The bent-over barbell row can be used to strengthen the upper and lower back, which may help improve your squat and deadlift technique. Two studies have shown that the barbell row causes significant muscle activation of the lats, thoracic, lumbar spine muscles (upper and lower back), rear deltoids (shoulders), upper and middle traps (1, 2).
A common technical fault during the squat and deadlift is a significant change in shape of the spine (excessive flexion), making the exercises harder than they need to be. During a squat, losing upper back tension and rounding the back can cause the barbell to move horizontally forward and outside one’s base of support. As such, the bent over barbell rows may indirectly improve your squat and deadlifting technique by improving your upper back tension.
Many people complain about the lower back getting fatigued whilst performing a traditional bent over row where the weight plates never touch the floor. The variation of the bent-over barbell row demonstrated above has a reset between each repetition so the weights come in contact with the floor. This can help take stress off the lower back.
During high volume squats and deadlifts, many people find that their back becomes fatigued. If you have this issue, we recommend performing accessory exercises that place less stress on your lower back so you are not fatigued for your big lifts. Resetting between each repetition on the bent over row can help strengthen the back whilst minimising lower back fatigue.
A common error that people make on the bent-over row is that their torso and chest are too upright or they add too much weight. Being in a more bent position with the torso close to parallel to the floor will likley require reducing the load. However, this will increase the range of motion that the back and shoulder muscles go through. In turn, you will likely get more muscle activation whilst using less weight if you are in a more bent-over position.
Fenwick CM, Brown SH, and McGill SM. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res 23: 350-358, 2009.
Miguel García-Jaén, Gema Sanchis-Soler, Aitor Carrión-Adán, and Cortell-Tormo JM. Electromyographical responses of the lumbar, dorsal and shoulder musculature during the bent-over row exercise: a comparison between standing and bench postures (a preliminary study) Journal of Physical Education and Sport 21: 1871-1877.