How To Do Barbell Bent Over Rows With Proper Form

by Caleb Lee on December 3, 2008

It’s VERY important to have a strong back, the bent over barbell row is a great exercise to build your upper back strength… and a little lower back strength because it has to stabilize your body and hold you in position.

In fact, next to the deadlift and pullup the barbell bent over row is one of the best exercises for your back, bar none. It’s a horizontal pulling motion as opposed to a vertical pulling motion like the pullup. Because it works so well as a back exercises, it’s included in the DoubleYourGains’ 3-5 Program.

What is a Bent Over Row?

Just like the name sounds, you bend over at the waist and “row” (pull) a barbell to your lower chest/stomach. There are a couple different versions of this exercise, one variation has your hands reversed (palms facing forwards) which work the biceps more… but this article will deal with the “Basic” bent over row as it’s the best for overall back, bicep, and pulling motion development.

The vid below is me doing a few bent over rows:

Why You Should Do Bent Over Rows

Most guys do way too much horizontal pressing (bench press and bench press variations) and way too little of horizontal pulling motions. The bent over row will help you fix that problem. It’s good for:

  • Building Back Strength – being able to pull something to your chest is a useful skill, in combat sports you have to do pulling motions like this often…
  • Building Back Muscle – most guys look like apes from too much benching and not enough pulling, the bent over row helps correct that, add muscle to your upper back and will actually help your other lifts (plus, a thick upper back looks great and chicks dig it!)

Don’t Cheat

The bent over row is different and should look different than an upright row. Your torso should be almost completely parallel with the floor when you do bent over rows.

In fact, I hear Russian lifters recommend resting your head on a bench or table at waist height, and keeping it there throughout the whole set, so as to make sure you’re never cheating and extending your hips too much to help get the weight up.

You won’t be able to lift as much weight as you might think with the bent over row (especially when just starting out), but it’s important to make sure you’re not extending your hips and getting the rest of your body involved in the movement. The stricter the better with this exercise… and your back strength and development will reward you.

Setting Up the Bent Over Row

The setup for the bent over barbell row is VERY similar to the deadlift:

  • Foot stance – stance is slightly wider than shoulder width apart, similar to squat stance, bar should be over the middle of your feet (see the picture below)…
  • Bar position – Bar should be up against your shins, no further than 4 inches from them, your shoulder blades should be directly over the bar…
  • Grip width – Keep you width wide enough to clear your legs but not too wide, 20 inches is about right…
  • Gripping the bar -  grip the bar closer to your fingers instead of your palm to minimize callouses and increase grip strength (see the picture below)…
  • Straight arms - – Keep your arms straight, flexing your triceps helps…
  • Chest up – Keep you chest up to keep your back straight and keep it from rounding…
  • Look up and ahead –keep your eyes slightly looking up (the picture below shows you the correct starting position)…
  • Knees –keep your knees almost straight, but not locked.
  • Check the picture below for the proper starting position:

The Pull (concentric motion)

  • Breathe - a deep breath, keeping your chest puffed out and hold it
  • Pull with your elbows – it’s easier to activate your back muscles when you think of pulling with your elbows instead of your arms (check the picture below)…
  • Hit your lower chest - to your upper stomach with the bar, around your sternum…
  • Stay Bent Over – Don’t straighten up too much, although you’ll have to extend your hips a tiny bit you shouldn’t move much more vertical with your torso (check the picture below)…

Lowering The Weight (eccentric motion)

  • Your shoulder blades – squeeze em’ together, thinking of this might help you contract your back more…
  • Reverse - the motion you just did…
  • Back to the floor – with the barbell on each rep, just bring it all the way back down to the floor and get set for the next rep.
  • Breathe out – then fill your lungs up with air again and continue…

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{ 4 trackbacks }

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan June 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I have a question: do your elbows go out, or stay in, tucked against your sides?


tyciol May 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Both are possible. Apparently the more your elbows are in, the more work your lats do. Unless of course you hyperextend the elbow behind the body, then the lats turn off and it's all posterior deltoid doing that hyper extension (maybe long tricep helps too not sure).

When your elbows move out, more of the upper back muscles work to pull the arm to the scapulae and the scapulae to the spine. The lats skip the scapulae and go directly to lower back.


Cris August 10, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Just wondering about the 3-5 rest? How many minutes between sets? and different exercises?

Thanks, Cris

(I like your site and ideas by the way)


Caleb Lee August 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm

@ Dan: Depends on how wide your grip is, just grip it about shoulder width …

@ Cris: 3-5 minutes of rest between sets when you’re training strength … you can go lower if you primarily want to build muscle.


Craig October 19, 2010 at 1:37 am

Just wondering where the weight should be when it comes to your feet? Is it on the balls of your feet or more towards the heels or evenly distributed? Not sure if you still respond to this vid either way thanks for the technique tips.


Caleb_Lee November 3, 2010 at 7:23 pm


Heels or evenly distributed.



Adam February 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm

The gym in my complex only has an assisted bench press (sigh). Will I be able to perform all of the 3-5 exercises if I am using the assisted bench?


Caleb_Lee March 6, 2011 at 7:00 pm

You … can … but maybe try to find a barbell? If not maybe dumbbells?


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