Every athlete loves a challenge, so here it is. Test your lifting IQ by trying to identify the four common form mistakes hidden in this video demonstration of a Bent-Over Barbell Row. Watch the video first before reading ahead, and see how well you know your stuff.
This great mass and strength building exercise is a classic, but even with perfect form, the Bent-Over Row puts thousands of newtons of pressure on the lumbar spine. Like everything in life, weigh the risk with the reward and either do it right or find a safer exercise to pump up your back.
Mistake 1: Flexing the Spine Before You Flex Your Muscles
Watch the way I pick up the bar in the video. Many athletes understand that a neutral spine during Bent Over Rows is necessary for back health. That's why it's surprising how many of them disregard this fact when they first lift the weight to get into position.
According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a fully flexed spine is significantly limited in its ability to withstand the loads that can lead to low-back injury. It also decreases the activity of the muscles and overloads the ligaments, which can lead to problems. Research has shown a reduction of 500 kg of force by using a neutral spine vs. a flexed posture.
Do this instead: Rack the bar 2 feet off the ground and take it from the hooks with a tight core and a neutral spine. Alternatively, start with a neutral spine Deadlift to pick the weight up. Then slowly control the weight down with a neutral spine until you achieve the proper start position.
Mistake 2: Popping Instead of Pinching at the Top
This one is very subtle in the video. Usually the whole upper body jerks during the last part of the row when athletes go heavy. The takeaway here is that as the bar rises up toward the torso, the arm and back muscles shorten. When they run out of slack, the shoulder blade muscles should kick in to dig, pinch and finish things off. If this doesn't happen, over time faulty patterns can develop at the shoulder that may lead to injury of the upper spine, neck and shoulder.
Do this instead: Go lighter, pause at the top and stay there, squeezing the shoulder blades until you feel the pinch. If you can't, it's still too heavy.
Mistake 3: Tip Toes Equal Low-Back Woes
If you watch the video carefully, you can see the weight shifts to my toes every time I lower the bar. The inability to maintain pressure on the entire foot or heel during the eccentric portion of the lift reduces the amount of support given by the glutes and hamstrings. It also shifts the center of gravity away from the lower back. It may seem subtle, but when you try it with more weight on the heels, you can instantly feel the difference.
Do this instead: Put the weight through the heels, especially during the lowering phase.
Mistake 4: Ski Jumps
In the video, right when I get into position, my neck is in a hyper-extended position that causes a spinal ski-jump of the vertebrae. This may be better than dropping my head forward, but it's still a pattern that is concerning. If the muscles of the shoulder blades and mid/upper spine are unable to hold the shoulders on top of the rib cage and if the thoracic spine in a good position during heavy rows, the cervical spine will force your head up to counteract the forward and downward pull of the barbell. This is likely done to avoid muscle strain around the shoulder blade area.
Do this instead: Train your thoracic, scapular and deep cervical neck muscles on off days. Go lighter on the rows and try to keep a neutral position with your chin slightly tucked and your tongue on the roof of the mouth.
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