Rowing exercises are the best way to pack on tons of size to your back. Rows should be the bulk of your back workout. Pull-ups and wide-grip pulldowns are great for building width, but rows will pack on that thick look that every guy strives for (or should). The thing is, there are so many different variations of rows that it’s hard to know which ones to choose. In this article, I tried to put together the best mass-building rowing exercises. There are many more rows to try. Don’t think these are the only ones worth doing, but at least one of these should be in every back workout you do!
The king of back exercises behind the deadlift. These can be performed with an overhand or underhand grip. Underhand grip simply engages the lower lats and biceps more than the overhand grip. You want to hold the weight in front of you and bend at the waist while maintaining a neutral spine. Only bend over as far as your flexibility allows. (You do NOT want a rounded lumbar spine!) Once in this position, you will pull the weight back towards your belly button, squeezing the lats. Try to keep your torso at the same position throughout the whole movement.
This is a great exercise that gives you a barbell row combined with the benefit of a dead stop like the deadlift. This can also improve the quality of each rep, making it a great alternative to the barbell row. The setup is similar to the barbell row but you’re going to leave the barbell on the ground. You will also be pulling slightly higher on your torso, so aim to pull the bar to the top of the abdomen. Your torso should remain close to parallel with the ground throughout the movement, unlike in the previously mentioned barbell row where your torso can remain more upright. After each rep, control the weight down to the floor and take all tension away from your muscles. This technique builds explosive power like the deadlift. A great way to shock your muscles into growth. This lift does need a little more flexibility to maintain a neutral spine, so make sure you have the mobility before trying this movement.
Another huge mass builder, the T-bar row can be done on a machine, but I prefer the barbell with a Double D handle. Use a corner or a landmine (if your gym has one) to keep the weight from moving. You’re going to sit your hips back and keep the chest up, all while maintaining a neutral spine. Again, you’re going to pull down and back, engaging the lats. I prefer to use smaller plates (like twenty-fives or thirty-fives) to allow for more range of motion.
I always like to add a unilateral exercise to almost every muscle group I train. For the back, there’s no better unilateral exercise than the dumbbell row. You can kneel on a bench or do them standing. Either way, you need to focus on pulling the dumbbell back towards your hip. Too many people just yank the weight straight up and down. The only way to properly engage the back is pulling back towards the hip. You can move big, heavy dumbbells with this movement, but don’t sacrifice your form for big weights.
Seated Cable Rows
The seated cable row is a great exercise that is commonly done incorrectly. Far too much momentum is used. You should not be swinging at all during this exercise. Your torso should be stationary while pulling your shoulder blade together. A lot of times I see rounded backs also. Never ever round your back! Retract those shoulder blades and keep your chest up. This is a great exercise for the middle back and lats if done correctly.
One of the few bodyweight rows is the inverted row. Just your bodyweight should be plenty as this exercise can be tougher than it looks, but you can always put a weight on yourself if you need more weight (just have a workout partner close by to help). You can use just a barbell in a squat rack or go on a Smith machine to perform these. You are going to hang underneath the bar with your body making a straight line from your head to your toes. You will lift your body up, pulling towards your upper abdomen. The easiest version is with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slightly harder would be body straight. And to make it most difficult, elevate your feet onto a box.