Thanks for joining me on my next installment of the 3WH. Today we’re talking the ROW:
There are many variations of the row that we’ll cover, but it’s important to understand that
A) everyone needs to row, a lot and more often than they think they should
B) The row helps build upper back strength, improves posture, and strength + mass gains with the row carry over into many aspects of our lives, both in the weight room and in everyday life
So let’s jump right in:
What: The Row
It builds strength and mass in your traps, rhomboids, posterior delts, lats, biceps, and erector spinae, and improves posture and performance both in the real world and on the field.
When: all the time! Just kidding, sorta. But seriously, if you’re asking yourself “should I be rowing more?” The answer is most likely “holy hell YES.”
Any variation of the row will work fine, it just depends on your abilities and equipment availability, and rotating them will keep the gym fun and engaging. I would typically place a row in the beginning or middle of a workout, and maybe throw in some extra rowing at the very end of my workout.
For example, you could do an upper body split like this:
A1) Barbell bench press 3×5
A2) 1-arm Row 3×10/side
Or towards the end of the workout with conditioning work. For example:
D1) 150 skips jump rope
D2) KB swings x10
D3) Pushups x 10
D4) TRX Rows x 10
I like this routine because I can add in some extra rowing volume with my or my client’s workout so I can double down on how much pulling versus pushing they’re doing.
Speaking of Pushing vs. Pulling, let’s talk about why the row is so great:
Why: most of us spend our days hanging out in pretty abysmal posture: shoulders rounded forward, head craned over our phones or hunched over books and laptops, and this rounded-shoulders-busted-posture makes for pretty weak upper back muscles, and pretty tight chest muscles.
To compound the issue, most people like to work the muscles they can see: chest, shoulders, and biceps. When they don’t show equal or greater love for their upper back muscles, this posture issue gets worse.
And often, injuries will stem from this poor posture and positioning: without getting too deep into it, basically, your shoulders round forward and put you in a less-than-optimal position to move. Over time, pushing through these bad positions can tear up rotator cuffs or bicep tendons.
It’s bad. Take from some sad sack who’s been in a PT clinic because I was benching too much and not rowing enough.
That sad sack was me.
How: there are many variations to choose from, and depending on which one and how you “dose” it, the technique will be slightly different.
For now, we’ll focus on the two-arm seated cable row:
- Sit upright with a rigid torso
- Grab the handles firmly with both hands
- Using the muscles between your shoulder blades, pull and squeeze your shoulder blades together, almost like you’re trying to trap a pen between your shoulder blades
- Pause for a 2-count hold, just to show that you’re under control
- Release back to start, without changing your torso position (don’t lean back into the weight stack)
For ALL Rowing variations, check out the guidelines for both Strength and Hypertrophy goals. I would suggest that you do a little bit of both strength AND hypertrophy rowing every week.
For Strength: 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps
For Hypertrophy: 3-5 sets of 6-20 Reps, sometimes using a slower tempo on the eccentric, or lowering portion of the lift
Other rowing variations of interest:
Full disclosure: I fucking LOVE the TRX row. Mostly because the trainee can change the intensity of the exercise while they’re working out. In other words, without a weight stack, pins, or dumbbells, we can make the exercise super hard or much easier by simply changing the foot position.
And, unlike the cable-cross or dumbbells or even benches, which inevitably get taken by other gym-goers, most people don’t know how to use the TRX. That means I can set it up without someone taking over when I’m not looking.
And I like that.
This is probably the version that most people are familiar with. You can do this posted up on the bench or just use your own knee as a “shelf” to post an elbow on. So the only piece of equipment required is the dumbbell.
Pull the DB like you’re trying to bring your pinky into your side pocket: that will engage your rhomboids and lats, making the exercise more effective and keeping you from “shrugging your shoulder” into your ear (i.e. bad technique).
If you’ve ever used a T-bar before, this is the dumbbell version.
If you don’t know what a T-bar is, don’t worry about it: use this variation.
Full disclosure: this is also one of my favorite versions, and even though it burns like hell, most of my clients really like them as well.
One way I’ll introduce a lot more volume with this version is by adding isometric holds. For example, I’ll have a client row the DBs into position, then hold that position for 15-30 seconds, before completing 10-20 reps.
Burns. Like. Hell.
But from a hypertrophy standpoint, which relies on muscle damage, muscle tension, and metabolic stress, this exercise tends to hit all of those.
In a program, it would look like this:
B1) Chest supported Iso hold: 15s
B2) Chest supported Row: 15 reps
B1) Chest Supported Row 4×8, with a 5 second hold on each rep
B2) Band-resisted Push-ups 3×10
If you’re asking yourself, “how much should I do this?”
I would say all the time. In every single workout.
My reasoning is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone “overdo it” on rows. And considering we spend HOURS hunched over desks and computers, versus the couple minutes we spend in the gym doing rows, I think you’re going to be ok.
But in practical terms, it might look like this:
A1) Bench press x5
A2) 1-arm Row x10/arm
…a 1:2 push:pull ratio
A1) Dumbbell Incline Bench Press x 8
A2) Chest Supported Row Iso Hold x 30s
A3) Chest Supported Row x 15 reps
…a little bit of pressing to a whole shitload of upper back pull
You get the idea. But generally, aim for about 2x as much pulling to pushing. And, if you’re working out several times each week, I would do a rowing variation at least two of those workouts, varying the type, intensity (strength vs. hypertrophy), and volume.
Everybody’s doing it
Got questions? Hit me up and let’s talk about it.