The Quadruped Bird Dog Bench Row is one of my go-to rowing variations for teaching athletes how to dial in their horizontal pulling technique. The reason is that any faulty mechanics, movement dysfunction or flawed activation patterns result in the lifter immediately losing his or her balance.
To successfully complete the movement, you must continuously make adjustments and technique corrections until every component of your body mechanics from head to toe are perfectly honed in. Anything less results in loss of body control and the inability to perform the movement.
Even without coaching, this movement provides lifters with enough sensory feedback and internal cuing to allow them to gradually correct and regulate their body positioning. As a result, the Quadruped Row addresses numerous form issues including the following:
1. Eliminates Over-Rowing and Excessive Range of Motion
Many lifters tend to over-pull on rowing movements, particularly at the end of the concentric phase. As a result, their elbows drift far beyond the plane of their torso, placing undue stress on their shoulder joints and eliminating tension from their back and lats. Instead, the elbow and triceps should be approximately lined up with the torso. On the Quadruped Row, if you over-row or use an exaggerated pulling motion, you'll lose your balance, because your t-spine will no longer be perfectly stacked with the rest of your vertebral column.
2. Eliminates Overstretching at the Bottom Position
A common trend among strength coaches is to teach exaggerated stretching and protraction during the eccentric portion of a Row. Besides placing stress on the glenohumeral joint, that promotes faulty postural mechanics. The Quadruped Row teaches optimal protraction, which is more subtle than most coaches realize. It does this by reinforcing optimal end range of motion in the eccentric position. Over-stretching causes the core musculature to relax and disrupts neutral spinal alignment, both of which make the lifter lose his or her balance.
3. Reduces Excessive Momentum and "Top Rock"
Although a small amount of body English is acceptable on Rows, using excessive momentum and "top rock" to pull the weight up is a common problem for lifter of all levels. Whether the issue stems from handling more weight than you're capable of lifting or relying on momentum to make the movement easier, the result is reduced activation of the targeted musculature. The Quadruped Row eliminates the tendency to use excessive rocking motion, since your strict body position forces you to keep your torso completely parallel to the floor with little or no room for deviations.
4. Eliminates Low Back Compensation
A common compensation pattern on Rows is to rely on excessive lumbar extension to help pull the weight rather than extending the t-spine and pulling with the upper back. The Quadruped Row aggressively activates the core and places the body in a position that literally eliminates any tendency to compensate with faulty low-back mechanics.
5. Improves 3D Shoulder Positioning and Scapula Mechanics
Many individuals struggle with proper shoulder positioning on Rows. Ideally the shoulders need to retract, depress, and medially rotate toward the spine as you row. If these don't occur, the shoulder and elbow move out of proper alignment. This causes the center of mass to move far away from the midline of the body, resulting in extreme instability and difficulty maintaining body control.
6. Improves Elbow Tuck
The proper shoulder mechanics facilitated by the Quadruped Row does wonders for tucking the elbow and keeping it close to the body. Excessive elbow flare produces poor body alignment and an inability to maintain control of the movement.
7. Increases Core Activation
Besides being an effective movement for the upper back, the Quadruped Row is one of the most challenging core exercises available, because it forces you to maintain a neutral spine while resisting extension and anti-rotation.
8. Eliminates Cervical Compensation Patterns
Cervical compensation patterns during rowing movements are quite common yet often subtle. The most common are cervical hyperextension (head cocked up) and cervical flexion (head tilted down), both of which result from poor postural control, weak core and impaired lat activation. Ironically, the altered head position has an immediate negative impact on equilibrium and balance, requiring you to adjust and correct the issue immediately in order to successfully perform the movement.
9. Improves Full Body Tension and Spinal Rigidity
The Quadruped Row requires full-body tension from head to toe. Any energy leaks or lack of innervation anywhere in the kinetic chain disrupts balance and body alignment. Besides reinforcing optimal activation patterns, the exercise does wonders for potentiating the nervous system and prepping it for subsequent heavy lifts.
