Row exercises are a great way to work your back and biceps as well as even your core.
They are amazing compound movements that can help you build functional upper body strength.
If you’re looking to mix up your back workouts, and even include some killer core work in your routine, try these 5 Row Exercise Variations!
5 Row Exercise Variations:
Below I’ll break down the benefits of each variation as well as the muscles that are targeted by the movement to help you select the moves appropriate for your needs!
Focus with all of these moves though on initiating the pull from your BACK. Feel your shoulder blades move. Otherwise any row exercise can simply become a bicep or arm movement.
Also, while I don’t list it under muscles worked, all pulling exercises are often great moves to strengthen your grip!
Kettlebell Single Arm Lunge Row:
Muscles worked: Lats, rhomboids, mid and lower traps, posterior deltoid and biceps (even the rotator cuff as a stabilizer)
This is a great unilateral exercise to strengthen your back while correcting imbalances.
Because you work each side independently, you can avoid your stronger side compensating and even help that weaker side “catch up” with bonus reps!
By using the staggered, lunge stance with your hand on your leg, you can also give your core a little extra support.
So if you ever struggle with your lower back aching during the traditional bent over row, give this version a try!
The stance and hand support make it easier to avoid excessive lumbar arch and helps prevent your lower back from needing to “assist” your abs with supporting that neutral spine position.
While I demo this move with a kettlebell, the kettlebell can be swapped for other tools like the dumbbell; however, using the KB can add a little extra instability even to the movement.
Side Plank Row:
Muscles worked: Obliques, abs, glutes, adductors, lats, rhomboids, mid and lower traps, shoulders and biceps
If you want to make your core work more back and bicep intensive, you need to include the Side Plank Row.
This move will really work your entire core to help you build stability and strength!
And, while this move is great to improve your shoulder mobility, it is also a very challenging unilateral move. Beginners may need to start off an incline with their hand up on a bench OR go down to their knees.
Just make sure too that you keep that bottom hip up and don’t get too distracted by the rowing.
Also, add in a bit of ROTATION as you row. Lower the weight down and then really drive that elbow back as you row and rotate open and away from the ground!
Muscles worked: Obliques, abs, lats, rhomboids, mid and lower traps, serratus anterior and biceps
One of the biggest benefits of this move is that it really helps you train proper scapular movement and improve your shoulder stability. (And it’s unilateral so you have to work each side independently.)
However, one of the biggest downsides of this move is that it is CHALLENGING to do it correctly.
The range of motion that helps you IMPROVE your scapular mobility, and strengthen the muscles of your back, can also allow you to easily compensate if you aren’t careful. This can lead to you overworking your neck and rotator cuff muscles as well as your arm.
So make sure not to shrug your shoulder, but drive that elbow down and back as you rotate and reach up the suspension trainer.
By using the suspension trainer and doing an inverted row variation of the rotational row, you can also really work your core. Plus there is added instability you may not have if you did a standing rotational row with a cable or band.
The rotation in this move also not only works your core, BUT actually even allows you to rotate your torso to further engage your upper back more. Just make sure you’re actually pulling from your back and not from your arm!
Back Flye Row:
Muscles worked: Lats, rhomboids, mid and lower traps, posterior deltoid, rotator cuff and biceps
I love this two in one move, especially if you are limited in terms of the weights you have.
While you may be able to row more than you fly, this hybrid allows you to work your back with lighter weights since the weight may not be challenging for a row alone.
The two different movements also target your back in different ways, activating those back muscles to different extents. Plus the fly is a great move to target the backs of your shoulders as well.
The one thing to be careful with during this move is that you don’t feel your lower back arching. Brace your abs and make sure to keep a neutral spine!
Underhand Barbell Row:
Muscles worked: Lats, rhomboids, mid and lower traps, posterior deltoid and biceps
The barbell row is a great way to build killer back strength.
You can really load this move down heavily and even work lower in reps as you add weight if you’re ready.
This is a must-do move if you really want to build strength and create muscle hypertrophy (it is also a great move if you want to improve your deadlift or pull ups!)
The underhand grip, vs the overhand grip, allows for more bicep to be involved as well as more lat (specifically lower lat fibers, especially if you let your elbows flare out more during the overhand grip which they will naturally want to do).
Be careful with the underhand grip though if you have had wrist or elbow pain though in the past.
AND if one side is far weaker, you may find this bilateral move is not for you.
Like with any bent over row exercise, be careful you don’t irritate your lower back. If you can’t brace your core and maintain a neutral spine, the load may be too much and a dumbbell bent over row may be a better option!
Ready to build strong, sexy arms and a back you’ll be DYING to show off!?!