Saying that the bent over row is an excellent back builder would be an understatement. However, the question is when you do the movement, which bent over row muscles worked? After all, it can be a great movement for building wider lats as well as thicker rhomboids. The answer to the question isn’t as much which back muscles are being trained, but how should you do the exercise to train the different muscles.
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There are a few things to keep in mind when performing the bent over dumbbell row to make sure that you get the best results. The first is that you want to keep your upper body stationary. Too often trainees will pull their torso up during the rep, cheating the weight up.
Not only does this take tension off the lats and rhomboids, but it has you pulling with the lower back. This is bad because your muscular development decreases while increasing the chance that you strain something in the small of your back due to excessive ballistic shock.
If you want the bent over row muscles worked to be the lats, keep your elbows tucked at your sides. This will keep your upper arm more or less in line with your torso and keeps emphasis on the lats. This is because the upper arm is then rotating around the shoulder socket, and it’s the lats that make this happen.
At the same time, if you do your rows one arm at a time, performing them in this fashion can let you really let the dumbbell come “forward” at the bottom of the movement (as opposed to the dumbbell moving only vertically). Doing this can give you a much better stretch in the lats – particularly the lower lats. This also can help improve muscle quality.
If you want to target the rhomboids more, let your elbows flare out. This will have your upper arms at more of an angle to your torso. The most extreme version of this would see your upper arms forming an almost 90-degree angle with your torso.
By having your arms pulling more “across” your core instead of in line with it, emphasis will be transferred from the lats to the rhomboids. While bigger lats will lead to a wider-looking back, it’s well-developed rhomboids that will give you a thick back.
The problem with doing a dumbbell rows where your hands are pulled high on your torso (say around the nipples) is that the emphasis is then transferred to the rear delts and/or trapezius. While these are both muscles you want to train, they should be worked via different exercises. Pulling high on your torso may also put undue strain on the rotator cuff.
The bent over row is an excellent movement that can really bring up the muscularity in your lats and rhomboids. Use hypertrophy protocols, get your hands and wrists into a comfortable position, and be sure to pull into the right part of your torso. Ensure you’re not cheating the weight up with your lower back, and improved back development will be right around the corner.