10. Eliminates Excessive Body Rotation Common with Single-Arm Rows
Most lifters tend to use excessive body rotation during Single-Arm Dumbbell Row variations. The Quadruped Row eliminates this issue, because the movement requires you to resist rotation and twisting as a means of stabilizing the body.
11. Prevents and Eliminates Spinal Flexion
Besides the obvious risks associated with spinal flexion, rowing movements significantly reduce the ability to contract the lats and upper back. Quadruped Rows prevent excessive spinal flexion, and you find it impossible to stabilize your body.
12. Promotes Proper Grip and Hand Mechanics
Many lifters allow the weight to tilt in their hands by subconsciously relaxing their grip. This promotes faulty shoulder mechanics, as lethargic grip and forearm activation decrease stability in the glenohumeral joint. With the Quadruped Row, any tilt in the dumbbell causes deviations in balance and stability. It forces you to activate your hand and forearm muscles aggressively to ensure optimal joint stacking of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. You must keep the weight strictly parallel to the floor to optimize stability from the base up.
13. Teaches Strong Muscle-Mind Connection with the Lats.
One of the things people often say once they lock in their mechanics on Quadruped Rows is how much they feel their lats working. This is due to the smooth and proper rowing motions required to successfully perform the movement and to the steep parallel torso angle involved.
14. Produces Larger Range of Motion than Most Free Weight Rows
The larger range of motion is primarily because the back is completely parallel to the floor rather than angled somewhat upright. The more upright the torso, and the farther it moves away from parallel to the floor, the shorter the movement becomes. Because of the added range of motion, the exercise is effective for hypertrophy once you learn the movement and can handle substantial loads.
15. Improves Low-Back Health and Back Pain
Quadruped Rows are one of the most effective drills I've ever used to eliminate low back issues and back pain in my clients and athletes. Learn to master this movement and watch your low back issues disappear.
Quadruped Rows can be performed using a variety of methods. A standard bench with a kettlebell is the most common variation. Dumbbells provide a similar effect; however, they tend to feel slightly less natural than kettlebells.
Here's a video of one of my athletes demonstrating a very difficult narrow-base version of the dumbbell variation.
Finger pinching variations using hex dumbbells or bumper plates are also effective for increasing full body tension, which can enhance spinal rigidity and body alignment.
Here's a video of one of my NFL athletes, Fernando Velasco, using a Quadruped Bird Dog Row variation as a preparatory movement to enhance neural drive and body mechanics before targeting heavier compound movements.
As shown in the dumbbell variation above, you can perform the Quadruped Row using a narrow base, where you kneel widthwise on a bench rather than lengthwise. This is significantly more challenging and requires even greater body control and stricter mechanics. If you're really looking to maximize the effectiveness, try performing the single-arm barbell variation. Even the slightest deviation in form causes the bar to tip and tilt, making it incredibly challenging yet highly effective for mastering your mechanics.
Additional Notes and Considerations on Quadruped Bird Dog Bench Rows
- Before you attempt these, make sure you can perform the basic Quadruped Bird Dog on a bench. Master that before performing the Row, because the Row is much more challenging.
- Dumbbells are generally more challenging than kettlebells because they are thicker and tend to bump into the bench.
- The farther back you slide your knee toward the end of the bench, the more challenging it is.
- This is obvious, but a thinner bench is far more difficult than a wider bench.
- Benches that have a slight concave shape or rounded edges are generally more challenging, since it's more difficult to resist rotation compared to benches that are completely flat.
- If you really want to test your mechanics and improve full body stability, try performing these with your eyes closed.
- You should be able to handle 70% of your typical One-Arm Dumbbell Row. If you can't, then you lack proper rowing mechanics and core stability.
- I typically recommend performing each row as an eccentric isometric, as this allows you to more easily fine-tune and master the movement. In other words, once you lift the weight, lower it slowly (2- to 4-second count), pause in the stretched position for several seconds, smoothly but powerfully row the weight up, then pause again in the top contracted position.