Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Form on the Bent Over Barbell Row

If you're completely new to the Bent Over Barbell Row, here's a video showing the exercise. (Note: you don't have to rest the barbell on the floor between reps, but you can if you want to.)

Bent Over Barbell Row has been tough for me to figure out. On the surface, it looks like a pretty easy lift: grab a barbell at shin height, bend your knees slightly, keep your back parallel to the floor and pull the bar to your upper abs.

But it's not quite that simple. I've been working on it regularly for the past 3 weeks and am just now getting comfortable with the form. Here's what I've learned so far.
  1. A stable platform is paramount. Keep your feet a little bit wider than shoulder width and keep your legs strong. If your knees are shaking during the lift, widen your stance and push through your heels almost like you're Squatting. Make sure to keep your lower back straight during the lift. If you can't keep your lower back straight, the weight's too heavy.

  2. Keep a relatively narrow grip. Intuitively, it seems like a wide grip would be better for working your whole back, but this is not the case. A grip that's right about shoulder width with give you the best range of motion in your shoulders and stimulate the most muscle recruitment in your back.

  3. Pull to your upper abs - NOT your chest. Try this: stand up and put your arms straight out in front of you. Now pull your hands in towards you while keeping your elbows close to your body. Your hands will end up just below your chest, at your upper abs. That's your natural path of motion, so that's where you should be aiming.

  4. Focus on the shoulderblades. This is the tip that really brought my form together. At the bottom of the movement, your shoulder blades should slide slightly forward towards the floor. Start the motion by pulling your shoulder blades back. This should be a strong starting motion (but not a jerk), and you should feel that the movement of your shoulder blades is what's moving the weight all the way from the bottom up until the bar's touching your upper abs. DO NOT start the movement with your elbows or biceps, or by shrugging your shoulders.

  5. Your secondary focus is the elbows. As the bar approaches your upper abs, continue pulling with your shoulder blades and think about using them to pull your elbows as far up towards the ceiling as possible, like wings. This will help you involve all of the muscles of your upper back for a really effective lift.
Don't be afraid to go light until you get the form right. It's much safer, and better for your strength in the long run, to go light until you get it right than to go too heavy before you know what you're doing.

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