Supercharge your rows with this variation

There is a common approach in training that says for every pressing movement you do, you should do 2-3 times as many rows. For most people, this is a great approach, particularly if you use volume to gauge the ratio. Given that we tend to spend a lot of time sitting, shoulders slumped forward as we pound the keyboards for hours each day, doing more to work the muscles that hold us tall makes a lot of sense.

The options are endless and I love the bench supported dumbbell row as one of the go-to row movements in my programming. But 2 things come to mind with this exercise that I think need to be addressed, one quite specific to women, and the other to everyone who needs more upper back strength. (read: everyone)

First of all, the standard bench supported row:

What I like with this is its ease of set up, it can be easy to position yourself so that you don’t arch your low back, and the bench helps support you and stops you from rounding your upper back. All  good so far.

But for a lot of female clients, they tend to be a little uncomfortable, lying chest down on the bench, for fairly obvious reasons. And while some don’t mind, it’s nice to be able to offer options.

The second issue with this exercise is the chest supported bit. One of your spinal erector muscles jobs is to resist spinal flexion, ie slumping forward, and by using the bench to block that movement, you negate the need for these muscles to do their job.

The fix is pretty simple.

The unsupported bench row

Not the catchiest of names, but then again, we know I’m not the most creative when it comes to naming exercises.

Key points:

  • Set up on the bench with your ribs above the end of the bench.
  • Put something behind your feet to help anchor you. I  found that as the loads I used went up, it got harder to keep my feet on the floor, so pressing my feet into a pair of dumbbells behind me worked well and kept me balanced.
  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Row as you would with the supported version, pull slightly back towards your hips.
  • Don’t get tipped forwards and somersault yourself off the bench…
  • By having your chest unsupported, it is now up to your spinal erectors to resist the pull of the load trying you pull you into a slumped, kyphotic position. You’ll have to go a little lighter initially, so you don’t get the same hit on your lats, but you do get a much bigger hit on those erector muscles and that is the aim with this bad boy.

Give them a try in your next session, and let me know how you get on.

Stay strong,




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