The muscles of the back form the largest and most complex muscle group of the torso. Virtually all pulling or rowing movements performed by the upper extremity and shoulder girdle require the use of the back muscles.
This is the opposite of the pressing movements used by the front of the body when primarily chest and anterior shoulders are used. Rowing movements can be done on machines or with weights, either dumbells or barbells. The choice comes down to where you are, what is available, safety and what you are capable of.
Bodybuilding for mass and strength is very different to trying to balance your posture to be more upright. Generally, we will recommend machines that are safe to use in the gym, some dumbells and rowing machines.
Front Pull Downs
- Sit down on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Make sure that you adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height. These pads will prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar.
- Grab the bar with the palms facing forward using the prescribed grip. Note on grips: For a wide grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance wider than your shoulder width. For a medium grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance equal to your shoulder width and for a close grip at a distance smaller than your shoulder width.
- As you have both arms extended in front of you – while holding the bar at the chosen grip width – bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position.
- As you breathe out, bring the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. The upper torso should remain stationary (only the arms should move). The forearms should do no other work except for holding the bar; therefore do not try to pull the bar down using the forearms.
- After a second in the contracted position, while squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly raise the bar back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched. Inhale during this portion of the movement.
Seated Cable Rows
- you will need access to a low pulley row machine with a V-bar.Note: The V-bar will enable you to have a neutral grip where the palms of your hands face each other. To get into the starting position, first sit down on the machine and place your feet on the front platform or crossbar provided making sure that your knees are slightly bent and not locked.
- Lean over as you keep the natural alignment of your back and grab the V-bar handles.
- With your arms extended pull back until your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs. Your back should be slightly arched and your chest should be sticking out. You should be feeling a nice stretch on your lats as you hold the bar in front of you. This is the starting position of the exercise.
- Keeping the torso stationary, pull the handles back towards your torso while keeping the arms close to it until you touch the abdominals. Breathe out as you perform that movement. At that point you should be squeezing your back muscles hard. Hold that contraction for a second and slowly go back to the original position while breathing in.
The one arm dumbbell row works the works the middle and upper back area. The specific muscles that are being targeted are the latissimus dorsi, the rhomboids and the middle and lower trapezius.
To perform the one arm dumbbell row stand in a split stance with one leg in front of the other, knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in the hand opposite to the front leg. Lean forward from the waist and row or pull the dumbbell up to your hip.
Slowly lower to the start position. Breathe out as you pull the dumbbell up and breathe in as you slowly lower to the start position.