Bodyweight Rows and Variations:
Variation #1 – Reverse Bodyweight Row
The reverse body weight row is a very popular variation. It consists of performing a regular bodyweight row with your hands on the floor instead of hanging from the bar.
You can perform it standing or sitting down. If you are using dumbbells, you will need to use them for resistance. You can do this variation for several reasons. First, it’s fun! Second, you can train your grip strength. Third, you can strengthen your core muscles and improve flexibility. Fourth, you may want to increase the difficulty level of the exercise if you have trouble completing regular bodyweight rows. Fifth, you can use it as a warm up before heavier exercises such as pull ups. Sixth, you can do this variation after doing regular bodyweight rows. Seventh, you can perform this variation during your rest periods between sets of regular bodyweight rows.
Here are the steps and instructions for performing the reverse bodyweight row:
Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie on your back on a workout bench. Be sure that your head, shoulders, and hips are fully supported by the bench.
Bend your knees 90-degrees and place your feet on the floor. Next, grab the dumbbells and hold them by your sides so that you hands are supporting most of the weight. This is the starting position. Using the muscles of your back, slowly row the dumbbells upward by raising your arms straight up. Continue rowing until your elbows are aligned with your shoulders. Hold the contraction at the top for a second. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position. After a second pause at the bottom of the movement, repeat the movement.
Tip: You can perform the reverse bodyweight row using a variety of different methods. You can place your feet flat on the floor or you can place them on a workout bench or box.
Variation #2 – Horizontal Row
The horizontal row is another good bodyweight row alternative. Like the regular bodyweight row, you begin the movement by pulling your hands to your sides while keeping a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
The main difference between the two exercises is that you are lying on your stomach instead of being upright. The horizontal row can be performed either flat on your back or at an incline. You can perform this exercise using a variety of different methods. The most common horizontal row exercises include:
Seated horizontal rows – For this version, all you need is a chin up bar and a little creativity. You can use a chair to adjust the height of the chin up bar.
Lie facing away from the chin up bar and place your heels on the seat of the chair. This is going to give you some extra leverage and make the exercise a little easier. Next, grab the chin up bar with an overhand grip and lift your chest off the floor by pulling your hands toward your sides until your elbows are aligned with your shoulders. Hold this position for a second and return to the starting position.
Portable horizontal row – This version is performed in the same way as the seated horizontal row but you need to place one foot on each side of a stability ball before grabbing the chin up bar. This will once again give you some extra leverage and make the exercise a little easier.
Incline horizontal row – For this version, find a bench or box that is high enough so that when you lie on your back your arms are fully extended but not any higher than that. Place your feet on the floor and grab the chin up bar with an overhand grip.
Pull yourself toward the bar until your arms are aligned with your shoulders and hold this position for a second. Slowly return to the starting position by lowering your body to a point where your arms are nearly fully extended but not quite.
Tip: You can perform the horizontal row with chin up bars, pull up bars, or anything that you can hang from. You can also use these types of bars to perform other types of body weight rows as well.
2. Cable Rows
The cable row is a machine based back exercise that can be performed using a variety of different techniques. It has also been called the hammer strength row after the popular rowing machine that was developed in the 1980’s.
The most common types of cable rows are:
Low to high rows – For this type of row, you will have your feet wider than your shoulders. This stance will help you keep your balance during the rowing movement.
Grasp a straight bar attachment with a narrow overhand grip. Begin the movement by retracting your shoulder blades and pulling the bar into your lower abdomen. Continue to pull the bar until it touches your upper stomach or lower chest area. After a one second pause at this point, return to the starting position in a smooth and controlled manner.
Low to high with pause – This version is performed in the same way as the low to high row except you should pause for a second at the top of each rep.
Anti-row – This is a rowing movement that works the muscles in the exact opposite manner of a traditional row. For this movement, you will have your feet wider than your shoulders and grasp a straight bar attachment.
Begin the movement by extending your shoulder blades and pulling the bar toward your lower abdomen. Pull the bar into your lower abdomen and pause for a second at the bottom of each rep.
Tip: You can perform cable rows as a single arm movement or using both arms at the same time.
3. One Arm Dumbbell Rows
The one arm dumbbell row is a great way to add variety to your back workouts. It also involves more balance and stability than the barbell rows listed above and has the ability to challenge your core muscles as well.
Begin the movement by leaning over a bench that is around knee height. Place a weight on one side of the bench and grab it with your working hand. Your other hand should be placed on the bench for support. Keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbell up while trying to touch the elbow of your rowing arm to your side. Squeeze your shoulder blade at the top of the movement and slowly lower the weight back down. Perform all of the reps on one side and then switch arms and work the other side.
4. Chest Supported Rows
These types of rowing movements are considered to be easier on the lower back than the types listed above. To begin, place a flat bench in front of a weight plate loaded machine.
