Barbell and dumbbell rows aren’t the sexiest of weight-training exercises, but they can certainly lead to sexy results. Rowing exercises target your upper back and shoulder muscles, including your rear deltoids and latissimus dorsi -- or lats. The key to getting the most from your rowing workout is maintaining good form throughout the movement. If you do it correctly, you’ll be well on your way to a banging upper back.
Dumbbell rows are great for really engaging your back muscles. Compared to barbell rows, most people can lift more weight using the dumbbell rowing technique. This makes it a superior exercise for building strength and definition. Do dumbbell rows one arm at a time with the help of a weight bench. Bend over while keeping your spine in a straight line, gripping the dumbbell in one hand with your opposite hand and knee on the weight bench. Pull the weight up toward the side of your body, focusing on using your back muscles to do the lift. Lower the weight slowly and start the next repetition.
Also called bent-over barbell rows, this type of rowing exercise uses a barbell loaded with weight. This exercise starts out similarly to a barbell squat with your feet and grip shoulder-width apart. Lift the barbell off the ground, keeping your weight on your heels and your back in a straight line; keep the bar close to your body. Bend at your hips and begin lifting and lowering the barbell from your ribs down to the ground. Don’t bounce the weight but do use a slow, controlled motion. Unlike the single-arm dumbbell row, barbell rows work your entire upper back in one motion, making it an efficient alternative to single-arm rows.
Both of these exercises strengthen your rear deltoids, traps and lats. Try both rowing techniques to determine which is more comfortable for you. Use your preferred exercise for most of your back workouts, but also use the other to challenge your back muscles with an alternative movement. If your goal is to build strength and lean muscle quickly, try single-arm dumbbell rows. If you prefer working your entire back at once with slightly less weight, choose barbell rows.
Weights, Sets and Reps
Dumbbell rows and barbell row stronglifts are intermediate-to-advanced exercises, according to the American Council on Exercise, so always start with extremely light weights until you’ve perfected your technique. Use proper form to prevent injuries and maximize the effectiveness of the movements. Aim for 10 to 12 reps per set and four sets per workout. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, use enough weight so that the final two reps are pretty difficult to lift. Exercise your back once or twice per week with at least two days of rest between workouts.
Joseph Eitel has written for a variety of respected online publications since 2006 including the Developer Shed Network and Huddle.net. He has dedicated his life to researching and writing about diet, nutrition and exercise. Eitel's health blog, PromoteHealth.info, has become an authority in the healthy-living niche. He graduated with honors from Kellogg Community College in 2010 with an Associate of Applied Science.