Back Exercise: The Bent Over Row

What is it for?

The Bent Over Row is a good back exercise and as with all exercises there is one right way to do it and many wrong ways. This exercise focuses on the Latissimus Dorsi (“Lats” highlighted in yellow) which are the large wing-like muscles that travel from the top of the arms to the base of your back. The secondary muscles used are the biceps (highlighted in red) which nearly always team up with the lat muscles in pulling movements. We also use our core muscles in this exercise especially our erector spinae muscles (the small group of muscles that run along either side of our spines and support it) due to the use of the weights in this exercise wanting to pull the body forwards.

Carried out correctly this is a great exercise for building up back strength, increased strength in a pulling motion and improved posture for people with rounded shoulders (obviously combined with other exercises).


For this exercise you will require a barbell (the long bar with weights at either end) and ideally a mirror to check your technique.

To start this exercise you need to have the barbell in front of you at your feet and the mirror to your side.

Perfect Squat

The “pick up” of the weight is very important so that you don’t injure yourself. Start with your feet about shoulder width apart and squat down using perfect squat technique (click here to learn the perfect technique). You may need to go a little lower than you would on a normal squat to reach the bar, but try and keep the technique the same.

Stomach in, Back Straight and Power Through Your Legs…

Hold the bar at shoulder width with your palms facing down. Now as you stand make sure you draw your stomach in as much as possible and hold your stomach tight (this will protect your back). Make sure the power comes through your legs as you stand and that your back is as vertical as possible so that the minimum amount of pressure is put through your lower back.

…And Get the Weight Right

You may find it easier if you turn your feet out 45 degrees. If during this movement you have felt pressure in your lower back then the weight you have selected is far too heavy for you. Get someone to help you lower it to the ground or just drop it and select a lower weight. Once you are completely upright and happy with the weight then you are ready to get into the starting position.

Getting The Best Start Position

The starting position is actually exactly the same position as you would be in half way down on the squat. So your knees bend to about 45 degrees and you lean your upper body forwards by about the same amount, keeping a nice neutral spine. (By neutral I mean that your back should be in exactly the same line as it would be if you were standing with perfect posture, not arched of curved, but only leaning forward at the hips). A good way to make sure you have a neutral spine in the exercise is to concentrate on pushing your chest out and bottom out, as the tendency is to curve your back forwards with the weight. You may notice as you go down into this position that not only is the weight trying to bring you forwards but it should be resting lightly on your upper legs, just above the knee. This is good as you are now in the start position.

(It’s been quite a long winded exercise so far but the worse is over, it gets easier)

Now Let Your Arms do the Work

From the start position and for the rest of the exercise the only movement should come from your arms. So begin by bringing the weight in towards you along the line of your legs but not resting on your legs. It is okay if the weight brushes your leg but use your legs more as a guide line rather than a weight rest (if you can’t do that then the weight is too heavy for you).

When pulling the weight into your body you will find that your elbows will have a tendency to stick out, this is wrong, make sure that you concentrate on keeping your elbows tucked in as close to your body as possible throughout the movement. When you have pulled the weight into your stomach, at the very top of your thighs and you can go no further you have completed the upward part of the movement.

In the downward part of the movement it is tempting just let the weight drop back down your legs and slamming the brakes on when your arms get straight. This is considered very poor technique and actually wastes perfectly good training time. On the way down slowly lower the weight back to the starting position in no less than 1 second, the longer the better. There you go: you have completed one repetition. Throughout this exercise it is very important that you maintain a firm stomach by drawing the tummy button in (like at the beach) this will help protect your lower back.

Before we go onto the diagram I just have to mention one more thing…..remember to breathe. I would inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up, but as long as you breathe in a controlled manner that is what is important.


The video shows the start position and here you should be able to see what I mean about a neutral spine. You should also see in the final position in the movement that the spine has not changed and that the elbows are held tight into the body.

The Do’s

Breathe throughout the whole movement
Keep a neutral spine
Keep your elbows in tight to your body throughout the movement
Keep your stomach tight through the movement
Keep the movement slow and controlled
Keep your stomach tight and drawn in
The Don’ts

Don’t hold your breath
Don’t just drop the weight to the start position
Don’t lean to far forwards
Don’t arch or curve your back
Don’t try and swing the weight up using your lower back
Don’t use a weight that is too heavy
Don’t rest the weight on your legs
In your workout

This exercise is a good one to add to your routine, as it primarily works one of the larger muscles. I would have it towards the start of your routine after you have done any leg training and before you do any shoulder, arm or stomach training. As for repetitions and sets it all depends on your goals and what you want to achieve, however if you are looking for toning then 15 reps or more, if you are looking for muscle gain then 8-12 reps and for pure strength gains 1-6 reps. Of course the less the reps you do the heavier the weight should be. Make sure when you train that you never pick a weight that is too heavy, you should be able to complete all your reps with perfect technique.

And a warning…

This exercise can put a lot of pressure through your lower back especially if the weight you choose is too heavy. Always start with a lighter weight and work up and don’t attempt this exercise if you have lower back problems, a weak lower back or weak stomach muscles that cannot protect the back. If you are unsure I would take the safe option and not do this exercise, otherwise seek advice from a medical professional.

Good luck with this exercise and let me know how you get on with it.