Set the incline level to about 45 degrees. Lie down on your back on the bench with your head facing toward the floor. Grasp the handles of the machine and pull your body toward the weight stack in a rowing movement. Keep your elbows close to your body and draw your shoulder blades back together at the top of each rep.
Tip: Many gyms will have a lower incline for this exercise as shown in the picture below. To achieve the greater incline listed above, you can stack several weight plates on top of each other under one side of the bench.
5. Seated Machine Rows
For this movement you will need to get on a seated row machine. Most of these machines are designed for people of all sizes to be able to use them.
Before you begin the movement, make sure the leverage or angle of the machine is set to your comfort level. Also, be sure to select the weight that you want to use. Begin the movement by leaning back and pulling the handle into your body in a rowing type motion. Keep your elbows close to your sides and draw your shoulder blades back together at the top of each rep.
6. T-Bar Rows
The T-Bar Row is performed on a machine that looks like the letter “T”. This movement will put more of a stretch in your lats and lower back since you will be leaning forward over most of the set.
Start by adjusting the machine to fit your size. Position the “T” bar on the front of your body and grasp the handles with an overhand grip. Your knees should be bent with feet flat on the floor for balance. Keeping your back straight, pull the “T” bar to your lower abdomen. Hold this position for a second at the top of each rep and use your back muscles to perform the work.
Note: Be sure to use caution when performing this movement if you have any lower back problems.
7. Dumbbell Rows
Begin this movement by kneeling on a flat bench. Grasp a pair of dumbbells and allow them to hang at your sides.
This will be your starting position. Keeping your upper body straight, bend forward at the waist and bring the weights up until they touch your torso (the weights should move together). Slowly return the dumbbells back to the starting position.
As you exercise caution when performing this movement, making sure you keep your back straight at all times. Using a full range of motion will stretch and stress the lower back the most, but it can also be dangerous if you have any existing or past lower back problems.
Perform all reps on one side and then repeat the procedure for the other side.
8. Barbell Deadlifts
This is a common strength building exercise for the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Begin the movement by standing over a loaded barbell with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent.
Grip the bar overhand so that your hands are about shoulder width and grab it tightly so that you do not lose your grip. Slowly bend at the knees and hips and lower your torso until it is almost parallel to the floor. Touch the bar down as if you were going to do a squat but do not bounce, rather touch and go immediately back to the start position.
As you perform this movement, pay careful attention not to round out your lower back or let it poke out too far. Keep it tight.
9. Pull Throughs
This exercise is often used to strengthen the lower back and the hamstrings. This movement can be performed with or without a Roman Chair.
To perform this movement, you will need a special piece of equipment called a glider or slatted bench. You can also use a partner to help you with this movement.
Begin by sitting on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Grasp a handle (or the arms of the Roman Chair) with your hands and allow the bar to roll out in front of you so that it comes to rest behind your knees.
While keeping your back straight and in line with your legs, slowly move forward (keeping your legs stationary) until you are at the very end of the bench. Pause briefly and then pull yourself back to the starting position by leading with your chest.
10. Straight Leg Raise
This exercise is often used to strengthen the rectus abdominus (otherwise known as the six-pack muscles). Lie on your back on a mat and bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the floor.
Cross your arms over your chest or place your hands behind your head. Now tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your legs until they are straight. Lower them slowly until they are a couple of inches from the floor and then repeat the movement.
Perform this exercise in a smooth and controlled manner. Do not swing your legs or initiate the movement with your hip flexors (the muscles in your front upper leg).
No matter how good your genetics are, you still need to challenge yourself if you want to continue progressing.
Start by trying one new exercise every two weeks to keep your body growing in different ways. Don’t just add more weight, though that is one option.
You can also try slowing down the movement, adding another set, increasing the reps, adding pauses, etc. There are many ways to challenge yourself.
Watch your diet as well. Do not eat too much or it will be harder to add weight.
If you feel like you are getting too fat, cut back on the amount you eat. You want to have a nice balance of nutrients without excess fat storage.
Sources & references used in this article:
Adjustable bodyweight exercise apparatus by AD Henderson – US Patent 7,125,371, 2006 – Google Patents
Age, body weight and backfat thickness at first observed oestrus in crossbred Landrace× Yorkshire gilts, seasonal variations and their influence on subsequence … by P Tummaruk, W Tantasuparuk, M Techakumphu… – Animal Reproduction …, 2007 – Elsevier
Effects of ethanol (0.75 g/kg body weight) on the activities of selected enzymes in sera of healthy young adults: 2. Interindividual variations in response of gamma … by DE Freer, BE Statland – Clinical chemistry, 1977 – academic.oup.com
Seasonal variations in the body composition of lightweight rowers. by FL Morris, WR Payne – British journal of sports medicine, 1996 – bjsm.bmj.com