Both the barbell row and the dumbbell row are compound exercises utilized to develop a strong, muscular back. The barbell and dumbbell row both require proper form and technique to develop not only strong muscles but also to avoid injury. Learn about the exercises as well as the proper form of the exercises below.
What Does the Row Exercise Target?
The barbell and dumbbell row exercises target the back muscles, primarily the latissimus dorsi (also known as lats), rhomboids, and trapezius (traps). While these exercises target primarily the upper back region, stabilizer muscles such as the abdominals, lower back, hamstrings and glutes also get work as they keep your spine straight and stable.
The vulnerability of the lower back in this exercise is the reason why proper form is so important to this movement. Rowing too heavy of a weight without the proper core engagement to protect the spine can result in lower back injuries.
To perform a barbell row, begin by standing with your feet hip width apart and the barbell in front of you. Keep your back straight as you hinge from the hips, pushing your butt back, to pick up the barbell with an overhand grip. Maintain a straight back and brace your core as you row the barbell to your upper waist with your elbows pointing up. Lower the arms back down until they are straight to complete one rep.
The barbell row can also be performed with an underhand grip for a different variation that targets other back muscles.
The dumbbell row is similar to the barbell row, but instead of using one bar you are using two dumbbells. With a dumbbell in each hand and palms facing each other, hinge at the hips as you bend forward and push your butt behind you. You back should be straight and head should be in a neutral position. Let your arms drop straight out in front of you. Exhale as you pull the dumbbells up, keeping your arms and elbows tucked tightly into your body. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Due to being performed with just a single dumbbell, the dumbbell row can also be turned into a single arm row. While this version of the row allows for there to be focus on one side of the upper back region at a time, it also requires less stabilizer muscles. This exercise is preformed by bracing oneself on a bench with one arm and one leg with the other arm grasping the dumbbell. Since you are supporting more of your weight and body during this row exercise, your lower back is more protected than a basic standing row.
Is One Better than the Other?
The variety of row that you choose, whether it is a barbell row or a dumbbell row, depends on your goals and preferred method of training. A barbell row, performed both underhand and overhand, is used most often in bodybuilding for strengthening and growing the upper back. The dumbbell row is also a beneficial exercise to include in a training regimen, especially the one-arm dumbbell row exercise. One isn’t necessarily better than the other – it often comes down to what exercise ‘feels’ better depending on form and technique. Otherwise many people change them up every few weeks.