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In those early programs I followed, there was always a heavy dose of chin-ups, rows and pulldowns, but I never gave them much thought and I just wanted to get them out of the way. Those upper back and lat movements were nuisances to me, and I only did them because they came after the bench press, and because they stood in my way before I was able to do dumbbell flyes and bicep curls at the end of my workouts. My strength coach made us record everything and we had to follow our workout sheet in order, so, begrudgingly, I did my pulls.
Fast forward 20 years, and boy, how times and my preferences have changed. Now, my upper back and lats are my favorite areas to train, and I have a real love affair with pulling movements, particularly rows. As a consequence of owning a gym, I tinker around a lot with different exercises, and we've grown very fond of the following rowing variations. I
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As the name implies, many of these rowing variations were popularized by my favorite modern day bodybuilder, John Meadows. You can perform these movements using a landmine apparatus, or by sticking one end of barbell in a corner. These are tremendous mass builders, and work equally well for high or low reps (don't hesitate to strap up for higher rep sets . . . no shame there). I've provided a few different options below and it really comes down to personal preference and which version you like the feel of best.
Traditional Meadows Row
Modified Meadows Row
Knee Supported Meadows Row
We also like the single arm landmine row where you set up parallel to the bar, stand on one side, and grip below the bar collar. See below:
You can also use a V handle cable attachment and perform a close grip bent over row. See below:
Chest Supported EZ Barbell Rows
This one is a new favorite of mine. I like it for a few reasons. First of all, by supporting the torso, you can't cheat and are forced to really use your scapula retractors. While traditional bent over, free standing barbell rows are fine, as the weights get heavier, one's form invariably gets worse, the low back and hamstrings come into play, the range of motion decreases, and the torso begins to rise, decreasing the demand on the upper back. Supporting the chest eliminates all of this.
Secondly, the bench acts as both a range of motion limiter AND indicator. Because the bench essentially gets in the way, one cannot pull as far or go into too much humeral extension, and this is a good thing: too much extension leads to humeral anterior glide, which can irritate both the shoulder and bicep. In terms of being a range of motion indicator, if the bar doesn't touch the bench, the rep doesn't count.
Finally, the EZ barbell is, no pun intended, easier on both the wrists and elbows and it just has a better feel than a straight bar. I also like the underhand grip because you get more work for the biceps. Here's what it looks like:
Hammer Strength Leg Press Rows
If you have access to a Hammer Strength bi-lateral leg press, I'd highly suggest incorporating this movement into your programs. You set up for this exercise much like you would a bent over row, but, due to the vector involved, you essentially get a hybrid row/pulldown type movement, getting more lat activation than a typical rowing movement provides. I love the big stretch with this one, and I feel it more in the lats in the beginning and mid-point of rep, and more in the upper back at the top in the contracted position. Here's what it looks like:
Mini Band Barbell Rows
If you want to hit your rear delts even harder while rowing with an overhand or overhand wide grip, place a mini band around your wrists and develop just a little bit of tension in the band before setting your grip on the bar. Here is what the set-up and execution looks like:
Bat Wing Dumbbell Rows
This exercise works really well using moderate to lighter loads and higher reps towards the end of a back workout. The focus should be on strict form, keeping the right arm angles relative to the torso. Much like the chest supported EZ bar row I highlighted above, keeping your chest pinned to the bench prevents you from cheating, and hammers the upper back much harder. You can also alternate sets of this exercise with any rear delt movement to up the ante. Here's how it goes:
While I hope you never find yourself on death row, I do hope you'll apply some these rowing variations to murder your upper back and add some body armor. Give some of these a shot, and let me know what you think in the comments section below!
When doing rows, it's all about focus and maintaining proper form. A good pre-workout formula like AndroFury from BioQuest will contain state-of-the-art focus and intensity agents that will keep you on point. We're also in favor of one of the great old-school pre-workouts, Myo-Surge, as well!