People who train for strength tend to focus on the muscles they see in the mirror. Adding strength to the back is beneficial for a more balanced body and a functional life.

Increasing the strength of the pulling muscles in the back helps to correct muscle imbalances that result from overdeveloping the pushing muscles of the upper body.

The bent over row is a popular back exercise. It is an old-school, iron-pumping exercise that will add mass to your back and give you strength to pull more than you have before.

Good form is required to decrease the risk of injury. It may be difficult to get good form at first. Better posture and trunk stability are benefits to being bent over rows, which will further lower your risk of injury.

A barbell is usually used in bent over rows, but you can use a variety of resistance tools. If you have back pain, there are other variations that can be performed.

image of woman doing the barbell bent over row
Mattia/Stocksy United

  1. Stand behind a barbell with your feet apart.
  2. Keeping the back straight and knees bent, you have to bend at the hips. Sitting back helps with positioning for lifting the barbell. Your body should be bent forward at a 45 degree angle.
  3. Keeping your forearms pronated, grasp the bar a little wider than shoulder width.
  4. Tighten your glutes and core as you pull your elbows up behind you, bringing the bar to your abs. Keep pulling your elbows behind you and squeeze your shoulder blades together while keeping your back straight.
  5. Hold for a second and then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position, with your arms extended and the barbell plates off the ground.
  6. This can be repeated for 6–12 times and completed with 3 sets.

The bent over row primarily works the latissimus dorsi (the large wing-like muscles in your back), the middle and lower trapezius, the rhomboids, and the posterior deltoids. These are the prime movers that are responsible for the movement in the exercise.

Some research has concluded that the angle of your elbows as you row will target some of these muscles more than others. For instance, abducting your shoulders — or keeping the elbows away from your body as you row — will activate the traps and posterior deltoid to a much greater extent (1).

The bent over row requires strength and stability from other muscles of the chain. The bent over row uses the hip extensors to help you stay in the flexed-forward position.

In other words, the same muscles involved in a deadlift are used in a static fashion during the row (2). For this reason you’ll often see bent over rows used as a progression toward the deadlift.


The latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, and the deltoids are all works of the bent-over row.

The bent over row is a good exercise for picking up objects from the ground. It works the same muscles as in climbing positions.

Because it strengthens the multifidus and muscles of the back, including the bent over row as part of a training program may help alleviate or improve chronic lower back pain (3, 4).

Furthermore, strengthening the muscles of the posterior chain can help improve posture, prevent injury, improve athletic performance, and strengthen explosive movements (5).

“The bent over row doesn’t require much equipment or space. It can be done with a load barbell or other equipment.”


“The bent over row is a good functional exercise that can help improve posture, reduce back pain, and doesn’t require a lot of equipment.”

Reverse grip bent over row

The same position as the traditional bent over row is used, except that your forearms are supinated so your palms face your face. The grip will target the biceps muscles more than the traditional bent over row.

Dumbbell bent over row

This variation involves using dumbbells or kettlebells instead of a barbell. This allows you to vary your hand position and perform the exercise with a pronated, supinated, or neutral grip. In addition, you can vary your grip during the movement and go from pronated at the beginning to supinated at the end.

The dumbbell row can be performed with a resistance band.

Single arm supported bent over row

“If you don’t tolerate the traditional bent over row, this version is better. If you have back pain, you may want to try this variation.”

To perform, place your right knee and hand on a flat bench. The left foot should be flat on the ground and the left hand reaches down and gasps the weight to perform the movement.

Incline bench supported row

If you have back pain, this is a good variation on the traditional bent over row. It is best performed with weights.

Lying on an incline bench is how to start. Place your feet on the bar or the bench. Pull the weights up.

You may have to change the position of your forearm to prevent banging the bench with the dumbbell.


The bent over row can be performed with a reverse grip, with a single arm, or on an incline bench.

  • If you are new to this movement, start with a light weight to make sure you use proper form.
  • Be sure to keep your knees slightly bent and hinge at the hips in order to protect your lower back. Keep a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  • Slowly perform the movement. If you swing the weight up, you will cause your head to shoot forward and your back to arch, which can increase your risk of injury.
  • As you perform the movement, keep your head in your torso. It is helpful to look at a spot on the floor that is 12 inches in front of where the barbell begins.


Start with a light weight and slowly move. Keep your trunk and head in line by avoiding swinging the dumbbell.

“The bent over row is a great exercise to strengthen the back muscles and also strengthen trunk stability and hip stability. If you have back pain or can’t keep your back straight, try the incline bench row or one arm dumbbell row.”

Start with a light weight and perform the exercise slowly. Adding a bent over row to your strength training program will help you with posture, back strength, and fewer injuries.