Insane Back Strength with this Isometric Barbell Row

Increase Back Size and Strength with This Isometric Bent Over Barbell Row

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


If you're looking for a brutally intense back exercise to create post activation potentiation (increased neural drive, improved neuromuscular efficiency, and enhanced power output), try using this overcoming isometric bent over barbell row.  Here I have one of my bodybuilding athletes Ben Lai using it as we focus on building thickness, size, and strength throughout his upper back.  

With this specific combination you're actually using a relatively moderate weight (40% of his 1RM)  rather than a lighter load or empty bar.  This helps to ensure that there’s a degree of eccentric overload, pre stretch, and muscle spindle activation that normally wouldn't occur if you simply used an empty bar or pulled against a fixed object. 

The goal is to pull against the immovable pins (set at lower to mid-thigh height) with maximal effort.  As you pull you should feel the muscles around the entire upper back activate to a greater and greater extent each passing second until it finally peaks at 3-5 seconds.  At that point perform the eccentric portion of the row to activate muscles spindles and pre-stretch the working muscles, which has been demonstrated via research to decrease the onset of fatigue and improve body awareness/proprioception.  As a result the lifter is able to maintain higher quality of movement and higher power output on subsequent reps without form breaking down or excessive fatigue being the limiting factor.  As an added bonus, these crush the glutes, hamstrings, low back, grip, rear delts, and biceps quite intensely.  In fact the harder you row into the pins the more your posterior chain will get hammered.

Because of the high levels of post activation potentiation produced on these overcoming isometrics, performing standard rows or pullups after this protocol can allow the lifter to move heavier loads and achieve more intense upper back contractions than he or she is accustomed.  However a 5-10 minutes rest period should be employed before moving to standard upper body pulling movements to ensure fatigue accumulation doesn’t outweigh the post activation potentiation response.  The stronger you are the longer duration you’ll need to allow fatigue to dissipate.  However, waiting longer than 10-15 minutes can cause the potentiation response to gradually dwindle thereby negating the PAP phenomenon. 

This technique can be employed on other movements including deadlifts, RDL's, bench press, incline presses, pull-ups, bicep curls, and overhead presses.  However, they should be incorporated sparingly due to the extreme strain these place on the joints, connective tissue, muscles, and nervous system.  Several sets of 3-5 reps should more than suffice for sparking new strength and muscle growth in your back.