If you’re looking to strengthen your back, you might be considering incorporating rows into your workout routine (at least you should be). There are several variations of rows, including the One Arm Dumbbell Row and the Barbell Bent Over Row.
Both exercises are effective at developing strength, but they differ in their equipment used and execution. The real question is, is one of these rowing movements better than the other?
In this article, I will go over how to properly perform each exercise along with the unique benefits of each. I’ll also compare the One Arm Dumbbell Row and the Barbell Bent Over Row to see if one is better than the other based on your lifting goals.
In just a few minutes, you will have a better understanding of which exercise is right for you and how to incorporate it into your training routine.
Table of Contents
- One Arm Dumbbell Row
- Barbell Bent Over Row
- Dumbbell Row vs Barbell Row: Which is Better?
- Final Thoughts
One Arm Dumbbell Row
- Bench (optional)
A bench is helpful, but not totally necessary. Bracing one arm against the rack or even on your leg can work as well.
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Teres Major
- Posterior Deltoids
- Trapezius and Rhomboids (at contraction)
- Secondarily: Biceps (Biceps Brachii, Brachialis, Brachioradialis)
- Grab a dumbbell and a bench*.
- Place the dumbbell next to the bench and set yourself up.
- If rowing with the right arm, place the left knee and left hand on the bench. Keep the right foot flat on the ground.
- Make sure the back is flat (neutral) to slightly arched.
- Brace the core and pick the dumbbell up.
- Row the dumbbell up, keeping the elbow close to the body as the dumbbell raises.
- Squeeze the back at the top of the rep and then lower the dumbbell down until the arm is fully extended.
- Repeat for the designated number of reps and then switch sides.
*One Arm Rows do not have to be done with one knee on a bench. You can keep both feet flat on the ground and lean forward and brace yourself with your off-hand on something sturdy. You can even lean your off forearm on your leg for support if necessary.
The most common mistake I see athletes make when doing One Arm Rows is not maintaining a flat back. The back should stay engaged and slightly arched – similar to the starting position of a Power Clean. Do not let the back round as this can cause unnecessary stress on the spine.
Also, do not twist and turn while rowing. You’re not starting a lawn mower. If you need to use your whole body to twist and rock the weight up then the dumbbell is too heavy. Lower the weight and maintain proper form.
Finally, make sure to give yourself enough room to ‘spread out’ and get into a good position.
Often times I see athletes place their off-hand too close to their knee on the bench and/or place their grounded foot too close to the bench. This leads to them being too cramped, making it difficult to achieve proper positioning.
Looking for additional alternatives for One Arm Dumbbell Rows? Here are 10 of my favorite One Arm Row alternatives.
Some of the benefits of One Arm Dumbbell Rows include:
- Increased upper body strength: The One Arm Dumbbell Row targets multiple muscle groups in your upper body, including your lats, biceps, and shoulders. As you progress with the exercise, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights, which can help to increase your overall upper body strength.
- Improved stability and coordination: The Dumbbell One Arm Row requires balance and coordination, as you need to maintain control of the dumbbell with one hand while performing the exercise. This can help to improve your overall stability and coordination.
- Increased muscle mass: By consistently performing One Arm Rows, you can build strength and size in your back, shoulders, and arms, which can contribute to an overall increase in muscle mass.
- Improved posture: By strengthening your back muscles, the One Arm Dumbbell Row can help to improve your posture and reduce the risk of developing poor posture-related issues such as rounded shoulders or a hunched back.
Barbell Bent Over Row
- Bumper or Iron Plates
- Lifting Straps (optional)
- Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
- Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
- Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
- Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
- Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
- Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).
The initial setup and stance for Barbell Bent Over Rows should be specific to the lifter’s deadlifting and Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.
I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It develops strength in the posterior chain and can be overloaded over time easily.
I typically recommend the pronated grip here for athletes. Especially athletes that are cleaning and snatching as the pronated grip will carry over to cleans and pulls.
However, there is some benefit to the supinated grip for general lifters and bodybuilders. The supinated grip will engage more of the biceps and can be a great time under tension movement for hypertrophy.
The setup here is very similar to the Deadlift. With that in mind, always remember to keep a nice neutral spine. DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK.
Another common mistake is I have seen lifters go too heavy and therefore need to “hitch or yank” into a lock in position. Never sacrifice your form for more weight. You will get hurt eventually.
Some potential benefits of Barbell Bent Over Rows include:
- Building hypertrophy and strength in the upper and lower back and arms.
- Improving posture by strengthening the muscles that support the spine.
- Increasing grip strength, which can be useful for many sports or activities like rock climbing.
- Improving athletic performance, such as in sports that require upper body strength and power.
Dumbbell Row vs Barbell Row: Which is Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side look to see which is better for a couple of common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Strength and Hypertrophy: Toss Up
On most exercises, a barbell variation is going to be a better option for building strength and muscle mass. A barbell typically allows for more weight to be lifted. Generally speaking, the more weight you move the stronger you become.
However, with these two rowing exercises, the fact that the One Arm Dumbbell Row gives the lifter the ability to brace with their off-hand allows the lifter to move just as much (if not more) weight as with a Bent Over Barbell Row.
I know for me personally if you add up both dumbbells I can generally One Arm Row slightly more than I can Barbell Row. On the other hand, Barbell Bent Over Rows does engage the core and low back more which can be an additional strength benefit that is much less prominent in a Dumbbell Row.
At the end of the day, I think it’s too close to say definitively whether one exercise or the other is “better” for developing strength and hypertrophy.
Better For Beginners: One Arm Row
Both exercises can be very beneficial for beginners to learn and start to incorporate into their training program.
However, I would start beginners off with Dumbbell One Arm Rows first. One Arm Rows are much more forgiving from a technique standpoint.
Being able to brace with one hand and even a knee up on a bench takes a ton of strain off of the low back. This position allows a beginner to learn and perfect their technique without having to worry too much about injuring themselves (assuming an appropriate amount of weight is being used).
Barbell Bent Over Rows is much less forgiving. The rowing position puts the low back in a very strenuous position and if the lifter isn’t properly braced and doesn’t maintain proper body position, then it’s quite easy to strain the back.
I’ve just spent an entire article comparing One Arm Dumbbell Row and Bent Over Barbell Row. However, the truth is, there is no reason you can’t have both exercises in your strength training program (assuming you have the necessary equipment and know the proper technique).
Both are excellent exercises for building strength and hypertrophy. And, incorporating both into your training can also add much-needed variety to keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, to figure out how you can utilize both One Arm Dumbbell Row and Bent Over Barbell Row in your training plan.