Know to Row and Grow
Big, strong backs are a must for true strength. Developing your upper back has significant carry over to all of your favorite lifts.
Bench press? If you aren’t able to stabilize your scaps, recruit your lats and create a sturdy platform to press into the bench, that’s like wearing a cushy running shoe to squat. You’re losing energy and tension through these leaks and wasting power into the bench.
Squats? First, you need to be able to create a shelf along your upper back for the bar to rest. Second, lost tension in your back means the brunt of the lift is shifting to your front side. That means your anterior core is solely responsible for keeping you upright. Most people have trouble with their anterior core as it is, so the weight shifts forward and you’re left pushing on your toes and straining your lower back.
Deadlift? It goes without saying how important your back strength is for your deadlifts. Being able to maintain rigid posture as you hoist a heavy load off the floor is what protects your low back from taking the heat during this lift. It requires tremendous lat and erector strength to strengthen the levers.
And while plugging away at your cable row machine with sets of 25 reps using every handle imaginable will definitely get you a bigger pump (short term), there are better ways to maximize your back gains.
Here are 2 ways to take your everyday rowing variations and outfit them to help target your weaknesses.
Adding tempo to your rows can have the added benefit of greater fiber recruitment, increased metabolic response and greater attention to form.
Isometric holds and slowed eccentric (lowering) tempos can do wonders for making you focus on your form and the path of the weight. Isometric holds increase recruitment of motor units, while slow eccentrics have been shown to increase hypertrophy through increased muscle damage and structural adaptation.
Modifying your grip on your row variations has a huge impact on the muscle groups being targeted.
For starters, there are typically three grips used most often: pronated (overhand), neutral and supinated (underhand).
The pronated grip is probably the most widely used in the gym near you. It is the grip you think of when you picture rowing a boat and targets the furthest up the back. Because you internally rotate and slightly abduct your arm your arm while you do this, your subscapularis and deltoid are slightly activated as you row. I do not love this grip because this naturally brings your arm slot slightly higher as you row which can also bring the upper trapezius into play. With good coaching, cueing and practice you can perform this without falling into the "trap".
The neutral grip does the best job of isolating the area people are most concerned about when they row (between the shoulders) while not tempting them to fall into bad movement patterns. Notice the difference in definition of my upper traps between this picture and the one above. With the neutral grip you are not tempted to use either your upper trap or your lats. Your arm slot stays in a healthy position and allows for a smoother pull.
The supinated grip works the lowest part of your shoulder and emphasizes both the biceps and lats. This grip brings your arm closer to your side as you pull and pulls you into external rotation at the shoulder. With more lat, this exercise can lead to a noticeable change in size but aren't great in the long term for healthy shoulders. Stick to vertical pulling (pull-ups, chin-ups and lat pulldowns to target your lats).
Add these variations to your current routine and feel the difference!
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