WHEN IT COMES to building a muscular back, rows are a classic choice. If you walk into a gym, you'll be bound to encounter a muscle-up man performing the bent-over barbell or dumbbell row, one of the most popular variations. But that doesn't mean this will be the best option for everyone, especially if you're new to the gym.
Barbell rows require a high level of core stability, some lower back strength, and most importantly, dialed-in posture to do it properly. As a beginner, you might find that position difficult to hold and may be prone to using momentum to finish off your reps, which can increase your risk of injury and take the focus away from the back muscles you're aiming to train (mainly, the lats, rhomboids, traps, and rear delts).
So, what's the solution? Introduce a bench to the equation and try the chest-supported dumbbell row. Men's Health Advisory Board member and trainer David Otey C.S.C.S. highlights this variation in his Beginners Guide to Muscle program, now available on Men’s Health Streaming via the All Out Studio App. By adding a bench to support your chest for this variation, you can still blast the back muscles while minimizing the risk of injury.
Why You Should Do the Chest-Supported Row
Otey has three major reasons beginners should try the chest-supported row:
Less Lower Back Stress
The biggest challenge you'll face during the standard bent-over row is keeping up the perfect posture throughout each set. Your low back will likely tire before your pulling muscles, so you won't be able to really get the most out of the movement. Introducing the bench support takes your lower back out of the equation, allowing you to really home in on the muscles you were hoping to target.
Minimizes Momentum and Cheating
Along with the potential to stress out your lower back, the bent-over position is also much easier to allow for cheating. Since you'll no longer be in that compromised position, you'll me much more stable—and much less likely to be able to cheat by rocking back or swinging the weights.
You Can Change Angles
Since you're working on an adjustable bench, you'll have a much easier time working from different angles than attempting to shift your bent-over position. This will allow you to target different points on your back, making it a much more versatile exercise.
How Beginners Can Do the Chest-Supported Row
Here's how it's done:
Set up an incline bench at a 30 to 45 degree angle (a more upright angle targets the upper back, while a lower angle is better for the mid-back and lats).
Grab a pair of dumbbells and straddle the bench with your chest resting on the pad, making sure your head is not resting on the bench.
Plant your feet firmly on the floor and let your arms hang loose, slightly pulling your shoulder blades forward. This is the starting position.
From here, pull your elbows back to raise the dumbbells to your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if there is a grape between them that you want to crush.
Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position, allowing the scapula to protract and get a full stretch at the bottom. Repeat.
If you want to build a muscular back without risking injury, the chest-supported dumbbell row is a great place to start. This variation is perfect for beginners focusing on proper form, as well as experienced gym-goers looking for a new challenge.
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