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Chest-Supported Rows (Dumbbell & Barbell Variations) 

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 8, 2022

If you want to build a back like Bane from Batman or simply improve your strength and posture, you cannot neglect rowing exercises.

Over the years as a personal trainer, I’ve often seen people performing these kinds of exercises with an incorrect form where they round their backs, risking injury because their hamstrings and spinal erectors are too tight.

But if that’s all you can currently do at your fitness level, then the chest-supported version is definitely the better option to build strength in your upper body muscles and avoid injury.

Here’s how to do them properly.

Summary Of Key Findings

  • Chest-supported rows are a good alternative exercise for those who are injured or struggle to keep a good form while being bent over since it puts far less stress on their spine and lower back.
  • You can make the rows easier or harder by adding more weights.
  • It’s the perfect exercise to build your biceps and boost your bench press without risking serious injury.

What Is A Chest-Supported Row?

A man building his muscle in a bench

A supported dumbbell or barbell row is a form of rowing exercise where you take the pressure of your lower body, especially your lower back, by leaning into an incline bench with your upper torso.

Most men struggle to get into a hip hinge position with a flat back.

We’ve all seen that guy in the gym aggressively pulling the barbell up to his neck, neglecting his posture. It puts a great deal of stress on the lower back.

“If your position and form is off when the weight is light, it will only get worse as the weight increases, for this reason it is a good idea to perform any exercise ‘without weight’ to establish a clean movement pattern you will maintain, regardless of the weight you add.” - Simeon Panda, fitness influencer

This variation has a huge benefit compared to other bent-over rows like T-bar rows or barbell rows, where most people tend to be too upright.

It removes the need for other muscles in your back to stabilize the movement while still effectively targeting the same muscle groups.

This way, you can strengthen your rear shoulders, improve posture and boost your chest press without risking injury [1]. It’s a great exercise that plays an essential part in building a strong upper body.

What Muscles Does The Chest-Supported Row Work?

The row specifically targets the muscle group in your upper and mid-back, including the middle trapezius and rhomboids (muscles that help pull your shoulders blades back), making it good for postural enhancement and developing thickness of the back [2].

The targeted muscles are: 

  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Trapezius

Essentially, all the major muscles in your upper back and those in the arms, too.

How To Perform The Chest-Supported Row

Dumbbell Chest-Supported Rows

Lower view of dumb bell chest supported row

To perform chest-supported dumbbell rows, use an incline bench to about 45 degrees.

  1. The starting point: With a neutral grip, grab a pair of dumbbells, and lean onto the bench with your face toward the pad. Plant your feet flat on the floor, legs straight, and let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other.
  2. With your shoulder blades squeezed together, drive your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the dumbbells to your ribcage.

    Important:
    As you pull the weights up, make sure you don’t lift your torso as it can cause hyperextension in the thoracic spine.
  3. Hold the dumbbells in an isometric squeeze for about 5 seconds. Then, slowly lower your arms, return to the starting position and repeat the movement in as many reps as necessary.

Other Variations

Depending on your fitness goals, you can do the chest-supported dumbbell row with your elbows wider or more tucked in. If you lift with your elbows wide, you target muscles in your upper back, particularly those between your shoulder blades.

If you stay more tucked in, you’ll be working more on the shoulder extension, challenging the muscle group at your lats.

Barbell Chest-Supported Rows

Guy in blue shirt performing barbell chest supported row

Tools For The Exercise:

  • Weight plates (start with a lighter weight and slowly move the heavyweights)
  • Adjustable bench
  • Olympic bar
  • Squat Rack (optional though useful to begin the movement)

How To Perform The Barbell Chest-Supported Row Exercise:

  1. Set your bench near the rack at an incline angle of approximately 45 degrees.
  2. Place the hooks on the outside of the squat rack at a comfortable height for reaching arms-length (this step is optional if you have someone to help you move the barbell when you begin the movement).
  3. Position the bench over the center of the barbell.
  4. Lie down on the bench with your chest towards the pad.
  5. Keep your feet in a neutral position on the ground
  6. Hold the bar with a neutral grip, tighten your shoulder blades and start moving the weights up and down in a slow and controlled manner. Note that proper technique is more important than heavy lifting.

FAQs

Are Rows Better Than Pull-upS?

Rows are not better or worse than pull-ups. They both work your lats, rhomboids, mid and lower traps, shoulders, biceps, forearms, and core. The Pull Up is much more lat-focused, while the Row works more the latissimus dorsi and the mid-lower trap.

What Are the Best Alternative Exercises for a Chest-Supported Row?

The best alternative exercises for a chest-supported row are:

  • Renegade Row
  • Tripod Dumbbell Row
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Inverted Rows

How Do You Do Chest-Supported Rows at Home?

To do the chest-supported dumbbell row at home, put some blocks under a flat bench to raise it high enough to do the rep.

Final Thoughts on Chest-Supported Rows

Row exercises are crucial to build back muscles, improve your posture and your athletic performance.

The supported row is an excellent option for those who struggle to keep a good form while being bent over and want to reduce lower back stress.

Practice this motion to develop back and shoulder strength without the risk of injuries, and your lower back will thank you.


References:

  1. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/FullText/2009/08000/Comparison_of_Different_Rowing_Exercises__Trunk.7.aspx
  2. https://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/76924

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