Massive Back and Lats with This Unilateral Isometric Row

Massive Back and Lats with This Unilateral Overcoming Isometric Barbell Row

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


I’m a huge fan of various forms of isometric training including eccentric isometrics, yielding isometrics, and overcoming isometrics.  Although overcoming isometrics are typically performed in a bilateral fashion (both arms working at the same time) you can also perform them unilaterally using a barbell.  With this in mind, if you're looking for an incredibly intense back and lat exercise to create post activation potentiation (increased neural drive, improved neuromuscular efficiency, and enhanced power output), try using this single arm overcoming isometric bent over barbell suitcase row.  

Here I have one of my bodybuilding athletes Ben Lai using it as we concentrate on building thickness, size, activation and strength throughout his upper back and core.  The harder you pull against the pins, not only does this increase the motor unit recruitment throughout the entire back and lats, but your core must work harder and harder to resist rotation and stay square to the floor.

With this specific combination you're actually using a relatively moderate weight (50% of his 1RM) rather than a lighter load.  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 a light load 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/intrafusal muscle fibers and pre-stretch the working muscles, which has been demonstrated via research to decrease the onset of fatigue and improve kinesthetic awareness/proprioception.  As a result the lifter is able to maintain higher quality of movement and higher power output on subsequent reps without deterioration of form or excessive fatigue being the limiting factor. 

Besides crushing the core (as a result of resisting rotation and offset forces), these blast 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, core, and spinal stabilizers will get hammered.

Because of the high levels of post activation potentiation produced on these overcoming isometrics, performing standard rows (i.e. single arm dumbbell rows, single arm cable rows, or single arm T-bar rows) 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 4-8 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 squats, deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, RDL's, bench press, javelin presses, lunges, incline presses, pull-ups, bicep curls, and overhead presses.  However, they should be incorporated sparingly due to the extreme strain these place on muscles and the nervous system.  Several sets of 3-5 reps (per side) should more than suffice to spark new strength and muscle growth in your back.  In addition super-setting these with single arm dumbbell chest presses will be ideal as the potentiation from your back will transfer to greater power and motor control in your chest presses.