Fitness, Yahoo! Health, Furthermore by Equinox, Cosmopolitan, Daily Burn, and Girls Gone Strong. Follow her on Twitter.

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