Rowing represents an effective exercise for the latissimus muscle. It also works out the trapezius, the middle part of the erector spinae, and the back part of the deltoid. Also the biceps of the upper arm an the brachioradialis of the forearm will be activated when we row.
Rowing can be performed in many different variations. There are many machines specifically for rows, but we also could work out at the cable machine. Furthermore we can work out with a barbell or dumbbells in standing, kneeling, or lying position. All these variations make the training quite diverse.
Rowing on the machine
Rows on specific rowing machines can already be performed by beginners. Such machines provide a good stabilization of the body and support an upright position due to the chest cushion we lean against. Please note, that the workout with high weights can cause uncomfortable pressures on the chest. Sit upright and lean against the chest cushion. Tense the musculature of the trunk and especially your back muscles actively. In controlled movements you start to pull the handles toward the body. In the reverse movement don’t extend your arms completely.
For all rowing variations the workout with both arms close on the sides of the body activates the latissimus significantly. The further we lift our elbows toward shoulder hight, the less the latissimus and the more the trapezius, the middle part of the erector spinae, and the back part of the deltoid will work. The variation with raised elbows is very similar to the exercise reverse flys. All versions could be intensified if worked out in small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension when the arms are pulled backward maximally (please see best form of exercise).
Rows on the cable machine shouldn’t be practised by beginners. Sit upright tensing your trunk muscles tightly. Because of the missing chest rest we have to do a lot of stabilization work. In the beginning we sit close to the cable with our feet on the platform in front of us. Grab the handle and slide backward in a controlled movement. Keep your knees at least slightly bent. Row backward smoothly against the resistance with both arms close on the sides of your body. Again, don’t extend the arms completely in the reverse movement. At the end of a set release the weight with straight body posture. Do never drop the weights in a sudden or uncontrolled movement.
Rowing with free weights
Rowing with dumbbell kneeling on the bench is very effective for the latissimus. Rest with the forearm and shank of the same side of the body on the bench. Set the standing leg diagonally to the side onto the floor to stabilize your body optimally. In that position we grab the dumbbell and row backward with the arm close to the body. The back of our hand either points backward or to the side. Do not extend your arm completely in the reverse movement.
With barbell we could either work out rows lying or standing. Lying in prone position on the bench is the more stable version. Your head remains free above the upper end of the bench. Your legs pull upward to prevent a hollow back. You can fixate them on the foot of the bench. Working out with wide grip (back of our hand points to the front) focuses on the trapezius, the middle part of the erector spinae, and the back part of the deltoid. A narrow grip (back of our hand points backward) especially activates the latissimus. Lift the barbell maximally in a controlled movement. Bring it back down to complete one repetition but don’t extend your arms completely.
Rowing standing with barbell additionally activates the lower part of the back (muscles of the lumbar region) significantly. The execution is quite challenging so solely experienced athletes should practise standing rows with barbell. We stand slightly wider than shoulder width bending our knees a little bit. The trunk leans forward. Tense your abdominals tightly and keep your back straight. Also tense the back muscles and pull the barbell toward the body in a controlled movement. Bring it back down smoothly to complete one repetition. Don’t extend your arms completely.
With wide grip (back of your hand points to the front) you pull the weight toward the chest. With narrow grip and the back of your hands pointing backward you pull it toward the stomach.
Rowing without equipment
There also exists an isometric rowing variation that is exercised without any equipment. We sit upright on a chair, bench, or the floor. Our hands grab the knees right below the joints in a surrounding grip. Our body leans forward and our arms start to pull backward building up strong muscle tensions in the back. Increase the tension until you have reached a decent training intensity. Avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways). This version can also be practised on a machine. Here, you pull a weight you can’t overcome.
Antagonist: Chest muscles
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