Rowing is a form of strength training exercise, which revolves around the pulling movement of the arms. It focuses on working the biceps, forearms, rear shoulders and the middle back of the human body. They are perfect to build a fine sculpted back, the kind that you see in Hollywood movies! This workout affects many muscular parts of the body namely, latissimus dorsi trapezius, brachialis, teres major, teres minor, infraspinatus, brachioradialis, posterior deltoid, rhomboids, both major and sternal pectoralis.
There are many variations of rows. Let us look at some of them.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
The one-arm dumbbell row is performed to strengthen the upper part of the body. It affects muscles such as latissimus dorsi, short for lats and rhomboids, etc.
It involves resting one side of your body on a bench using one hand and knee. Then place your other foot on the ground creating a tripod and positioning your torso parallel to the ground. Now grab a dumbbell and lift it using your other hand. Pull the dumbbell close to the side of your chest. The rest of the body remains stationary while the arm moves. Though the movement is happening in the arms, you should use the strength of your upper back. To begin with, do a single set of 12 to 14 reps. You may increase it to 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 14 reps with heavy weights.
This exercise focuses on working the middle back and the spine. More specifically, it focuses on the rear delts, traps, erector spinae along with the middle back. This set of exercise can either be done using a T-Bar row platform or by attaching a double D row handle to a power rack or home gym. It is important that the bar be placed in such a way that it stays in one place and does not slip.
The workout involves pulling the bar towards the chest. Flex your elbows and squeeze the shoulder blades at the top. However, it is important to remember that you need to go slow, as any jerky movements, might result in injury.
T-Bar rows is quite strenuous as it requires heavy weights and hence should be done at the beginning of your exercise routine in not more than 4 to 8 reps. For those of you who might consider this exercise too tricky or in case of an injury, you may also do it lying down. It is done by resting your body on the T-Bar rowing bench pad and grabbing the weights by extending your arms. Then the weight is lifted by squeezing your back and slowly pulling the weight towards your chest. This does not involve working out the lower back of the body.
Barbell rowing is the most common type of rowing exercise that focuses on building the upper and lower back, rhomboids, rear delts, erector spinae, lats etc. It is great for building mass and is a great strength builder, but at the same time places heavy pressure on the upper torso and the lower back. Hence, people with back problems should avoid doing it. It is done by pulling the barbell with the desired weight up to the chest. The person should have a wide stance in order to maintain balance and the lifting movements need to be slow, without any jerks. The focus should be on lifting the barbell by using the strength of your middle back muscles and lats, but not the arms. There are several variations of these rows.
Bent-Over Barbell Rows
This is similar to the barbell rows. In this case, you pull the barbell while your knees are bent and your torso is positioned at an angle continuously. The spine should be straight and depending on the level of comfort, one can bend over until the barbell reaches below the knee or the torso is parallel to the floor.
You may perform this variation early in your workout routine as it deals with lifting heavy weights, which can be problematic with an already exhausted body. You may prefer to keep your reps low or your body may be worn-out by the time you move on to the next set of exercises. Bent over rows can also be done by using an underhand grip as it further works the biceps.
Bent Over One-Arm Long Bar Row
This is another form of barbell rows where the exercise is done while the torso is bent. Here, you can attach the desired weight on one side of the barbell while securing the other side by placing it in a corner or jamming it besides some other equipment to prevent slipping.
Now all the steps are the same as the previous sets of exercise with the bent knees, straight spine and a bent torso. However, this time, we straddle the barbell and lift it up with one hand. The barbell is to be lifted in a slow motion until it reaches the chest and then gently coming back.
The force while pulling should again, arise from the back and not through the arms. The arm should just hold the barbell as the shoulders are squeezed. This set of exercise can be repeated 5-6 times on each of the arms.
Extra precaution should be taken while doing this exercise since it is similar to one arm rows, but with heavy weights. As a result, there should be no abrupt movements. You should place extra care on the grip as chances of the barbell slipping and falling on your feet is quite high.
Seated Cable Rows
This set of exercise has a lower intensity than the previous rows and is done using a low pulley row machine. It involves doing rows while sitting down and does not place much pressure in the lower part of the body. It is a great form of exercise for the lats and rear deltoids.
You can do this exercise while sitting down on a bench, but remember to keep your spine straight and place your feet on the foot support. It is important that your knees do not lock, and are always a little bent. Then, breathing out, pull the required amount of weight using the pulley, towards your abdomen while squeezing your shoulder blades.
There are two variations to this exercise. One involves swaying your torso back and forth as pull the weights. In the other variation, you need not move your torso, at all and maintain a sitting position while pulling. This variation is also known as the neutral grip cable rows and it helps in focusing on the latissimus muscles.
Since it is done in a sitting position, no extraneous stress is put on the legs or the lower back, and hence it is easy to maintain your balance. Since this workout is of a lesser intensity, you can also do it at the end of your workout routine and you can go for 10 to 12 reps using heavy weights or even take it up to 20 to 25 reps, using smaller weights.
This is also a low intensity rowing exercise and focuses on lats, rhomboids and your middle back. This exercise helps in strengthening your back muscles and is considered an all round exercise for the back.
In this routine, your body is positioned below the bar of the Smith machine. The bar is set at waist height and you hang from the bar with a wide grip. The grip on the bar should be at a distance wider than your shoulder length and your heels should touch the floor. Your body including your spine should be in a straight position. Then, slowly pull your body up until your chest touches the bar, pause for a second and then come back down.
Other Forms of Exercises to Combine Rowing With
Rowing is a pulling exercise that targets the back muscles and focuses on strengthening them. Therefore, in order to balance your exercise routine, one can combine this set with another set of movements that are focused on pushing. Hence, exercises such as bench press that primarily focuses on the front part of the body, would be an ideal mix.