Strength training, Sweat Often

How to Do a Bent-Over Dumbbell Row the Right Way

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By Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, NLC

The bent-over dumbbell row is a great exercise—when done with proper form. It improves your posture, stabilizes your core, and sculpts your upper, mid, and lower back. In particular, you’ll work your latissimus (aka lats), trapezius, rhomboids, and erector spinae, along with your biceps. Yeah, that’s a lot.

If you’re not super familiar with these muscles, here’s a quickie primer:

Your latissimus is found at the side of your back, and it’s the main muscle we’re targeting with this exercise. It’s the largest muscle of the upper body and spans all parts of the spine, which is why this is a solid move for those who suffer from back pain.

RELATED: 5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Posture—for Confidence and Overall Health

Your middle trapezius is located across your shoulder blades, and the rhomboids are between the shoulder blades—you know, the ones you <3 showing off in a racerback tank during the summer. (Trust me, you’ll feel these muscles working hard if you have proper form!)

The erector spinae is a group of eight muscles that span the back from the bottom of your pelvis to the back of your skull, and they’re super important for keeping you stable and upright. They also help you maintain that confident, promotion-worthy posture (NBD).

The biceps are a secondary muscle used in the dumbbell row. Since they’re much smaller and weaker than the lats, they often “feel” the exercise and tire out first.

Of course, this is all contingent on you doing your bent-over rows properly, and form is *so* important in this exercise. It’s crucial to avoid rounding your back, rotating your torso, and using jerky pulling motions, all of which can cause, instead of alleviate, back pain. 

And no one wants that! So, here are the key cues to follow while rowing:

  1. Place legs out wide, about 3 to 4 feet away from the bench. 
  2. Begin in an athletic position with knees bent and hips back, pressing knees out.
  3. Place one arm on the bench, maintaining a flat/neutral back and tall chest.
  4. Row the dumbbell towards your chest, pulling elbow towards back pocket and keeping elbow inside the knee.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position, without dropping your hand too low or rounding the shoulder.
  6. Repeat with your other arm.

Start with a low weight and advance once you’re certain you’re in the proper position. Remember: Good form is always more important than more weight. You’ll be surprised how much you feel your muscles work when you perform a bent-over dumbbell row correctly—and you’ll exit the gym with better posture, feeling more badass than when you entered. And isn’t that the whole point?

More Perfect Form with Robin Barrie Kaiden: 

How to Do a Push-Up
How to Do a Plank
How to Do a Squat
How to Do a Deadlift

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