The average lifter attacks the bench press like crazy and neglects their back. But if you have ever seen a bodybuilding competition, you already know that a huge, symmetrical back is what separates the newbies from the highly experienced lifters and what ultimately wins bodybuilding contests. There are two main characteristics that define a big, strong back that demands respect: thickness and a V-shaped torso.
To develop a thick and wide back, you need do to perform both horizontal and vertical pulling – unfortunately, many bodybuilding beginners do one but not the other, usually with poor form and bad technique, so it’s no wonder that they end up only with muscle imbalances.
We know you want to build your back like a pro, but do you have the right tools to achieve this goal? Here are the 7 most effective row variations that will help you get you the full back you want, in less time.
7 Unique Row Variations
1. The quadruped row
This rowing variation is an excellent way to develop the core and lower back muscles by improving your horizontal pulling technique. In order to perform it, you’ll have to correct any ineffective mechanics or flawed activation patterns.
It includes extension of the hips and shoulders, giving both upper and lower body parts a great workout while also improving overall balance. Keeping your torso tight throughout this movement will help you build a strong core.
Performing this row variation regularly will help you correct your body posture and fix a number of form issues, such as over-rowing and excessive range of motion, overstretching, excessive lumbar extension and excessive momentum, thereby eliminating back pain and increasing the effectiveness of your rowing and lifting performance.
On the other hand, a flawlessly executed quadruped row promotes optimal depression, retraction and medial rotation of the scapula, improves arm and grip mechanics and spinal rigidity, and teaches strong muscle-mind connection with the lats.
2. The supine floor row
The supine floor row is the ideal exercise for eliminating excessive range of motion in the contracted position of horizontal pulling movements.
It’s even superior to bent-over rows because it targets the upper back and core stabilizing muscles more effectively and you can add resistance by using a back pack loaded with plates. Although weighted chin-ups may look like a more practical option, this exercises is unique in its ability to train the horizontal pulling muscles, whereas chin-ups/pull-ups train the vertical pulling muscles. In addition, the supine floor row takes the lower back out of the equation and doesn’t leave any room for cheating.
As far as mechanics are concerned, this movement will force you to retract and depress your shoulder blades, thereby improving postural alignment and shoulder mechanics, even more so if you use bands or cables.
That being said, the unilateral variation of the supine floor row is one of the best horizontal pulling movements you will ever do. Just make sure that the bar is just high enough to allow your arm to fully extend.
Optionally, you can place the back of your heels on elevated surface and place additional weight on the belly or pelvis to increase the effectiveness of the exercise.
3. The bent-over row variation with horizontal band resistance
Bent-over rows are one of the single most effective exercises for crushing your entire upper back, yet most lifters fail to use them correctly, usually because of lack of scapular depression throughout the movement.
Simply put, if the shoulders aren’t depressed, the lats can’t be optimally activated and you’re more likely to flare your elbows, which ultimately leads to shoulder inflammation. Not only do bent-over rows increase the size and strength of the lats and traps, but they also work the erectors, glutes and hams.
And if performed regularly and correctly, this rowing variation with horizontal band resistance can provide several unique benefits such as teaching you proper hip hinge mechanics, improving balance, eliminating spinal flexion and forcing your lats to give their 100% by both protracting and elevating them.
4. The finger-pinching row
It’s safe to assume that grip training is one of the most underrated area of training out there. And that’s really a shame because grip and forearm mechanics have a huge impact on scapular stability and horizontal pulling mechanics. Not to mention the ability to open jars around at home.
By targeting the muscles around the fingers, hands and forearms, you can help center and lock the glenohumeral joint, which is by the way one of the most mobile joints of the human body and it involves articulation between the shoulder blade and upper arm bone, into its ideal position.
To get these benefits, as well as respectable improvements in hand strength and the size of the extensors and flexors of the forearms, try the finger-pinching rowing variant by holding a heavy plate between the thumb and fingers without flexing individual digits.
This is far more effective than using fat grips because it will force you to perform rowing motions optimally by eliminating excessive momentum and range of motion, while overstretching will cause the weight to slip out of your fingers.
Performing finger-pinching rows will ultimately help you handle heavier weight with stricter form, thereby increasing the effectiveness of your performance on basic rowing movements.
The plate pinch can be done in a few different ways, but one of the best ways is to take two 25-pound Olympic plates and place them together with the smooth sides facing out, then, with your thumb on one side and all four fingers on the other, squeeze the plates and hold for as long as you can.
5. The glute ham raise and back extension row
Here’s another great way to crush your whole posterior chain while also improving form, posture and spinal alignment and promoting optimal extension throughout the t-spine.
The glute ham raise itself is more than a hamstring isolation exercise – it also works the glutes, lower back and calves, improves speed and explosive strength and helps decrease the risk of hamstring injury. In addition, it’s superior to traditional leg exercises because of the greater emphasis on the eccentric component of knee flexion and its strong carryover to the deadlift and squat.
But when paired with back extension rows, the glute ham raise becomes a taxing movement that can help you stimulate unbelievable growth and strength gains in the mid and upper back because it allows a greater stretch in the lats at the bottom portion, forces you to use very strict form and eliminates faulty shoulder mechanics.
Many bodybuilders perform the glute-ham raise with their feet lower than the glute ham pad, which makes the exercise a lot easier by taking off some of the tension placed on the hips extensors, but if you want best results, the feet should be above the glute ham bad.
6. The tabletop bent-over row
Before you perform any bent-over row, ask someone to place one or two plates on your middle upper back, then perform the movement. This way you can gain massive form improvements because your back will be forced to maintain its natural arch and spinal flexion will be impossible.
Furthermore, just like the quadruped rows, tabletop rows help eliminate excessive momentum and over-rowing with excessive range of motion. But the most unique things about this exercise is that first, it overloads the entire posterior chain without fatiguing the arms and grip, allowing you to hypertrophy your back before the arms, and second, because of the favorable Romanian deadlift-style weight distribution that provides direct tension to the erector muscles, tabletop rows will do wonders for your low back strength.
7. The single-leg bent-over dumbbell row
Bent-over dumbbell rows are compound exercises that use many of your upper body muscles without placing too much stress on your lower back. This version of the exercise will help you develop strength in the upper back, posterior shoulder region and the arms, while also training your cross-body connection and improving balance.
Try to create as much shoulder extension as possible to emphasize the work done by your lats. Also, pulling your shoulders back will give your back muscles a solid base from which to generate force, increase girdle stability and diminish the risk of shoulder injury.
A common problem that many guys encounter when performing bent-rows is that the weight is loaded to the front of the body, which places greater stress on the lower back. This issue can be easily eliminated by performing single-leg bent-over dumbbell rows.
Over time, the movement will start to feel more natural than other bent-over rowing variations and you’ll learn to appreciate that it makes it impossible to cheat or get away with poor technique and form. When you start performing single-leg bent-over dumbbell rows, you should be able to handle at least 60% of the weight you usually use for regular bent-over rows.
If this isn’t the case, then you will first have to improve your balance, hip function and rowing mechanics, preferably by performing the exercises mentioned above.