The Ultimate Bent Over Row for Size, Strength, & Function

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.

Additional Notes:

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. 

These can also be performed with the back foot on a slide-board or medicine ball as shown here by my awesome clients Kim Schaper and Rebecca Schaper. The benefit of placing the back leg on a slick or unstable surfaces is that it forces the lifter to place all of the load onto the front leg while simply using the back leg as slight support. Anything less including excessive momentum will cause the back leg to slip. This maximize posterior chain activation and glute recruitment.

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 mat.  

Bulgarian RDL’s and Bent Over Rows

Want to blast your entire posterior chain from head to toe including the upper back, lats, rear deltoids, glutes, hamstrings, and spinal stabilizers? Try this Bulgarian RDL bent over kettlebell row with a rotational grip protocol as shown here by one of my awesome Wisconsin Badgers Soccer athletes Claire Shea.

For this exercise, focus on placing a majority of the weight onto the front leg by keeping the hips tall and hinging through the front hip. Hollowing out the core is also important as it ensures the hips stay tall throughout while also taking stress off the spine. Although a similar setup can be employed using dumbbells, the kettlebells allows the implementation of the full rotational protocol.

This rotational component allows a more supinated grip position in the contracted position which maximizes tension and shoulder centration, while the pronated grip in the bottom position allows maximal eccentric elongation and stretching of the lats. Not only does this provide a very strong hypertrophy stimulus for the entire upper back and lats but this helps optimizes scapulohumeral rhythm and glenohumeral joint mechanics. In other words it reinforces proper shoulder function and positioning.

These can also be performed with dumbbells as well as implemented with more frequent RDL’s to further emphasize the glutes as shown here by my awesome client Taylor Masters.

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.