Women looking to develop strength or tone in their backs may be tempted to stick with more simplistic back exercises such as the seated row or lat pulldown. But these exercises are limited, because you perform them from a seated position. The barbell row kicks it up a notch by requiring your core and legs to isometrically hold yourself in a bent-over position as you row a barbell to your chest. This move has many benefits for women, including strength, endurance, and help with bone density.
Improve Muscular Strength
The muscle that handles most of the work in the barbell row is the latissimus dorsi, which is the largest muscle in the back. The latissimus dorsi pulls your elbows back behind you when your forearms are parallel to the floor, which is referred to as transverse adduction. Also, your posterior deltoid, which is the back of your shoulders, contributes by also pulling your arms back behind you, but while your elbows are facing downward. This is referred to as transverse abduction. Lastly, your biceps, at the front of your upper arms, bend your elbows as you pull the bar to your chest. Routinely fit in barbell rows into your workouts and you'll see strength and size developments in all of these exercises.
Develop Lower Back
While seated rows and lat pulldowns develop the same group of muscles in the upper body, barbell rows force your core and legs to get involved. As you bend over at the waist and get into position to perform the barbell row, your lower back, glutes and hamstrings isometrically contract to keep you from falling forward. An isometric contraction means that your muscles hold a contraction over time. This type of muscular activity is similar to how your lower back, glutes and hamstrings work to keep you upright as you sit and stand throughout the day.
There are machines that also effectively target your latissimus dorsi muscle. However, when using one, the pathway that your arms travel is dictated by the machine. By using a barbell, such as during barbell rows, in addition to your core muscles that are heavily involved in holding your body in position, stabilizing muscles near your shoulders contract to coordinate lifting the bar up to your chest. These muscles wouldn't be active at all during a row exercise on a machine.
When using a machine, you’re unable to tweak your grip of the pathway of movement. However, when you perform rows with a barbell, you can tweak the exercise to put emphasis on different muscles. Make your grip narrower to cause your shoulders to perform a greater amount of transverse extension and thus target the latissimus dorsi muscle to a greater degree. Widen your grip to force your shoulders to perform a greater degree of transverse abduction, and thus put more emphasis on your posterior deltoid.
Women's bodies reach their peak bone mass around the age of 30 and maintain healthy bones due to the protection of estrogen. It's after menopause that bones are at greater risk of losing density and developing osteoporosis, or brittle bones. But making weight training a part of your exercise routine throughout life will help prevent bone loss and may even increase it. Weight-training exercises such as the barbell row are effective at increasing bone density. As your muscles contract, they pull on your bones. This stress causes your bones to adapt and work to increase their density. Common troublesome bone density areas for women include their lower back and hips. Because barbell rows target muscles in these areas, as the lower back muscles and glutes pull on your bones, bone density increases in those areas.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.