The Barbell Row was once a staple in my training routine.
It’s one of the best back exercises, a powerful movement to build thickness and strengthen the whole back.
One day I went to the gym after helping a friend move. My back was already fatigued. During one of the heavier sets of barbell rows I felt my back give out.
Even on the lighter sets I knew it wasn’t a good idea as I wasn’t performing reps with ideal form, but I kept at it. Not smart.
The pain was intense. I had experienced back soreness and aches but this was a new kind of pain. I could barely walk the next day. Barbell rows didn’t cause this injury but I stayed away from them for a long time after that.
Barbell rows aren’t a bad exercise and they didn’t cause this injury. I was hard-headed. My back was already worn-out going into the session and my form was sloppy.
Sometimes we have to learn from our mistakes.
On that day I was excited to continue making progress on a new program.
I wasn’t about to skip my workout just because I moved some boxes and furniture. No way would I go in skip squats or bent-over barbell rows. I was in my mid-twenties, nothing could stop me! Live and learn.
I had to learn that it’s not about one night at the gym but putting together weeks into months into years of consistent training.
Back exercises can be dangerous, just like anything else. IF done improperly.
Sloppy form, too much weight, volume, or not recovering properly.
The lower back typically takes a long time to recover. If you are moving furniture or chopping wood all day, it might wise to avoid heavy deadlifts or barbell rows for a few days.
I don’t want this to turn into just another article saying do chins, rows and deadlifts.
Although I am going to say do chins, rows and deadlifts.
What I really want to do is discuss why working the back is so important for anyone involved with strength, fitness, muscle-building and for everyday life.
Back exercises should build up the body and prevent injury, not cause it.
Too many beginners put an emphasis on the front of the body, creating an imbalance within the body.
If your routine consists of bench presses, incline presses, decline db presses, machine presses, machine flyes, cable crossover flyes, you may be doing too much pressing and not enough pulling.
The best movements for your back may change slightly depending on your particular goals.
Playing with the Big Boys
Lifting things from the ground is something you will do until the day you die.
Why not get better at it with practice and build up that back and prevent injury? The deadlift also works the legs of course and glutes and abs and just about everything. Start light, adapt, add weight to the bar.
Pull-ups, chins, neutral grip, with a towel or rings. Do them and try to do them right. Chest up, driving elbows down and not using momentum to lift up. For every set of pressing do at least one set of chins.
As discussed earlier, the barbell row is the king of the rows, as you can use more weight than with any row variation.
But all rows are useful and if one version gives you pain, stop doing it and figure out why. Is it the amount of weight on the bar? Technique? Lack of hamstring flexibility or a weak lower back?
Fix the problem and come back to it when you can.
I like DB rows personally. Chest-supported and T-Bar rows are good too.
One thing I suggest with chest-supported is use a machine that doesn’t require the weight to be moved left to right before reps. This motion can be risky for the lower back.
Back work is tough and Good Mornings are no exception.
Too many trainees skip them altogether for fear of hurting their backs but in reality the Good Morning done properly will do the opposite and help strengthen the backside and prevent injury.
Start light. Very light. You can do them with a small mini-band for high reps to build your lower back conditioning.
They are humbling when you first start doing them but well worth it. Be patient and add weight slowly, watch your lumbar erectors, hamstrings and glutes grow.
Explosiveness is never a bad thing and Cleans are a solid back builder along with the posterior chain.
They take some time to learn but they aren’t as complicated as some make them out to be. Like with all back exercises, start light, work on technique and add weight to the bar intelligently.
There you have it.
My top 5 back exercises. Others have their place too like face pulls, band pull-aparts, reverse hypers and back extensions.
Face pulls and band pull-aparts are great for shoulder health and upper back while reverse hypers are great if you are lucky enough to have them at your gym.
“Bat wings” are also a great builder of the rhomboids (muscles of the middle back that often get neglected) and are of great benefit.I learned of these from Dan John.
If most of your effort is place on the top 5 I listed above you will have a mighty big and strong back.
Now you have the training info you need. You just need the nutrition to go along it it. I got you covered. Go here for my free e-book NUTRITION HACKS for Busy Professionals