In previous articles we discussed the benefits of the barbell row and other back exercises commonly seen in power, strength, and competitive fitness training programs. In this article, we will discuss the differences between the barbell row vs dumbbell row, and what you should pay attention to when deciding which exercise is best for your goals.
The barbell row is a compound strength and hypertrophy exercise for the back, often used in strength, power, and general strength programs. Below, you will find two common barbell row variations and an exercise demonstration to help facilitate muscle growth.
Popular Barbell Row Variations
Below are two common barbell row variations coaches and athletes can use within training programs.
Bent Over Row
The bent over row is a row variation that is often used to describe the standard barbell row. In this exercise the lifter can vary the degree of bend (hip flexion) to isolate specific areas and angles of the back. Additionally, the lifter can choose to supinate or pronate the grip to stress different muscle groups working the back and arms.
The Pendlay row differs from the bent over/barbell row in that the load starts resting on the floor, with the fullest end of motion in the row and set up. This can be used to increase concentric strength and stability in pulling movements, such as the deadlift and clean (in addition to established benefits of barbell rows)
The dumbbell row is a type of bent over row that has a lifter perform rows with dumbbells, which can be beneficial for increasing range of motion of the row movement, address asymmetrical strength, and highlight Amy movement asymmetries one may have during bilateral upper body movements.
Popular Dumbbell Row Variations
Below are two common dumbbell row variations coaches and athletes can use within training programs.
Single Arm Row
The single arm row is a unilateral dumbbell row option that can be done to better individualize row training. Improved unilateral strength, movement patterning, and muscle hypertrophy are all to be expected when performing single arm dumbbell rows.
The renegade row is a combination between a row and a plank, one that stresses body control, core strength, and overall fitness. While this row variation may limit the actual amounts of loading one can row, it can help address any weaknesses with core strength and/or movement asymmetries.
Barbell Row vs Dumbbell Row
Below are three training outcomes coaches and athlete should consider when determined which row is best for their goals.
Strength and Hypertrophy
Both the barbell and dumbbell row can build strength and muscle hypertrophy. The barbell row often allows for high amounts of loading to be rowed at once, however dumbbells also have the same capacity for heavy loads (which both can build strength). Additionally, both movements can be done for higher volume, making the barbell and dumbbell row great back building exercises.
Muscular Imbalances and Asymmetries
Unilateral training has the ability to address muscle imbalances and correct asymmetries that may exist between the left and right sides of the body. Barbell training often falls short in this category as the body may compensate to overcome any strength or movement imbalances.
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The WORST cue for training your lats is thinking about "pulling your elbows back". This will result in utilizing the rear delts and teres major as prime movers once the upper arm passes the torso. Instead, think about just brining the origin closer to the insertion as shown in the image. Once the upper arm gets parallel to the torso the lats pull down towards the base of the spine. Driving the elbows straight back further will actually begin to lengthen the lats and take tension off of them as other muscle groups take over.
When it comes to sports like weightlifting and powerlifting, the barbell is the piece of equipment a lifter should be highly familiar with. Movements like barbell rows (bent over and Pendlay) have a good carry over to deadlifts and cleans, so this may be something to keep in mind. That said, failure to address any muscle
imbalances and pulling mechanics could also hinder performance. Therefore, both barbell and dumbbell rows can offer benefits to strength and power athletes.
It’s Time To Get Jacked!
Take a look at the below exercise guides to build a strong, athletic, and powerful physique!
- Renegade Row Alternatives Every Athlete Should Try
- Build Bigger Shoulders and Traps with the Upright Row
- How to Naturally Boost Your Growth Hormone
Featured Image: @ifbbbenpak on Instagram
Editor’s Note: BarBend reader and strength coach Rory Koonce, Jr. had the following to add after reading the above article:
“While the barbell row does have its place, in my experience as a coach I feel that dumbbell or kettlebell rows are more efficient and effective when it comes to training. For three specific reason these variations of the exercise are perfect for fixing imbalances in strength, providing better functionality, and fostering a stronger muscle – mind connection.
The more you’re able to disengage secondary muscle groups the better results you will achieve without increasing the risk of injury. A perfect example of this would be the Chinese row which allows you to isolate the back without the use of your lower body or an extreme amount of bicep or forearm strength to complete the exercise. And lastly you are able to achieve a greater range of motion which allows for optimal contraction.”