Level up your row
Rows are a godsend in a world full of people spending endless amounts of time hunched over laptops and smart phones. If you've ever felt shortness and tightness in the front of your body twinned with a tendency to slump your shoulders, you should take the time to perform some more horizontal pulling movements in your training. Think about it like ‘activating and strengthening my upper back and mid back'.
Here are five quick tips on how to get the most out of your rows.
Tip #1: Nail the basics
Before getting fancy, make sure you're able confident doing the suspension trainer row:
- Focus first on pulling to mid-ribs, keeping your chest proud and your elbows close
- Your feet should be flat on the ground throughout—a soft bend in the knee might help you feel more stable
- Each time you pull, visualize activating the area between your shoulder blades. If you're new to this, you might find it helpful to imagine squeezing a tennis ball between your shoulder blades as you do each rep
When you’re starting out, don't worry about speed. That can come later. Just aim for a cadence of 3 counts on the way up, and 3 counts on the way down.
Tip #2: Challenge your stability
Once you've got the basic activation patterns down, it's time to challenge your single-arm stability and external rotators with a cool variation like the single-arm row:
- Pull mostly with one arm, as you extend the other arm out to the side. Feel the muscles in your mid back, upper back and arms fire up with each rep
- Make sure to keep your pulling elbow close to your ribs as you pull, and the opposite elbow as straight as possible
- Activate your abs and keep a soft bend in your knees to stabilize—try not to let your body rotate at any point
This exercise requires a bit more core activation to stay stable—it's all about fighting the body's natural urge to rotate—which is why the single-arm row results in greater muscle activation in each rep compared to the standard row. As before, no need for speed with these—an easy 3-3 tempo is a good place to start.
Tip #3: Add some weight
Once you’ve built some confidence in your ability to stabilize in more dynamic ways, you might be ready to add some serious load with a variation like the single-arm dumbbell row:
- From a split stance position, row the weight up to mid ribs, making sure to keep your elbow close. Put your other arm on your front knee for support, and keep your shoulders square
- Make sure to keep your back flat and your core engaged as you row up to mid ribs. Resist the urge to rotate your shoulders and keep your chest proud throughout
- Don't curl your wrists in as you pull—keep them neutral
Using an exercise like the single-arm dumbbell row changes the demands of the row, making it more conducive to building muscle and getting really strong in your pulls.
Tip #4: Take things up a notch
If you're ready for more of a challenge, you can further increase the core demand and get full-body engagement with a variation like the renegade row:
- Grip the dumbbells hard, with your wrists in a neutral position. Pull the weight up to mid-ribs, keeping your elbow close
- Think about keeping a proud chest as you pull. Keep your abs tight to lock everything in
- Remember to switch sides with each rep, and don't rush things—a few good reps will get you much more benefit than a bunch of sloppy ones
This movement, a functional training favourite, calls for an enormous amount of core work to fight against the urge to rotate. With the renegade row, you're best off focusing on quality of reps, rather than quantity of reps.
Tip #5: Don't forget to stretch afterwards
Whether you're doing lots of rowing movements or not, it's always a good idea to do some work to loosen up the common areas of tightness in the chest and upper traps—it'll almost certainly help with your posture. Whether it's after a workout or during a quiet moment in the office, try to carve out a minute or two a few times a day to do the two stretches below.
Chest wall stretch:
- Anchor your forearm against a wall, with your upper arm at about 45 degrees, and gently rotate outwards.
- Keep your shoulder blades together, and your eyes looking straight ahead. Stagger your feet for balance
- As you hold this position, keep your chest proud and remember to breathe—in through the nose and out through the mouth
Medicine ball thoracic stretch
- Align a medicine ball with your upper back, then raise your arms overhead and stretch over the ball.
- Engage your abs and butt to keep your spine stable, and don't let yourself hold your breath at any point
- With each breath out, feel your upper back, mid back, chest and shoulders opening up
For even more row variation ideas, check out the Movement Library in the Ritual FIT app, and try out a workout—let our audio coaches guide you through deeper technique cues specific to each variation!