One of the best compound barbell movements to train your entire back is the barbell row. It’s a rowing movement, so it will also work on your biceptz (oh the gainz which will be had) and your grip. The barbell row is a horizontal upper body pulling movement, which makes it great for balancing out the pressing you do with bench press and similar movements. Generally speaking, you want to get a 2:1, or even 3:1, ratio with regards to pulling:pressing. The barbell row is a great basic movement to structure your other pulling work around. Personally, I use it as the primary assistance movement on my bench press day.
The Two Most Common Types of Barbell Row
The Pendlay Row is a strict bent over barbell row with a dead stop on the ground (similar to a deadlift) between reps. Your back is parallel to the ground and everything is locked in. Your legs and hips don’t move. The only things that move are your arms to move the bar and your middle back, which arches to contract your lats. It’s an explosive movement done mostly for strength development. The bar is pulled to the top of your stomach, give or take a little depending on the length of your arms. The video below by Glenn Pendlay himself explains it all very well. You’ll notice he just calls it a basic barbell row.
The Yates Row is probably the one you’ve mostly seen done, unless you attend more of a strength-oriented facility. I know I’ve never seen anyone else except for myself do a Pendlay Row at my gym. The Yates Row is usually done with the upper body above parallel. Below is a video of Dorian Yates teaching the type of barbell row he uses, which a lot of people call the Yates Row as mentioned.
Problems You Might Run Into
When doing barbell rows, most people won’t have too much trouble performing the movement, but for some it might be hard to get their upper body parallel to the ground without rounding the lower back for the Pendlay Row. This isn’t going to be very good, when you’re rowing heavy weights. Instead of bending at the lower back to get into position, you should be hip hinging as described in the video below. This is also important for the deadlift and various other exercises. If you can’t hip hinge, you’re not ready to lift basically.
And here is a video with some simple hip hinge patterning done with a broomstick. The stick should touch three spots at all times: Head, upper back and butt.
If you’re having problems bending over properly, the first thing to improve would be your hip mobility. Another thing that could cause lower back rounding is a lack of thoracic mobility causing your lower back to do most of the work instead of simply being there as a stabilizer. Other mobility issues, posture problems and/or muscular imbalances can obviously impact your ability to do certain movements, so I’m only giving basic guidelines that will help most people.
And that about wraps up the barbell row. As always, it’s just my personal approach. Do what you think is best!