Proper form on Barbell Rows starts with the bar on the floor. Stand close to the bar. Bend your hips until your torso is parallel with the floor. Grab the bar with both palms facing you. Pull the bar from your mid-foot to your lower chest. Return the bar to the floor on each rep.
Most people do Barbell Rows wrong. They do “Yates Row” – underhand grip, torso 45°, bar in the air between reps. Yates Row stress your lower back more because the bar doesn’t rest between reps. Yates Row can injure your elbows or biceps because of the underhand grip. And Yates Row are more like a shrug to work your traps than a strength and muscle builder for your upper-back.
The proper way to Barbell Row is with both palms facing you and the bar returning to the floor between reps (like on the Deadlift). This is the most effective way to Barbell Row heavy and safely. Your torso can come up a little, but not 45° because that turns Barbell Rows into glorified Deadlifts.
Here’s seven quick tips to Barbell Row with proper form:
1. Row Each Rep From The Floor. Because you’ll never train your upper-back fully if you let the bar hang in the air. Barbell Row like you Deadlift: with the bar starting and returning to the floor on each rep. The barbell should be above the middle of your feet when you start Rowing, same stance as on Deadlifts.
2. Grip The Bar Like You Bench Press. For maximum carry-over to your Bench Press, your Barbell Row should be the exact opposite movement. This means no underhand grip but both palms facing you, using the same grip width as when you Bench. Thumbs around the bar and squeeze it hard for maximum strength.
3. Pull With Your Elbows. This simple trick will help you use your upper-back maximally rather than turning your Rows into a biceps exercise. Pull your elbows towards the ceiling instead of merely pulling with your hands. If you don’t “get” it, briefly Barbell Row using the thumbless grip to get the feeling for it.
4. Row Against Your Chest. If the bar doesn’t hit your lower chest, it’s like doing a partial Squat or half Bench: the rep isn’t completed and you’re not getting the most out of the exercise. So always Row the barbell against your lower chest. Where exactly? Same position as where you touch the bar on the Bench Press.
5. Don’t Turn Rows into Deadlifts. Your torso can come up above parallel with the floor. But the point is to let your upper-back do most of the work. If your Barbell Rows turn into 50° shrugs or you’re cheating with your hips and knees, the weight is too heavy. Don’t let yourself get carried away by your ego or you won’t get the most out of Barbell Rows. Be strict: your upper-back should be doing all the work.
6. Open Your Chest. It’s – again – the same position as for the Bench Press: squeeze your shoulder-blades together at the top as hard as you can and open your chest up. Don’t try to hold the weight at the top, that’s all unnecessary nonsense because adding weight builds muscle. Simply pull the weight hard and fast against your chest, and then return it to the floor.
7. Keep Your Head Down. Do not try looking at the mirror in front of you in your gym, or you’ll get neck pain. Don’t look at your feet either otherwise your lower back can round and hurt. Simply look at the floor below you and tape yourself from the side you want to check your Barbell Row technique.