Row Exercises

Row exercises are some of the best multi-joint, calorie burning, muscle toning moves you can do for your upper body!  Rowing moves work your arms, shoulders and your back.  They can be done with dumbbells, barbells, exercise bands, cable machines and even your own body weight.

Cable Rows are an excellent exercise to tone and shape your back, shoulders and arms!

What you will find out on this page:
How to do 18 different back rowing exercises!

No matter what flavor of working out you like, back row exercises need to be included! 

Whether you like a nice, clean fitness center with pretty chrome machines, air conditioning and background music…or a hot sweaty crossfit gym with loud music and chalk dust flying, you will find smart people doing rows.

Why Row Exercises Work
Rowing is a natural, pulling movement.  Your forearms are gripping…your biceps are flexing…the rear of your shoulders and your upper back are pulling your arm to the rear…and your lower back muscles and other core muscles are keeping your torso erect…so how does that sound? Are you convinced yet?

Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows can be done several different ways: Standing, supported, seated and also with one arm or both arms at the same time. 

If I can, I prefer to do an exercise standing on my feet.  This means more muscles are working, including my core.
(#1) Standing dumbbell rows -

How to do it:
Standing with the dumbbells in your hands, squat slightly and bend your knees, bending forward at the waist and lowering your shoulders while keeping your back flat – you should almost look like you are snow skiing.  Allow your arms to hang naturally from your shoulders, with your palms facing each other. 

Now pull the dumbbells towards your sides, about halfway between your shoulders and waist.  Your elbows should past closely by your lower ribs, going toward the ceiling.  To get the most of this row exercise, at the top of the movement, the dumbbells should be at your sides, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you stick your chest out.  Lower the weight and repeat!


(#2) One Arm Dumbbell Row

This move has so many variations, it has it's own page!

Male doing dumbbell row on a bench
One arm dumbbell row not supported

(# 3) Alternating Dumbbell Row
I really like this row exercise…raise one dumbbell to the top of the movement while keeping the other arm straight.  Now at the same time you lower the first, raise the other weight. Keeping them moving in a see-saw motion – one going up while the other is going down – you will feel your abs and other muscles in your midsection working more than when you do them both at the same time!

Standing on One Leg
This is a fun variation that challenges your balance…try it with: 4) both arms; 5) one arm; 6) alternating arms.

Barbell Rows

As with a lot of exercises, I prefer to use dumbbells over a barbell because it allows the joints to move more freely.  However, there’s nothing “wrong” with the move, and it offers another variation, so here it goes…

How to Do It
Stand and hold a barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing you) or an underhand grip (palms away from you).  Now assume the same “skiing position” described above under “standing dumbbell rows”. Let the barbell hang naturally with outstretched arms below your shoulders. 
(#7) If you are using an overhand grip, pull the barbell towards your lower ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and sticking your chest out. 
(# 8) Underhand grip… (For me, this is a little uncomfortable in my wrists and elbows in the extended position...but maybe for you it’s OK!)  Pull the barbell towards your stomach, squeezing your shoulders blades and sticking your chest out.  For most people, they find that the barbell naturally comes a little lower than the lower ribs, closer to the waist. 

Barbell row with an underhand grip
barbell rows...

Cable Rows

This row exercise will most likely be done in a gym.  Every decent gym is going to have some kind of cable/weight stack machine.

(#9) Seated Cable Rows
How to Do It
Sit on the bench, grab the handle (there are several different variations of handles that attach to the cable – usually with a snap hook.  The wider grip you use, the more you feel it in the center of your back.)  Put your feet on the foot platforms – some have stir-ups to help keep your feet in place.  Keep a slight bend in your knees.  Sit erect, with your chest out and shoulders back, arms extended.  Now lean forward from the waist as far that is comfortable for you without hunching over – feel the great stretch in your upper back and your hamstrings!! 

As you come back to the upright position, begin pulling the handle towards your stomach, leaning back slightly, squeezing your shoulder blades and sticking your chest out.

Seated cable rows are great for men and women

(#10) Standing up – in a squatting position, you will be working more leg muscles and also challenging your balance.

Squating cable row
Squat and row

One arm at a time, 11) seated or 12) standing – attach a single handle, and do one arm at a time (see below).  This really changes things!  Pulling on your torso from one side causes your obliques and other core muscles to have to work harder to keep you straight. 
Cable machines usually have pulleys at different heights – low, middle and high – or the pulley can be adjusted to slide up and down at different levels. 

One Arm Standing Cable Row
This is my favorite cable row exercise because I feel my muscles get to work through the biggest range of motion AND I really feel it in my Core
Grab a cable with a single handle from a high position and step back from the machine a few steps.  If you are using your right hand, then step back with your right foot, left foot closer to the machine.  Lean forward and let your arm stretch out – you will feel an amazing stretch in lat muscles!  Now come to standing position as you pull the cable handle toward your lower ribs, pinching your shoulder blades and sticking your chest out. 
This move can be done with the cable at any height, but you will feel the most stretch when you use the highest point.

(#13) Row Machines
There are many types of row machines found in gyms that use weight.  Most machines have instructions attached on how to use them.  Machines offer another variation of row exercises so can work your body from a slightly different angles – but more importantly I think – more options keep you from getting burned out from doing the “same old thing” every time!

(#14) Cardio Rowing Machines
There are also many different types of rowing machines that are used – mainly for cardio exercise.  Most have different levels of difficulty and most also have a digital readout screen that tell you how many meters you have “rowed” and the elapsed time.  

I think rowing machines are great to include in an exercise circuit, rowing quickly for 1-5 minutes – it will really get your heart rate up and it can give your legs a little bit of a break from running, jumping and squatting.

Rowing machines work back muscles and they are a great cardio exercise

(#15) Bodyweight Rows

So you find yourself at a hotel and you want to put together a circuit and include some row exercises?  Get creative!  One way is to squat in front of and hold onto a stair or balcony railing, or hold both handles of an open door. Pull yourself toward the railing or the door – you might be surprised how challenging this can be!  To get the most out of it, concentrate on really squeezing your shoulders together at the top of the movement. 

(#16) Upright Rows

Many bodybuilders do this move to work their “traps”.  But it’s an excellent move for ANYone!  It can help sculpt your shoulders, biceps and upper back, no matter who you are! 
How to do it
Stand and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.  Using your shoulders, lift the dumbbells up toward your chin.  At the top position, the dumbbells should be about in front of your throat with your palms facing you and the dumbbells parallel to the floor – concentrate on trying to lift your elbows higher than your shoulders. 

upright row with dumbbells
upright row with dumbbells

(#17) Upright Row - One arm at a time (keep same side foot slightly back): if the weight is heavy enough for you, you will feel this move in your core muscles on the opposite side!

Barbell.  Not recommended.  Why?  using a single bar keeps your hands in a fixed position – this does not allow your shoulders to move in their natural range of motion. 

(#18) Exercise Band Rows

At home or in a gym, you can use exercise bands to perform any of the variations above!  Always make sure bands do not have any nicks or cuts, and that it is anchored on a secure, smooth point.

Row exercise with exercise bands

There you have it!  If your goal is to lose weight, toning up, or just overall fitness, then you should be including some type of row exercises in your workouts! 

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.