The Ultimate Bent Over Row for Size, Strength, and Function
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one exercise that crushes the entire posterior chain including the glutes, hamstrings, and upper back yet simultaneously addresses mobility, stability, and symmetry, look no further than this split stance bent over dumbbell row. Here’s one of my awesome clients and national figure competitor Leslie Petch performing it as we prep her for her upcoming show.
Also big shoutout to Ben Bruno as this is a modified variation of an exercise I stole from the fitness legend himself. With that said, there are 7 reasons why this bent over row is so effective.
1. Eliminates momentum common with bent over rows. Due to the fact you’re in a stride or split stance position with a semi-inline foot placement, you’ll be forced to use strict form in order to maintain control of your body and load.
2. Stretches both the hip flexor and extensor. Few exercises involve stretching the hip extensor and hip flexor muscles of opposing legs. This is one of the few exercises that does so as you hold a combination lunge and hinge position. Essentially the front leg allows eccentric elongation of the glutes and hamstrings while the back leg involves eccentric lengthening of the hip flexor. This does wonders for lumbo-pelvic hip function and alignment as well as overall posture.
3. Addresses balance and stability. Because you’re holding a stride or lunge-style position with a narrow base of support, you’re simultaneously working on lower body balance and stability while also crushing your entire posterior chain. As a result this is also a great foot and ankle strengthening exercise.
4. Addresses symmetry in lower body. If you have asymmetries or imbalances from side to side (which most lifters do), this bent over row variation will quickly expose it. Spend several sessions cleaning up your form on this exercise and I can guarantee you you’ll significantly improve these issues and improve your overall muscle function.
5. Crushes the upper regions of the back and lats. Performing bent over rows while holding a stride/lunge variation of a hip hinge creates a slightly more upright position than most bent over rows as it modifies the angle of pull. As a result this slightly more upright position tends to target the higher regions of the upper back and lats that are responsible for postural control as well as giving the appearance of a massive frame.
6. Involves a more low-back friendly row. Most bent over rows can be quite strenuous on the low back and spine. Although this is oftentimes a result of faulty mechanics and various imbalances/weaknesses, performing bent over rows from a split stance or lunge position is actually more friendly on the spine and low back.
7. Allows a more natural dumbbell row position. Performing bent over dumbbell rows can be tricky as the dumbbells tend to get in the way of the legs. Unfortunately this can cause the lifter to change or modify their rowing technique in order to avoid running into their knees and thighs. The split stance position creates a more narrow hip position (the dumbbells only have to move around one hip rather than two) thereby allowing the dumbbells sit very naturally to the sides of the torso. This creates a much more natural rowing position and comfortable path of movement.
On a side note, this movement can also be performed with the trap bar, kettlebells and barbell as well as using a foam roller to place the back foot on. Here's one of my awesome clients Erin English demonstrating this advanced split stance RDL and row variation as the level of tension to the entire posterior chain not to mention every stabilizer is through the roof.
I generally recommend 3 sets of 4-6 reps per leg (8-12 total reps per set). If you’re looking for a greater challenge to stability and balance, try performing them eyes closed as well as on a softer surface such as an exercise matt.
If you’re looking for a training program and instructional guide that teaches you how to incorporate different movements such as these into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates Series.