Bent Over Row – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, and Benefits

In this article we will discuss the bent over row, a compound lift that can increase overall strength and muscle mass of the back muscles and can play a significant role in deadlifting and pulling performance.

Muscles Worked

The bent over row is a compound exercise that stresses high amounts of muscle tissues when performed correctly. While it is a rowing motion (meaning it targets the back muscles) it still can have significant muscle building effects on other muscle groups. The below list covers the primary and secondary muscles worked when performing bent over rows.

  • Latissimus Dorsi (back)
  • Posterior Shoulder, Rhomboids, Scapular Stabilizers
  • Forearms and Biceps (grip and some pulling)
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Hamstrings and Glutes (positioning)

Exercise Demo

In the below video the bent over row is demonstrated, which can be performed with barbells, dumbbells, or other weighted means. The bent over row is a classification of back exercises, which can also include single arm bent over rows as well. Note, that in the below video demonstration, the barbell bent over row is performed. This is slightly different than a Pendlay row, which was discussed in detail in a previous article.

3 Benefits of Bent Over Rows

In this section we will discuss three benefits of the bent over row that coaches and athletes can expect to gain when adding these into training programs.

Upper Back Hypertrophy and Strength

Building a strong and broad upper back is key for most power, strength, and fitness sports, not to mention filling out that XL shirt. A strong back is a great indicator of overall strength, often allowing us to pull, squat, and even press greater loads. The bent over row allows a lifter to move significant amounts of loading using the back muscles and build strength and muscle mass; which can most certainly be applied to pulling, squatting, and pressing movements.

Application to Deadlifts and Pulling Movements

Movements like deadlifts, back squats, and pulls (cleans, snatches, farmers carry, etc) all require large amounts of force production in order to move, hoist, or stabilize the body in certain positions. The back muscles (as well as the lower back, hips, and hamstrings) are all called upon when in the bent over position, which is similar across various angles of rows, deadlifts, and pulls from the floor. While the bent over row may not match the identical angles that the torso is in during specific movements like the clean vs deadlift; it can have a broad carry over for increasing general strength and positional stability to allow for greater pulling performance.

Postural Strength and Control

As discussed above, the spine is put into a position that matches many strength movements from the floor during the bent over row . WIthout proper strength, stability, and awareness of one’s body in space and/or the ability to resist lumbar flexion the athlete may find themselves in compromised positions that can result in injury or lack of performance. Movements like the bent over row help to increase general strength of the back (upper and lower) and reinforce proper spinal control and resistance to lumbar flexion under load.

Bent Over Row Variations

In this section we will briefly discuss four popular bent over row variations that coaches and athletes can use to build back strength, muscle and pulling/squatting/pressing performance in power, strength and fitness athletes.

Barbell Bent Over Row

This is the most popular variations of the bent over row, which has a lifter assume a bent over position (to varying degrees based on angle emphasis) while keeping a barbell close to the body. The barbell row allows for the greatest amounts of loads to be rowed, often inducing high amounts of muscle damage and transferability to heavy pulling movements.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row

The dumbbell bent over row is done with a dumbbell held in each hand, assuming the same bent over positioning as in the barbell bent over row. The lifter can manipulate the amount of pronation/supination of the wrist to target slightly different angles and muscles in the back/posterior shoulder. This can help to address muscle imbalances or offer increased ranges of motion to the bent over row.

Kettlebell Bent Over Row

The kettlebell bent over row is a very similar to the dumbbell bent over row. It allows a lifter to address any asymmetries in strength and muscular development. In addition, it can be used to increase range of motion in the row to increase muscle contractions and growth.

Single Arm Bent Over Row

While the bent over row is often thought to be with a barbell, it can also include single arm variations (unilateral). Movements like the dumbbell bent over row, or also called the single arm row, can work many of the same muscle groups yet offer the unilateral benefits that coaches and athletes seek.

More Row and Back Training Articles

Take a look at some of the articles below to learn more about back training for strength, power, and fitness sports.

Featured Image: @simeonpanda on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.