Use This Rowing Technique for Huge Back and Lats

Use This Rowing Technique To Develop A Huge Back and Massive Lats

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Last year I wrote an article for T-Nation that highlighted a bent over barbell row with horizontal band resistance (read more here).  Since then it’s gained quite a bit of popularity and many lifters have applied the technique to traditional single arm dumbbell rows as well.  However, because of the versatility of horizontal band resistance it can also be applied to a number of different dumbbell and kettlebell rows. Here are 7 rowing variations that involve horizontal band resistance including bent over variations, incline/prone variations, unilateral variations, and bilateral variations. 

Also big shoutout to many of my awesome athletes and clients seen in this video including Seattle Seahawks Vantrel McMillan, South Carolina quarterback Drew Dinsmore, Ben Lai, Leslie Petch, and Todd Weiland.  Great work everyone and excellent form as always.

Rows with horizontal band resistance provide several unique benefits.

Free weight rows performed with a bent over torso (or torso position that’s semi parallel to the floor) are some of the most effective movements for crushing the entire upper back.  Unfortunately many lifters perform them incorrectly thereby negating many of the potential benefits not to mention degrading shoulder mechanics and postural alignment. 

One of the most common issues is lack of scapular depression throughout the movement.  If the shoulders are not depressed then the lats will not receive thorough activation regardless of how much retraction you create. In addition, lack of scapular depression on rows causes the elbows to flare which eventually causes shoulder inflammation and faulty glenohumeral joint mechanics. 

Ironically rows are meant to improve shoulder mechanics not degrade them.  The associated benefits of rows are purely dependent on whether or not mechanics and form are dialed in.  Performing rows with horizontal band resistance addresses this and provides 5 additional benefits. 

First. it forces the lifter to retract and fully depress the scapula in order to resist the force vectors created from the band as well as to maintain balance.  Even the slightest lapse in mental focus and lack of lat activation will cause the weights to pull away from the lifter when performing the row.

Second, it requires greater postural control and spinal positioning.  Any spinal flexion will result in the weight pulling your body out of position and losing balance.  If you have a client who lacks proper postural awareness and spinal alignment this is almost a sure-fire fix.

Third, the lats are forced to work overtime as there are two force vectors working against your lat muscles, one that wants to protract them (the barbell load), and one that wants to elevate them (the band resistance).  This is the epitome of working multi-planar actions in one exercise.  Essentially you’ll feel like you’re performing a combination row and pulldown motion – a potent combo for upper back growth.

Fourth, it feels nearly impossible to over-row when using horizontal band resistance.  Over-rowing or using excessive range of motion in the top contracted position is one of the most common problems lifters struggle with on rows.  These variations help the lifter find the ideal range of motion.

Lastly, the hip hinge is another commonly butchered feature of the bent over row.  That’s because most individuals keep their legs overly straight rather than allowing a moderate knee bend.  The soft knee position shown in the videos helps to ensure the lifter can sit back into their hips and activate their glutes which happens to be the most biomechanically sound and safest position.   Performing bent over rows with horizontal band resistance essentially requires the lifter to use proper hip hinge mechanics as anything less will result in loss of balance due to the horizontal force vectors continually pulling against the body. 

Training Protocols and Recommendations

Generally speaking I recommend using a moderate tension band while handling 60-80% of the typical load you would handle on the traditional variations.   Also a variety of rep ranges can be used such as low reps (5-7 reps), moderate reps (7-10 reps), or higher reps for finishing movements (12-20 reps).  

Lastly when it comes to choosing a pronated grip or neutral grip the key difference is that the pronated grip (which tends to feel more natural with dumbbells targets the upper back (lower traps and rhomboids) to a slightly greater degree.  In contrast the neutral grip position (which tends to feel more natural with kettlebells) prioritizes the lower lats to a slightly greater degree.