Row variations can be the backbone of a great strength training program, no pun intended.
Many experts now suggest athletes should row 2-3 times the volume that they press during their routines. While Rows are a great exercise, many athletes don’t maximize the movement due to some simple-yet-subtle mistakes.
An athlete will often have a perfect row pattern with good range of motion (ROM), but will fall short in another area such as foot placement, core engagement or postural alignment. Or if those smaller details look good, the actual Row itself may not quite be there.
There isn’t just one way to correctly perform a Row or row variation. Body type, targeted training effect and training age can play a role in how, when or why a person rows. But one thing that does remain constant is the need to reach when you perform the movement.
Reaching during a Row is a concept that was first introduced to me by Mike Robertson. Since then, it has been a go-to cue for me during my training and coaching sessions. But what exactly does it mean to “reach” during your Row?
Robertson’s original cue was a reminder to reach long with the non-rowing arm during Dumbbell Rows (arguably the most popular rowing variation). Adding to that, I believe a slight reach with the rowing arm is also beneficial. Before we get into the gym hack that perfectly cues athletes into this habit, let’s look at why this cue is beneficial.
First, reaching with the off hand during a Row is beneficial because of the engagement it promotes in the core. Not only in the abdominal wall, but also in crucial muscles like the serratus anterior and the diaphragm. The action of reaching with the non-rowing arm creates a more stable upper back, which has a trickle-down effect into the torso and maximizes involvement of stabilizing muscles. This will pay dividends down the road in terms of shoulder health and postural comfort.
Secondly, cueing a slight reach with the rowing arm promotes taking advantage of every inch of functional ROM an athlete can access. Similar to the forward lean on Landmine Presses that I discussed previously, this tip can allow athletes to create better scapular mobility and apply that to their sport. Unlike a Bench Press, you do not want your shoulder blades to be stuck in one position during upper-body pulling variations. Let those shoulder blades glide!
A very simple and efficient way to promote both of these reaching cues on a standard Dumbbell Row is by introducing the band setup shown here:
Attach one end of the band securely to the dumbbell, then run the slack under the bench and clamp it down to the top of the bench with your non-rowing hand. This band works in two ways. First, the excess of the band needs to be anchored down to the bench by your off hand. This cues the “reach” that engages stabilizers. If you don’t reach and press down into the bench, the slack of the band will slip right out.
On the flipside, the accommodating resistance of the band attached to the dumbbell will accelerate the eccentric phase of the Row. At the peak contraction of the Row, band tension will be at an all-time high. As you descend, the tension of the band will release and pull your rowing arm down, which needs to be controlled by the lifter. This accentuated eccentric phase will guide the rowing arm into a slight reach, causing a J-shaped path rather than a linear path. This allows athletes to row more in alignment with the fibers of the lats, instead of a linear row which would target more of the upper traps.
This really simple band set-up can clean up your Dumbbell Rows in a hurry. It may not look like much, but if you focus on those two reaching cues while using the band, the difference can be felt immediately.