When it comes to building a prominent, eye-catching set of back muscles, you’ve probably been told, “If you want to grow. You gotta row.” This statement is true. But that’s also true for whatever muscle group you’re trying to get swole.
Here’s the thing:most people don’t train their back enough. Most tend to focus on the show muscles,, like the biceps, pecs, shoulders, and abs, while their back is relegated to getting the focus once a week. But this is where you’re making a huge mistake.
Strong back muscles, such as the rhomboids, lats and traps, are crucial for big lifts like the bench press, squat, and deadlift. But, more importantly, weak back muscles can cause you to have a poor posture.
Beginners to strength training can make huge gains performing one arm rows, seated cable rows, or bent over barbell rows. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter, you need row variations that are a bit more challenging that will help you increase your strength and build more muscle than ever before.
The Best Row Variations
#1 One-Arm Landmine Rows
One arm dumbbells rows are one of the first exercises people master on their fitness quest. One arm rows target your lats, upper back, and your biceps. And even a little bit of your core.
So what do you do if your gym only has dumbbells that go up to 70 or 80 pounds? How are you supposed to progress to heavier weight? Well, that’s where the Landmine Row saves the day. If your gym doesn’t have a landmine apparatus, all you have to do is wedge the end of a barbell into the corner of a wall.
Don’t use the heavier plates for this exercise. Due to their size, these plates prevent you achieving a full range of motion. Instead, use 10 or 25 pound plates instead of the larger 45s.
Similar to how you’d perform any one arm dumbbell row, hinge at the hips—keep your knees soft and maintain a neutral spine. Grasp the barbell just in front of the plates, and row the weight toward your body. Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps of this on each side.
#2 The 3-Point Row
At first, this exercise seems easy. It looks like a standard one arm dumbbell row, with the caveat that you’re in the standard position of an NFL lineman during his 3-Point stance. But, due to the position this exercise places your body in, it forces your anterior core to fire. And since the dumbbell remains closer to your body, it’s a tremendous exercise for engaging and lighting up your lats.
And if you’ve ever suffered from rounding your upper back while performing rows, this variation fixes that issue. When your spine is in a neutral position, and not rounded over, your lats are in a more optimal position to retract your scapula, And after all, building a bigger back is all about hitting those lats.
To perform the 3-Point Row, start by putting your weight up on your toes, then slowly lean yourself towards a bench in front of you. With your hand on the bench, and you up on your toes, your spine should make a straight line from the top of your head all the way down to your butt.
From here, the dumbbell should be directly under your nipple line, grab it, and row the weight toward your body; bring your elbow into your hip, this will engage your lat, and slowly lower the weight back down. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps per side with a 4th set of as many reps as possible.
#3 Kroc Row
No, this exercise is not named after the Batman villain Killer Croc. Though, in the comics Croc did have an impressive set of back muscles, so this may have been his favorite dumbbell exercise.
One lagging point when it comes to increasing strength, not only in regards to your back muscles, but even in big lifts like the deadlift, is your lack of grip strength. About 10% of your overall strength can be found in your grip. So if you have the grip strength of a wet noodle, you’re seriously harming your muscle and strength potential.
Kroc Rows, named after legendary bodybuilder Matt Kroc, who made these a staple of his training—used this row variation to not only build more impressive lats, but improve his grip strength. This row variation is all about using heavy weight with high reps—at least 20 reps per set, if not more.
But there are a few technique points that Matt Kroc believed to be key:
☐ When you reach the bottom of the movement, drop your shoulder and you’ll feel a huge stretch in your lats, middle and upper back muscles.
☐ During the apex of the movement, retract your scapula as far as you can, and pull your elbow up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
You could perform these like a regular single arm dumbbell row, but the master himself, Matt Kroc, said the best way to engage and feel it more in your back was to perform this exercise with a slight inward 45-degree angle rather than parallel.
#4 Snatch Grip Row
Speaking of challenging your grip and building a wider back, there is no row variation more challenging than the Snatch Grip Row. Unlike a normal Bent Over Barbell Row, the Snatch Grip puts your lats through an intense stretch shortening cycle. And this tension is what leads to muscle growth.
So what makes the Snatch Grip different, and better? Well, it’s the position of your grip. Unlike a normal barbell row where your arms are around shoulder width, Snatch Grip Rows require you to grip the bar with your hands as close as you can get to the collar of the bar.
You will notice a huge drop in strength versus the typical way to row. So leave your ego at the door and start light, most often with the barbell only. This will help you learn the movement and it will keep you from sacrificing form or reps due to the challenge of such a wide grip.
Take Home Message
A strong back is crucial to not only developing a proportionate physique, but also crucial for increasing strength in big lifts like the deadlift. But you’ll also improve your posture and generate more grip strength. But you don’t have to relegate yourself to the same old boring row variations. Give these a try for a few months, and watch your back grow like never before.