Barbell Rows SUCK!

Q: "I just finished reading your article on Bodybuilding.com about back training. I know my fair share of the gym, and I've been going for just over a year. Well in fact, I'm not sure when I started as I have always been interested in strength training. I have been training my back for quite some time, and I make sure that I train my back at least 4 times a month, or once a week and maybe twice if there's a time when I feel completely recovered. I mostly concentrate on the lower back, as I believe it's one of the more vital muscle groups which supports the spine. I realized this, because both my parents have a problem with their backs.

"One of the more challenging problems for me though is I can never get a good workout. For some reason I can never stress the upper part of my back. For example, my bent over barbell rows seem to be a waste of time, even if i decide to do 4 sets of 8 reps. I can't get that desirable ache that I get from training my arms or lower back. I have no idea if it's the speed at which I do these sets or the amount of time I rest between rests or my just technique. Can you give any small hints on how to improve my upper back training?

"Another problem I seem to have when I do rows is that the back of my shoulders seem to grow the most, and I'm aiming on just training my back. The front part of the shoulders and the back are extremely asymmetrical, and it looks pretty strange. Im 16, born in 1992. I can easily lift 120-130 kilos with deadlifts, so I'm sure my lower`back is not a problem. All my other body parts are fine. It's just my upper back (Lats and central upper back). Another problem I have is with flexibility and endurance. I'd love to improve that."

Thomas, Finland


My Answer: Jeez, Thomas, you sure are a yakker aren't you? At age 16, you really are not well-experienced or knowledgeable in strength training. From what you're telling me, you're still a beginner. It's OK, we all have to start somewhere.

Let's get right to the point: your lats and midback are not growing, because you're only doing deadlifts and barbell rows. Deadlifts are great for the lower back, I'm sure you know. But they suck as far as building your lats. Barbell rows, as a back exercise, suck big time as well. When you do barbell rows, your neural drive is split between isometrically contracting your lower back and hamstrings and rowing the weight. You end up working everything else BUT the upper back. Barbell rows don't stretch your lats, and it's hard to get a peak contraction of your back muscles at the top of the movement. Most people heave the weight up, which makes the tension very brief and ineffective. If you slowed it down, then you end up with less weight, which makes it ineffective as well.

The Wingspan Workouts article recommended pull-ups and chin-ups as the primary lat developers. If you cannot do pull-ups, then ditch the barbell rows and incorporate pulldowns and cable rows instead. You can still keep the deadlifts, but start doing some snatch grip deadlifts instead:

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