Muscle Sport Magazine

Exercise of the Month: The Bent Over Dumbbell Row

By Jennie Laurent, WNBF Figure & Fit Body Pro – As depicted, you can see which muscles are activated while performing a proper bent over dumbbell row, namely the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi (mostly lower), teres major, rear deltoid, and the brachioradialis. There is more than one way to execute this move, but I feel that the safest, most effective method is the bent row with one knee and arm supported on a bench. This allows you to properly balance yourself and keep your shoulders level and your back straight or slightly arched to prevent injury or strain.

Some people prefer to use the dumbbell rack as they stand with one leg bent and the other straight and they bend over with one hand braced on the rack and perform the row. Other people perform this standing without bracing oneself on anything, but this does not allow for balance and can make it more difficult to execute the move properly and without risking strain. In that case it would be best to balance oneself with a dumbbell in each hand.bent row intro pic 2

Executing the Move

  • Select a dumbbell that is challenging but that you are able to do about 12 reps comfortably.
  • Place on floor next to a flat bench on the right side.
  • Place the palm of the left hand to brace the body with a straight arm on the bench and also place the left knee bent on the bench. The right knee should be slightly bent, but balance the body’s weight between both legs and the left hand (tripod).
  • Lean down and grasp the dumbbell with the right hand. The hand should be fisted around the weight with the palm facing the body. The right arm should be straight in the relaxed phase.
  • To prepare for contraction, it is best to keep the head up and straight, ideally looking in a mirror to ensure balance and form. The shoulders should be slightly retracted, no rounded and the lower back should be engaged and arched. Don’t look down of possible
  • Ensure that both shoulders are level and lift the dumbbell. One should aim to bring the elbow towards the hip and backwards, always in a straight line. The right arm should almost graze the lats as it is lifted upwards. Squeeze the lats and also the right shoulder at the top of the movement, and then ease the weight back down to the starting position. When lowering the weight it is common for people to drop the right shoulder, so before you lift it again, look in the mirror to ensure that the shoulders are level. Some people even raise the right shoulder while keeping the arm straight and then they lift at the elbow. This ensures that the weight is being lifted using the back and not the upper arm.
  • Repeat x 12 or however many reps and then switch to do the same movement on the other side.

bent row position 1bent row position 2bent row close up position 4dumbbell rows

Mistakes Lifters Make and How to Avoid

  • Many people try to go super heavy and they end up using their body and their shoulders to pull the weight up. This is not an arm exercise, though some of the shoulder muscles are activated. It makes me cringe when I see people who try to lift an outrageously heavy dumbbell at the expense of proper form to the point where they are not even hitting the lat. This is evident when the person lifts the weight and you see the shoulder move. The shoulder should move minimally because there should only be a bend at the elbow as the weight is eased upward, close to the body and backwards. When people use a weight that is too heavy you will see the back rounds out and they will be raising the right shoulder, again lifting the weight improperly. This is not a shoulder exercise, and do not shrug at the shoulders!intro pic 1
  • Furthermore, when people pick a weight that is too heavy and end up sacrificing good form, they tend to arch or “round” their back in this position, much like what a cat looks like when it is provoked. This puts undue strain on the lower back and can cause injury. When you select a weight that is appropriate and that one can maintain comfortably for 10-12 reps, you will notice that the lower back will have a slight arch or concave appearance throughout the entire movement.
  • Time under tension is what matters most, and often times I will see people lifting the weight too fast. Technically, the contraction phase should be a three count and same with the eccentric or lifting up and down. Lift up slow, hold and squeeze, and then east the weight back down. Do not simply let it drop. When you merely lift the weight up and down, form will suffer and you will be using momentum and you will not isolate the muscle properly. At the bottom of the movement after the eccentric (lowering) phase, do not pause long so that tension is kept. Simply extend the arm until it is just about straight but not locked and then raise the weight again repeatedly until all reps are performed.intro pic 4
  • Another mistake is not keeping the weight close to the body and parallel. The hand that holds the dumbbell should but a complete fist with the palm facing the body and this should maintain this way throughout the whole movement. Do not twist the body to compensate.
  • Do not curl the wrist; keep it neutral at all times and in the same position as mentioned above. This usually happens when people are lifting a weight that is too heavy and the body compensates.
  • Do not lean over or too far forward. The upper back should be straight, lower back arched, chest up and shoulders neutral and slightly retracted. At no point should the head or upper torso be at a downward angle. Having the knee and hand on the bench helps keep proper alignment. The head and torso should be at an upward angle with the lower back at a lower angle (see first anatomical picture of the bent row).Jennie back progress comparison pic

As you can see in the picture on the right, this was taken in early December 2014. The picture in the center was taken in February 2015. The picture on the right was taken in late March 2015. You can see that in the center picture, the lats and upper middle back are much thicker, creating the ideal “V” taper. This helps the torso/waist appear smaller and more compact. The real delts also are much more defined and full. The picture on the right, you can see much more definition as I was prepping for a show and had leaned out more. The muscularity is much more defined with ideal muscle fullness and posture. There is great symmetry and balance overall. With the back arched and chest up, arms flared, you can clearly see the definition of the entire back, especially the “wing”, iliocostalis, and erectors (the superficial muscles that parallel the spine, see anatomical picture below).

Photos: Jon Priest/JP Photo Design, Ian Zagaglia (video)



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