Row Row Row

One of the most common questions you hear in a gym is: “How much do you bench?” This inquiry of course refers to the bench press—primarily a chest movement. However, the largest muscle group in the upper body is the back and those seeking strength and size are better served to pose some queries about the dumbbell row.

This fundamental movement—best performed with dumbbells thus allowing each arm to work independently—works the muscles of the middle to upper back: Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and trapezius.

You’ll need a generic flat gym bench and a single dumbbell. Of course, the weight of the dumbbell depends on the user but keep in mind this is a relatively short range of motion relying on a typically strong muscle group. In other words: Think heavier weight than you’d use for dumbbell chest or military presses.

Start the movement on the right side. Rest your left shin on the bench with your left knee bent. From this position, bend at the waist until your spine is parallel to the floor—placing your left hand on the bench for support. Kick your right leg out farther than shoulder width for stability.

While maintaining this posture, reach down with your right hand—palm facing inward—and grab the dumbbell (don’t squeeze too tightly). Take a second before lifting the weight to get a feel for the dumbbell row starting position.

With your abs held tightly, exhale as you “row” the dumbbell upward, using your back muscles to execute the movement. Don’t yank the weight with your arm. Lift the dumbbell until your elbow is higher than your torso and then inhale as you slowly lower it straight down to the starting position. Repeat this movement for a predetermined number of repetitions and of course switch sides to perform rows with the left arm.

Using the identical form, the one-arm row can be done with a kettlebell but extra care must be taken to control the different center of gravity. Either way, the row makes for a good superset partner with any type of chest (pectoral) stretch. In a sedentary society, poor posture is endemic, often caused by weak back muscles and tight chest muscles. The row/pec stretch combo is a simple and effective counter.

Final note: The advice presented above is not meant for anyone with contraindicated health problems. Please consult a medical or fitness professional.

Perhaps the earliest recorded reference to rowing as a sport was an Egyptian inscription from 1430 BC.