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Rows are a staple movement in many strength-training programs. Whether it’s a bent-over, standing, seated, or supine version, rows help build strong back muscles and reduce the harm done by the hours spent hunched over computers, smartphones, and steering wheels. That is, when the movement is performed correctly.

One common mistake, particularly with the bent-over row, is bringing the elbow too far past the rib cage during the pulling portion of the exercise, says Boston-based strength coach Tony Gentilcore, CSCS. This forces the shoulder to roll forward, which can lead to pain and even injuries.

Issues can also develop if the shoulder blade is held tightly in place. When people perform a row, they’ll often bring their shoulder blades together, which is correct, but then they keep them in place when they straighten the arm, which can be problematic.

“There should be a slight stretch in the bottom position when the arm is straight, just so that shoulder blade can move around the rib cage,” Gentilcore says. “That’s the appropriate mechanic of the shoulder blade; it’s meant to move in both directions.”

To perform rows safely and effectively, follow this step-by-step guide to the bent-over and inverted varieties:

Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

dumbbell bent over rowIllustration by Colin Hayes
• Start with your left knee and hand on a bench and right leg extended with your foot flat on the floor.

• Hold a dumbbell with your right hand, right arm fully extended. (You’ll feel a slight stretch in the shoulder.)

• Keeping your neck and spine neutral, pull your elbow back toward your hip as you draw the dumbbell toward your rib cage. Stop when the tricep is parallel to the floor.

• Squeeze your shoulder blade and pause for a two-second count at the top to activate your upper back.

• Lower the dumbbell with control until your arm is fully extended and you feel a slight stretch in your shoulder.

One-Arm Inverted Row

one arm inverted rowIllustration by Colin Hayes
• Grasp one handle of a suspension trainer with your right hand, facing the anchor point.

• Keeping your body straight and engaged from head to heels, fully extend your right arm in front of you; you’ll feel a slight stretch in your shoulder.

• Pull your body toward the handle until your hand is near your rib cage and your tricep is parallel with your back.

• Squeeze your shoulder blades and pause for a two-second count to activate your upper back.

• Lower your body with control until your arm is fully extended and you feel a slight stretch in your shoulder.

Illustration by: Colin Hayes

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