When it comes to strength training everyone wants some body part to look better. How many of you would like “better looking” abs? How about “more toned” arms? Nice looking legs? A sexy back? (Sounds of crickets chirping.) What is it with the lack of interest in our back? Maybe because we don’t see it? In the gym you will (always) see guys doing bench presses, shoulder presses and bicep curls, but I see a lot less rowing movements. And whether you want a “sexy” back or not, everyone should be incorporating lots and lots of rowing into their strength routine. Why is that? Because of all the sitting we do, which tends to cause a rounded shoulder, hunched over look…now that is NOT sexy. Adding pulling movements will not only lead to a more balanced body, but can help combat that “Hunchback of Notre Dame” look. And we could all use a little more of that.
There are many, many variations of rowing (or horizontal pulling) exercises. I’m going to share with you a few of my favorites. Your back is actually a very strong part of your body ~ most people will find pulling movements easier than pushing movements. Let’s start off with the basic dumbbell bench row, since I was encouraging everyone on Monday to use free weights. This movement, while simple in concept, is often done incorrectly. In this youtube clip note how her back has a slight arch ~ this is good. A bit flatter is okay too, but what you want to avoid is a rounded back. Note how the movement is controlled and not using momentum from other parts of her body. When trying to get into the correct body position I tell people to pretend they are a gorilla (is it weird that that cue works for me?). There are a few coaching cues in the type below the video ~ read them. Another cue my coach always tells me is to think of pulling my elbow to my back pocket.
Another favorite row variation uses the TRX. I have talked about the TRX before (see here) and will again in the future (think “Top 10 Training Tools”). The TRX row uses bodyweight (which can be amazingly humbling). Keep in mind that with this exercise, moving your feet closer to (and beyond) the anchor point of the TRX (where it is affixed), makes it more difficult. So the challenge is adjustable. In the video below note that her head doesn’t jut forward as she pulls, which is something to keep in mind ~ there is just a natural tendency to want to jut it forward ~ don’t. Keep your entire body nice and tight ~ no sagging hips. Again, the cue of pulling your elbow to your back pocket works here too.
As this becomes too easy you have a few options…you can add a weight vest (10 lbs will make a difference) or elevate your feet (I also like the shoulder rotation you see in this video clip):
While more gyms are adding a TRX to their equipment (or you can buy your own here), if a TRX isn’t available you can do a similar exercise using the Smith Machine (one of the few things it is actually useful for). You can adjust the height of the bar and your foot position to increase/decrease the challenge. As with the TRX row, you can also elevate your feet.
Next let’s use the cable machine. Most gyms will have one of these. If you have one that adjusts to all different heights, that is ideal, but you can work with a top or bottom placement for machines that are fixed in those spots. I like this single-arm version as I think it is always good to occasionally work arms (and legs) separately. This is where you will notice weaknesses and/or imbalances between your two sides (completely normal, do not panic). Note in this clip how still his body is…the only thing moving is his arm. By keeping his core still and resisting the pull of the movement, he is getting a core workout too (bonus!).
So there you have it ~ three rowing exercises to try out and incorporate into your gym routine. Start out with a lighter weight until you are comfortable with your form, then start pushing yourself. You will be amazed at how strong your back can be!